A recently published report by Ernst & Young called ‘Finance Forte: The Future of Financial Leadership’ explores a large number of aspects of what CFO’s and aspiring CFO’s need to do to manage the future of their roles. In reviewing all the statistics and comments contained in the report, it struck me that one of the key qualities required of future CFO’s is flexibility. This key skill reveals itself in many different ways and in this post I consider a few of them.
Gain exposure to multiple business cultures through foreign postings or extensive international engagement. This seems to be one of the most fundamental steps in the route to achieve a CFO role. Wherever you are in your career now, it’s worth considering what opportunity you have for this type of exposure. In my career it was certainly one of the most eye opening experiences. I learned that, whilst working for the same company and to common goals and targets, the ways in which people from different countries planned and communicated strategies could be completely different and often at odds to each other. Learning to negotiate an effective compromise was a key challenge for me in my EMEA leadership roles.
Get a broad experience of all Finance functions and even direct operational experience. Of course there is a natural tendency to want to become truly excellent in one thing in your career. However, a broader experience of multiple roles from FP&A, financial accounting, treasury, financial control and commercial operations, give benefits in gaining an understanding required for the CFO position. Whilst I have been advised many times in my own career that you can bring in and rely on specialists to provide you with the support that you need, I can’t be unusual in wanting to have a strong command of the basic technicalities and likely issues myself through first-hand experience.
Lead major projects yourself and don’t just act in a business partner capacity. It’s frequent that a Finance team member is brought into support major business projects in their technical capacity. Whilst this is excellent experience, there is nothing quite like being responsible yourself, for leading and coordinating a team directly. Different skills are employed and this can be a true forging ground for essential leadership skills that will take you forwards in your career.
Experience in different Industry sectors adds rather than detracts. This may not be an absolute truth in all cases, but it certainly can bring value to your new organisation. You can bring best practice and culturally different ways of working with each industry move. I have never regretted exploring the diverse industries of the public sector, computing, food and consumer durables. Each sector has added to my ability to take a different view and perspective on industry challenges.
So to build your finance career it is not always a simple case of taking the next obvious step to achieve your final career goals of becoming a CFO or FD. Looking to take the more diverse and flexible route to the top gives a broader perspective and a more rounded set of skills and contacts that will be fully employed when you reach the more senior roles.