Cowen Partners is a national CFO search firm, driven to create value for our clients, and we have a long-standing record of placing exceptionally qualified Chief Financial Officers across all industries.
In this post, we highlight the average CFO salary for both public and private companies based on revenue size. Other variables apply, such as location and industry.
|Company Revenue||Private Company||Public Company|
|$10 – $50 Million||$150,000 – $250,000||$160,000 – $260,000|
|$51 – $100 Million||$170,000 – $275,000||$175,000 – $300,000|
|$101 – $300 Million||$200,000 – $300,000||$200,000 – $325,000|
|$301 – $500 Million||$225,000 – $350,000||$240,000 – $375,000|
|$501 – $999 Million||$250,000 – $450,000||$250,000 – $475,000|
|$1 – $1.5 Billion||$300,000 – $550,000||$300,000 – $650,000|
|$1.6 – $3 Billion||$450,000 – $600,000||$450,000 – $700,000|
National CFO Search Firm
Cowen Partners is the nation’s top CFO executive search firm, enabling companies to harness the power of human capital to fuel their success. Cowen Partners gives our clients access to the top 1% of human capital to create opportunities that accelerate their growth and market share. With Cowen Partners, clients can grow at scale, create value, and drive results with world class talent.
With our proven processes and guaranteed results, we have successfully placed hundreds of CFOs in industries including technology, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, financial services, and private equity.
A Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is often a key employee for companies, whether at startup or later-stage pre-IPO firms. With their expertise in strategic management and financial accounting, they imbue companies with financial confidence, making them a safer bet for investors.
However, there’s fierce competition for senior-level finance execs due to a hot market for top CFO talent. So, many companies, especially in the tech and sciences industries, sweeten their offers with stock or other equity grants to gain some headway. It’s often a balancing act, though, as firms try to find a compromise between offering too much while keeping enough on the table for an attractive offer.
CEOs and executive search committees will be keen to clarify what constitutes a competitive CFO equity grant as they build out their talent acquisition strategy for this role.
Equity grants are one of the most widely used compensation tools for CFOs in startups. They offer participation in the company’s ownership as a way to lure senior-level talent. The tool is often effective because it gives two distinct advantages:
CFO equity grants have mainly come to the fore as a competitive tool in senior finance hires. Startups typically cannot compete on the same salary and benefits scale as established late-stage companies and public corporations. So, they include lucrative equity grants to turn the heads of potential hires and keep their offer afloat.
That’s not to say that CFO equity grants are the sole preserve of startups. Publicly held companies and late-stage firms might also award equity to encourage performance, attract top-level hires, or foster ownership in the company for better results overall. Though, the distinct difference between the approach at early and late-stage companies is that equity grants are typically lower at the latter, regardless of the skill or desirability of the candidate.
Since the equity grant tool became predominant, companies began to formalize the process in an equity grant scheme approved by the board and investors. The scheme establishes an employee share pool, the nature of allowable grants, and more. A formal plan helps:
That said, what are the most common figures that a CFO might expect as a competitive equity grant from a company?
Typically, CFOs might expect to receive between .1% and 3% of a company’s value. In some cases, it may be much more, depending on the stage at which the CFO joins the executive leadership or founders.
According to Comparably, public companies or those with more than ten thousand employees generally offer the least equity since their compensation is weighted more towards salary. They note that in companies that have raised more than $30 million in funding, CFOs receive 0 to $250,000+ a year in shares. In a survey of current CFO equity compensation by money raised, Comparably found that CFO grants peaked at .5% for companies with more than $30 million raises. But companies that have raised less than $1 million are often more generous, with CFO equity grants of between 1% and over 4%.
AON finds similarly in CFO stock grants for companies at or close to IPO stage. An analysis of thirty-nine tech companies and thirty-eight life sciences companies that became public between 2013 and 2014 showed the median tech CFO collects about 0.96% while the median life sciences CFO gets roughly 0.81%. Upon public listing, these equity holdings typically translate into considerable value, and the median life sciences CFO might hold up to $1.3 million equity value – roughly 4.5 times their salary. Tech CFOs stand to gain much more, with a median equity value of $4 million or up to 15 times their salary.
Despite what the data suggests, there’s often no hard and fast rule to determining CFO grant sizes. Companies will likely adopt a strategy that considers the going market rate and the peculiar advantages that the proposed hire brings and how that translates into value for the firm.
Although seniority, experience, market averages, and distinct notions of value are major guiding factors in CFO equity grants, timing might be the most significant factor. CFOs joining a company at a very early stage might take much more in equity than later hires, and this makes sense. The earlier a CFO commits to the startup, the more risk they face should the venture go bust.
Therefore, coming on board early makes the CFO a significant early hire and a vital part of the early strategic team. For instance, if the CFO were to join a two-person team, they might well stand as a co-founder and collect 10% equity or more.
Compare this to the average amongst executives hired at a later stage or just before IPO, and the difference is staggering. It might be described as a decaying exponential – the earlier people receive more and equity rates gradually decline from there.
An equity grant might give too much away by letting the employee take lucrative stock without a commitment to stay and realize the value of the venture. To protect against this outcome, companies use vesting restrictions and other mechanisms to preserve and extract the value of their investment in the hire.
A typical restriction is a vesting schedule that delays the exercise of the stock grant and only vests the entire grant in increments. For instance, the schedule might provide for a one-year cliff, after which the stock will begin to vest in increments over a set period of years. Four years is the most common vesting period.
Some companies might:
Ultimately, CFO equity grants can be a powerful tool to attract top-level hires and interest candidates that might not get their heads turned otherwise. However, CEOs and search committees must be careful not to give away the store – draw up a thorough plan for equity grants and follow it strictly.
Cowen Partners is proud to be the nation’s top CFO search firm, driven to create maximum value for our clients. Our nationally renowned CFO recruiters have deep experience working with private, public, pre-IPO, and non-profit organizations. Clients are typically $50 million in revenue to Fortune 1000’s or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion.
Through our proven retained executive search process, Cowen Partners delivers 3X more qualified candidates than the competition. In fact, we find, vet, and deliver the top 1% of candidates for CFOs across all industries, including financial services, credit unions, tax and accounting services, private equity, technology, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, real estate, and more.
Read more of our industry-leading retained search resources to see why Cowen Partners is a top CFO search firm in Atlanta, Anchorage, Boston, New York City, Chicago, Seattle, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Dallas, Los Angeles, and beyond:
Cowen Partners Executive Search provides the highest quality CFO recruitment services to all major and minor industries including (but not limited to):
Accounting, Advertising, Aerospace & Defense, Biotechnology, Banking, Credit Unions, Board and CEO Services, Computer Hardware, Construction, Consulting, Consumer Products, Computer Software and Hardware, Education, Energy & Utilities, Entertainment & Sports, Finance, Financial Services, Food Products, Government, Human Resources, Health Care, Hospitality & Tourism, Insurance, Industrial, Internet & New Media, Legal, Tax, Crypto, Bitcoin, Private Equity, Journalism & Publishing, Marketing, Manufacturing, Medical Device, Non-Profit, Pharmaceutical, Private Equity, Real Estate, Retail & Apparel, Sales, Technology, Telecommunications and Transportation.