The bottom line for CFOs of the future

AS THE CFO ROLE continues to increase in complexity and prominence, having the right person for the job can be of critical importance to an organisation’s future growth prospects. Without careful succession planning and nurturing future candidates, companies are likely to see a negative impact on their bottom line.

It is undoubtedly a mutual responsibility for both UK PLC and aspiring CFOs to maximise the talent pipeline. Companies need to ensure they are providing their high fliers with experiences that will inform their choices as CFO; whilst aspiring candidates need to take responsibility for carving out a CV that demonstrates a broad range of core skills.

We’ve spoken to over 530 CFOs across Europe, Middle East, India and Africa to identify nine key steps or attributes that the CFOs of the future will require to cope with the demands of this increasingly complex job. They range from gaining transactions experience, to being a good communicator, and developing commercial insight. However I think there are three that really stand out.

Firstly, leadership skills – it’s something that corporate boards are increasingly looking for evidence of. A CFO must be able to give direction and be adept at building and leading effective teams across an international stage. To reach the top role, aspiring candidates need to grasp any opportunity they can to put these skills in to practice, by working with diverse teams, coaching and developing others. These skills can only be learnt not taught.

Secondly, as companies increasingly look to realign their finance operating models with a changing corporate strategy, experience of outsourcing, shared service centres and other finance transformational projects will be essential. Organisations should even consider re-designing the career path their managers’ take, perhaps through a secondment to a shared service centre, to ensure these experiences are part of their progression.

However the key differentiating factor for any aspiring CFO is perhaps going to be their international experience due to the growth opportunities offered by the emerging markets. Leading organisations will need to ensure that these skills are reflected in the training and development opportunities on offer to their talent pipeline.

If you look at the backgrounds of the group CFOs of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500, it’s clear that there is no single model for becoming a CFO. However, regardless of where a candidate comes from, moving into the top job is a big leap and getting bigger all the time. Aspirants must build relationships with the right stakeholders, gain broad commercial and strategic experience and learn how to build and lead diverse teams of specialists.

Les Clifford is chair of the Ernst & Young CFO Program in the UK and Ireland

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