For Ken Hanna, one is the magic number. According to the outgoing CFO of UK-based confectionery group Cadbury, gone are the days when finance chiefs would entertain thoughts of having a portfolio of half a dozen or so non-executive director (NED) roles. “More than one is too much in today’s environment,” Hanna asserts.
But as the economic downturn continues, CFOs are sure to appear more attractive than ever to companies seeking NEDs with financial savvy. While flattering to be so popular, governance experts advise CFOs to be careful. While they vary from company to company, and from country to country, these directorships are time-consuming and can affect a CFO’s performance back at their full-time jobs. And “it’s not as if the [CFO] day job is getting any easier,” says Anne Simpson, executive director of the International Corporate Governance Network, a London-based not-for-profit organisation.
Meanwhile, the supply of qualified NEDs is shrinking dramatically. “What used to be an easy proposition has reversed itself,” says Florian Schilling, a Frankfurt-based managing partner of Board Consultants. “In the past, if I approached ten CEOs or CFOs with a non-exec offer from a good company, eight or nine would have been interested. Today I can approach ten CEOs or CFOs with the same offer and at least nine would say they aren’t available.” But while many recruiters believe executives are shunning NED offers due to a concern over the risk of liability, Schilling believes the reason has more to do with an executive’s own company putting its foot down. “CFOs are under pressure from their own boards to spend time on their companies,” he notes.
This pressure is frowned upon by many veteran finance executives. “That’s a short-sighted attitude,” says Jan du Plessis, a former CFO who currently holds a portfolio of NEDs, including the non-executive chairmanship of tobacco group BAT. “That’s seeing the CFO from a too narrow perspective.” Du Plessis — now also a NED at Lloyds TSB, Rio Tinto and Marks & Spencer — had been the finance chief of Swiss luxury-goods firm Richemont for several years before taking up his first non-executive directorship in 1999, and recommends that CFOs hold at least one directorship in order to “broaden their horizons.”
Hanna falls into du Plessis’ camp, having already experienced juggling a full-time CFO job and an NED. While finance chief of the £5 billion (€6 billion) firm over the past five years, he’s also been a non-exec at Inchcape, a £3.3 billion UK-based car retailer. While serving at various times on Inchcape’s remuneration, nomination and audit committees, he admits that being an NED in addition to CFO of a FTSE 100 company meant forgoing the few free evenings and weekends he had enjoyed.
Yet there are big benefits, for both the executive and the company, when a CFO becomes an NED. Hanna, for example, reckons Inchcape benefits from his years of experience and his grip on “all the big, non-operational things that are on boards’ agendas.” As for his own development, he’s grateful for the “breadth of experience” it has provided, allowing him to “learn and share that experience” with colleagues back at Cadbury. It’s also opened doors. In November, Hanna announced his resignation from Cadbury to take up the non-executive chairmanship of Inchcape next May. As he hangs up his hat as CFO, he expects to be able to accept a few more NEDs. “But the people in the old days who had seven or eight, that didn’t make sense to me,” he says.