Be an expert generalist

When it comes to recruiting group finance directors – of plcs, private
equity-backed businesses or privately owned enterprises – you look for a varied
range of skill sets.

When it comes to the profile, we tend to list them under four main headings:
the guarantor of financial integrity; the commercial partner to the business;
the strategic partner to the CEO; the manager of all external relationships

Now a four-line job spec does not do the role justice – there are many, many
responsibilities that sit within these four. However they do tend to hang very
well under one of the four areas above.

None of those four mention tax, or treasury, or M&A or audit. They focus
on the more vanilla aspects of the finance role. Is this because the role of
finance director is now considered to be vanilla? No – definitely not. As I have
written previously, the role of finance director has become more complex and
broader than ever before.

The reason is actually pretty simple. In the more “niche” areas of finance
there is a view that you can buy in the specialist skill. Firstly, there is a
tremendously capable group of tax and/or treasury directors, M&A specialists
and audit directors who support group finance directors in delivering a
businesses strategy.

The Big Four have specialist consultants in all of these areas who make a
good living providing consultancy to finance directors who do not have these
skills themselves, but need to buy in the expertise for a period.

I am not suggesting that exposure to these areas is bad – quite the opposite.
Time spent in them is valuable because it adds another string to your bow. But
beware spending too long in any one of these niches. A stint of18 months in
treasury gives you a solid grounding; five years makes
you more of a specialist than you might like to be.

So – experience in these areas will be extremely useful. They will show a CEO
or a chairman that you won’t need to spend as much with Deloitte as its last F
D. But it’s not going to get you the job on its own. You have to be a competent
finance director first and then let the other experience add to your

Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Berndtson

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