Have finance directors had their day in the sun?

The previous 24 months have really seen senior finance professionals coming
to the fore, with their skills recognised as never before.

Restructuring cost bases and financing, with a firm grip on governance, has
seen dozens of FDs pick up chief and chairman roles across business.

However, a new survey suggests that with a requirement for entrepreneurial
and visionary skills required to guide businesses forward post-recession, they
may fail to pick up the top posts in the future.

The need for financial skills to steer companies forward were key in the
recession, topping executives’ wants, but the survey of 100 of the top directors
across FTSE and Fortune businesses shows that these skills rank just fifth going

“The message for executives looking to succeed in the top boardrooms,
particularly those with specialist skills such as finance and marketing, is that
once again it is personal skills around seeing and shaping the big picture that
matter to other executives – not your ability in functional areas,” said
McKinney Rogers partner Chris Hart.

He predicts that a lower proportion of finance experts will be appointed to
lead companies in the near future.

“We would expect a reduction in [their appointments] in the recovery phase.
There will now be a focus on leadership,” added Hart.

While this might all sound negative for many FDs considering their next step,
it’s not necessarily all bad news. Margaret Ewing, vice chairman and partner at
Deloitte, believes there are several reasons why FDs will still win top jobs.

Their financial attention to detail and involvement in their company’s
strategy will see them continue to be vital and attractive as chiefs – citing
David Nish’s recent appointment to Standard Life as CEO, the 31st FTSE 100 boss
with a finance background.

“Many of these bosses were in place before the credit crunch, and companies
are still looking at cost-cutting and maximising cash flow.

“They pay attention to detail around marginal performance and are
increasingly involved in strategy – that’s where the FD is.”

While the innovators and entrepreneurs are needed, risk-taking requires FDs
to control and mitigate them.

“That leads to increased value and getting the balance right, and the role of
the FD gets broader and broader.”

So what can they do to ensure their finance base still wins them the big

“It will depend on whether they can lead, be strategic, rather than just
managing the numbers,” says Hart.

However, not everyone thinks the FD’s path should naturally lead to the
chief’s chair. Kevin Chidwick, group FD of FTSE 100 insurer Admiral Group
recently told Accountancy Age that there was a “danger” of too many FDs being
appointed chief executive.

“Unless you’ve got the right kind of FD and he or she makes the transition
into more sales and operational business-running capabilities, it’s a different
skillset to that of an FD.

“That’s not to say there aren’t plenty who have made very successful chief
execs, but personally I’m not sure it’s a great trend to see too many [make the

Odgers Berndtson partner Mark Freebairn wrote in a recent Accountancy Age
column that FDs were better placed to win chair roles than chief executives, as
their broader range of skills and position as confidant to chiefs left them in
pole position.
“In short, in a straight fight, the CFO is starting to win a number of
competitions for the role,” wrote Freebairn.

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