The role of the chief financial officer (CFO) has evolved a lot over the years. In addition to the financial responsibilities of a company, many CFOs are now handling technology transformation, outsourcing personnel, and talent management, among other business needs. Given the diverse role a CFO can play within a company, it can be difficult to put together your ideal CFO’s profile.
Naturally, the CFO role varies by company, but it can be helpful to have a general profile pinpointing the top characteristics of the CFO you need. Below are four types of CFO profiles, each with different competencies and areas of expertise. Understanding how each of these roles works within a company can help you determine which CFO profile is best for your business.
The financial guru
The financial guru CFO has years of experience with different roles related to financial functions within a company. This typically includes duties such as financial planning and analysis, auditing and compliance, treasury, financial reporting, and controlling. The financial guru is often an internal hire, frequently a Controller or Chief Accounting Officer prior, and comes with a comprehensive understanding of the company as a whole. You can expect the financial guru to have an advanced accounting degree, CPA, and to excel at standardizing procedures.
This particular profile is generally suited for businesses with inefficient financial departments or early-stage businesses that are scaling up and need to strengthen their financial functions.
The jack-of-all-trades CFO typically has a broad range of experience and has often worked outside the company with exposure to multiple businesses. Other areas where these CFOs have worked include marketing, general management, and operations. Management and communication skills are often prioritized in this profile over more technical skills. The jack-of-all-trades CFO can be found both internally and externally and is hired at a company where personal influence is highly valued and required for results.
The achievement leader
Achievement leader CFOs are known for transforming businesses to create results. They modify financial functions and other processes within an organization to promote cost management and the use of metrics. Achievement leaders also focus on standardizing data and systems to enhance efficiency and performance within an organization.
The CFO with this profile is generally an outside hire with previous CFO or accounting experience. This type of CFO is beneficial for companies looking for exacting analytics and striving for aggressive growth.
The change agent
The change agent CFO is best suited for industries that experience a lot of disruptions. This type of CFO is an outside hire and has a background working in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and has an extensive external network of resources as well as exceptional strategic insight. Businesses undergoing mergers and acquisitions as well as PE companies looking to revamp portfolio businesses are a good fit for this CFO profile. In many of these cases, the companies experience a considerable reshaping of the business as well as adjustments in resource allocation so a CFO who has experience with this type of disturbance can make the transition run more smoothly.
Make the role fit your company
These profiles are not perfect. One may not cover exactly what you need in a CFO, but it is a place to start when shaping the role for your company. Use these profiles to determine the characteristics and general skill set of a CFO that will help your company grow the most. When searching for a new CFO, it is also a good idea to evaluate your current corporate strategy. Below are a few questions you should ask yourself as you start looking for your next CFO.
Your CFO profile should reflect the structure and performance of your company. Knowledge of the industry is highly valuable when selecting your CFO, as is choosing someone whose characteristics fit the company’s strategic plan. CFO candidates will have financial expertise and management skills, but you need to determine where else your company’s CFO can be useful. For instance, if your company is pursuing an M&A strategy, then a CFO candidate experienced with mergers and acquisitions as well as proven strategic insight would be the best fit.
Hiring a new CFO is an opportunity to fill some of the skill gaps on your management team. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the CEO and other leading board members to determine what expertise would benefit the team. A leadership team with a diverse skillset allows team members to lean on each other and build on one another’s strengths. Select a CFO who will shore up any weaknesses in your team.
It is important to determine how capable your financial functions currently are. If your company is currently struggling to efficiently manage basic financial functions such as accurate data and systems compliance, then you need to focus on a CFO with a financial guru-type profile. If your basic financial processes are not going well, then your first order of business needs to be strengthening this area above all else. It is a good idea to look at potential internal candidates to promote to CFO who have significant financial experience as well as a proven record of results. Of course, if your financial functions are running smoothly, then you can consider candidates with other qualifications such as more management experience and strategic insight.
Finding the right CFO for your company requires a lot of consideration concerning the right characteristics as well as the needs of the business. As you determine the right CFO profile for your company, remember how the CFO position has evolved over the years and adapt your profile to best fit your needs.
Cowen Partners Executive Search is a leading CFO Search Firm and has a strong record of identifying and recruiting Chief Financial Officers for public, private and non-profit organizations. Contact us if you would like to discuss recruiting an exceptional CFO for your company.
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