Where can we find a new CFO?

Few things fill finance professionals with more dread than when the question:
‘so what do you do then?’ is fired at us during social engagements. It’s one of
those questions people invariably ask, but few of us wish to answer. Unless your
response happens to be really impressive ­ for example, ‘I’m the CFO of Google’.

According to US magazine Financial Week, the CFO post at the Googleplex is
the most highly desired job in the world of finance. And, as it happens, they
are in the market for a new one after George Reyes announced his retirement last
August. But while the search giant can give you 17.5 million results for CFO in
under a second, they seem to be struggling to find a new one of their own.

Applicants welcome
Despite announcing that they expected to have a replacement for Reyes by the end
of 2007, so far a suitable Noogler (the common term for newbies at Google) has
yet to be found. So what would it take to score the top job at the company
Superbrands recently named as the most highly regarded business brand in the UK?

For a start, one would need to be working in a business of a comparable size,
says Mark Freebairn, head of CFO recruitment at Odgers Ray & Berndtson.

‘What they are looking for will be difficult to find because they will need
to come from a very large business that understands the internet and is
successful,’ he explains.
‘Do I think it is a job that lots and lots of people would like a phone call

Absolutely. Do I think it is a phone call that lots of people are going to
get? No, because there are only a certain number of people who would be credible
for that job,’ Freebairn adds.

He says Google are likely to be looking for someone from a competitor, but
William Scrimshaw, a recruiter in the commerce division at Finance
Professionals, points out a candidate from a communications provider could also
be in with a fighting chance.

Communication skills
‘It is not just about internet, it is about advertising and it is about content,
so it could also be somebody from Vodafone for example,’ he says. ‘It is more
about finding someone who has been at a business that has gone through
phenomenal growth and change.’

Whoever takes over from Reyes is likely to face numerous challenges in
maintaining what has, until recently, seemed unstoppable growth for the company.
Google, who famously don’t issue their own guidance, recently missed analyst
expectations for Q4 growth, citing difficulties monetising social networks as
one reason for the lower-than-expected numbers.

A falling stock price, a slowdown in their new hire rates and comScore
figures pointing to a drop in ad click-through numbers are further signs growth
may be stalling at the search engine giant. The possibility of a super-rival
emerging from a Microsoft-Yahoo merger, and fears that an economic downturn will
lead to a drop in advertising revenues across the board, are also factors likely
to be weighing heavily on investors’ minds.
Google’s ‘do no evil’ mantra and pledge to never sacrifice the user for the
advertiser in its paid placement advertising business model has seen its search
engine outperform all others, but its recent forays into applications have been
met with mixed reactions.

Open to new challenges
John Zdanowski, CFO of Linden Lab, the creator of the Second Life virtual world,
says determining which of its new developments is likely to be the next big
moneyspinner for Google will be vital for the new CFO.

‘One of the interesting challenges that a new CFO would have coming in is
figuring out which of the myriad of applications and utilities they are building
could potentially be other multibillion dollar businesses,’ he says.

Google’s management structure could also prove a challenge for the incoming
CFO. The company’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are still very involved
in the running of the business, and though Reyes has been in the role for some
five years, he has not really been seen as a ‘right-hand man’ to the CEO, which
could be a turn-off to some finance executives.

‘When you’ve got a business where you’ve got two entrepreneurs who run it, it
is difficult to influence to the degree that you might in a normal plc or a
normal management structure,’ says Scrimshaw.

With its quirky workplace culture, lack of enthusiasm for long-term planning,
and self-professed desire to remain unconventional, any speculation on who
Google will choose as its next CFO is just that. As they say in their company
philosophy, ‘great just isn’t good enough’ for them.

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