Adena Friedman, now back home at Nasdaq OMX Group after three years running finance for private-equity powerhouse Carlyle Group, isn’t a CFO anymore. She previously filled that role at the stock exchange for a year and a half, capping her initial, 18-year iteration there.
Now president of Nasdaq’s corporate, information and technology units, Friedman, speaking at last month’s Bloomberg CFO Conference in New York City, was asked how finance executives could best broaden their horizons to position themselves for bigger jobs.
“At a public company, the best thing you can do is ask to be part of marketing the stock,” said Friedman, who helped take Carlyle public in December 2012. It’s an “opportunity to be on the road listening to what investors are asking about the business. They’re almost never going to ask about the balance sheet or accounting rules. They’re going to ask about the strategic direction of the business.”
When you get back to the office after those meeting, she advised, meet with your company’s business heads and do something to help them. “Find opportunities to embed yourself in the business, even if you’re sitting in finance,” said Friedman, who now may be the executive most likely to succeed Nasdaq CEO Robert Greifeld, according to The Wall Street Journal.
What’s the best piece of advice Friedman has heard or given for being a CFO? Don’t underestimate the power you have, but also don’t underestimate the responsibility you have to stand up for what’s right. “Make sure the firm is making the right choice with full knowledge,” she said. “That ultimately is your job, even when you’re the one telling [other company executives] what they don’t want to hear, which is often. You work for your shareholders and you have to be that way every minute.”
What was behind her decision to go back to Nasdaq in an operating role? It was to have fun, she claimed. “I managed their information business for nine years, managing the sales team, having the pressure of growth, being creative. It was a lot of fun. Now, after five years of being a risk mitigator [as a CFO], I’m kind of ready to be a risk taker again. I understand the business intimately, though it’s changed a lot and I’ll have to relearn things and learn new things.”