BusinessCompany NewsIn profileL Suzzane Wood, CFO at Heidrick and Struggles

In profileL Suzzane Wood, CFO at Heidrick and Struggles

If power is judged in the corporate world by the ability to make or break a career then Suzzane Wood has got it by the barrow load. The 43 year-old is the newly appointed head of the CFO practice at Heidrick and Struggles, one of the world's most influential executive search agencies, or headhunters to you and me.

But with 20 years experience in recruitment and eight of those in executive search, Wood is no ordinary headhunter. She’s one of the best in the business with a string of big name appointments on her CV and the experience of setting up from scratch a CFO practice at rival Odgers Ray & Berndtson. Indeed, she was the woman behind the recent appointment of Duncan Tatton Brown as group FD at Kingfisher when Helen Weir departed for Lloyds Bank.

It’s the kind of track record to make any ambitious finance expert go weak at the knees. If you want to bag that boardroom post in charge of finance, Wood could be the one to do it for you.

But before approaching her it might be worth taking on the few words of advice she’s willing to offer.

Speaking on a scratchy mobile line while on the way to a client meeting she says: ‘Being a CFO is about being as good as your team.’ Oh, and polish up your networking skills, because according to Wood you’re going to need those in abundance too.

Wood takes on her job in interesting times. FDs and CFOs are in great demand, and the skills needed are far more extensive than ever before.

When placing a candidate, Wood has to ensure her man or woman knows not only how to do the books and all the implications of IFRS39, but also how to handle the vast array of regulatory demands now placed upon those at the financial helm.

And as if that wasn’t enough, FDs have got to have some commercial nous these days too. Indeed, Wood points out if an FD really aspires to a CEO position, he or she must have operational experience.

In addition Wood has also seen recent and massive demand for FDs to be non executive directors. ‘Post Higgs,’ Wood says, boards ‘recognise they need an FD’ among the NEDs.

Wood is also a champion for woman executives. She notes, rather publicly, a distinct shortage of women on her candidate shortlists.

‘I’m not quite sure what the answer is,’ Wood says. But if she really is keen to correct this huge imbalance, she has a long hard job on her hands. The FTSE250 only has nine female FDs.

HOW TO HUNT HEADS

Competition is tough between headhunters, and Wood’s current employer, Heidrick & Struggles, and her former company Odgers Ray & Berndtson are among the most competitive.

Wood says she moved to Heidrick because of the firm’s international reach; it has more than 30 finance recruiters worldwide.

That gives the firm a lot of punch when it comes to hunting the best candidate to fit a brief.

However, it’s not just about a company chairman telling Wood to find an FD. Wood will often advise the client on which skills are actually needed and only then begin the search.

Surprisingly, headhunters are also proactive – approaching a company to tell them they could potentially solve problems by recruiting in the right skills.

She insists her favourite work is not for the big plcs, but for more ‘quirky’ assignments like the one at Lloyds Register of Shipping. She had to find an entire new board to manage the business as it switched from being one of the last bastions of the establishment in the City to a modern, forward looking company. ‘I’m not seduced by big placements in big plcs. Each assignment is crucial to that company. ‘I’m no recruitment snob,’ she insists.

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