A CFO who is good at financial integrity management but struggles with assessing situations and being visionary won’t be a CFO for very long. I see CFOs facing this challenge in companies of all sizes, from Fortune 500 companies to startups.
In my role on the RoseRyan management team, which includes interviewing candidates, and as a CFO consultant at various companies, I get the chance to interface frequently with other CFOs and recruiters. It’s a great way to stay on top of trends in senior finance roles. CFOs who take a strategic approach to the position have been in demand for awhile now at the largest of companies, and now smaller and medium companies are following suit. And controllers, another key role in finance organizations, are expanding the skills they need as well.
Starting at the top
During a recent FEI event in San Francisco that focused on the state of the market for Fortune 500 CFOs, executive search recruiters revealed that, not surprisingly, these companies take a different approach to recruiting CFOs than smaller companies. Many of them, in fact, recruit from within. Today’s recruiters spend more of their time assessing talent than finding it. This makes sense, because today more than ever, CFOs need to be strategic and analytical.
And CFOs aren’t the only ones getting held to a new standard. Controllers need to acquire these skills, too. Basic accounting has become so automated that the art of being a good controller has changed from just closing the books to understanding and interpreting the information at hand and navigating through lots of different situations.
In many cases, controllers and CFOs need to gather new information to help with their decision making. Technical skills are in great demand—but “technical” in this instance means the ability to gather and interpret new data from various databases and other sources. Needless to say, great communication skills are essential for anyone wanting to secure a senior finance role. To build a well-rounded and influential finance team in any organization, such capabilities are a necessity.
The takeaway for smaller companies
Fortune 500 companies that recruit from within focus on placing CFOs who have a proven ability to build relationships. This isn’t usually an inherent skill—it can take a number of years to achieve. They also look for a CFO’s understanding of the internal machinations of the organization, and they want a good cultural fit. These are all areas that smaller companies should consider, too. I find that a lack of cultural and emotional alignment is the biggest reason CFOs fail in companies, which is why recruiters take those elements into account up front.
The trend of CFOs becoming more strategic and analytical is well cemented in recruiters’ handbooks. The need for controllers to be strategic and analytical may not be as widely known, but it’s also becoming a trend. In my view, this trend will accelerate over the next few years. RoseRyan is already taking into account these skills and how the market has moved in our recruiting activities. Candidates need to have technical, strategic, analytical and soft skills to get hired, as our clients smartly demand these in today’s market. This demand is only going to increase.
Looking for a change? Do you have the mix of skills to fit in with the RoseRyan dream team and the fast-growing finance teams around the San Francisco Bay Area? If so, we’d love to hear from you. We’re always on the lookout for top talent—full-time and part-time. Contact Michelle Hickam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Ambler is a director at RoseRyan, where he oversees the CFO practice area and handles client CFO requests. He has over 30 years of experience helping a wide range of companies with their financing needs. His interim CFO stints at RoseRyan have included a social media company and the management of the financial integration process at a company acquired by Oracle. He previously held the CFO position for 13 years at NASDAQ-listed companies.
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