In any organization, the executive, or “C-suite,” employees arguably hold the most influential roles. Collectively, these leaders are responsible for the high-level strategy and decision-making that steer daily operations and ultimately determine the success or failure of a business.
Among the most important C-suite roles is the chief financial officer (CFO) who traditionally assumes duties related to controllership, treasury, financial strategy, and forecasting. The role of CFO is a complex job that has a significant impact on company growth, and many large corporations rely on the assistance of executive search firms to help them with the hiring process for this critical position. Apart from the obvious skills in financial planning and analysis, recruiters generally look for business professionals who exhibit the following important qualities when filling chief financial officer roles:
CFOs are a primary source of support to the CEO and are often thought of as the “number two” executive. Though their primary responsibilities revolve around the company’s finances, CFOs must also maintain a wide range of skillsets outside of finance in order to work effectively, including the ability to lead. CFO candidates are not just “numbers” people—they have strong people skills and are comfortable directing people in order to execute strategies that increase internal efficiency. Strong leadership talent allows the CFO to make assertive decisions, even when they are unpopular, in the interest of company growth.
Another key aspect of the CFO role is having strong communication skills. The value of interpersonal skills cannot be overestimated for these professionals, as their connection with employees and colleagues is crucial to the financial success of a company. Great communication skills allow CFOs to take complex financial information and translate it into an understandable narrative that delivers an accurate picture of company performance. CFOs must be able to communicate information related to their job duties to their peers in the C-suite, as well as to board members and shareholders. They must also be able to communicate across different branches within a business in order to make sure that all departments are financially in check.
Today’s strongest CFO candidates are the kind of professionals who are always looking forward—who know that the market is apt to change rapidly and a business’s strategy must adapt to these shifts in order to survive. While a corporation’s CEO is likely to be the driver of company strategy, the CFO is responsible for helping the chief executive officer to work toward his or her vision through financial planning. The CFO also is responsible for assessing the financial risks of the CEO’s strategies and steering the company away from a decision if it puts the firm at an unnecessary risk. CFOs are able to drive change by asking smart questions about company direction, supplying accurate and relevant information, and constantly working toward the goal of long-term stability for the business.
Familiarity with the right technology
In the digital age, a CFO needs to be comfortable with modern technologies related to forecasting, budgeting, and predictive analytics more than ever before. Competition has always been fierce, but the growing use of IT in business has added an especially aggressive element to the marketplace. CFO candidates who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with exploring new financial technologies and long-term investment in IT will hold a company back from opportunities that more technologically-savvy CFOs are taking advantage of.
“Big picture” thinking
Qualified candidates for CFO positions understand the connection between the work they perform and that of every other department. They view the role of CFO as more than simply being the executive in charge of updates on the company’s financial status. They’re able to see their role in the organization through a wide lens and recognize the power they have to streamline operations and improve the company’s bottom line in new, more efficient ways. This can be a difficult talent to cultivate for finance executives because the nature of their position requires a high degree of detail-orientation, but the best CFOs have both qualities.
Beyond a well-rounded and applied background in finance, qualified CFO candidates have experience in reporting to and working with a company’s board members. The board members depend on the CFO to provide fact-based insight during meetings and to help them understand the extent of the value and risk that accompany strategic decisions. The chief financial officer must also be prepared for any request the board asks of him or her, including analysis of past financial records or future projections. Interacting with board members can be an intimidating, high-pressure task that demands a combination of accuracy, confidence, and interpersonal skills, and high-level CFO candidates have gained enough experience in this area to be comfortable in any board room.
Though it may seem unconventional for such a technical position, the best CFO candidates are full of passion for their jobs. Passionate candidates have a genuine interest in and enjoyment of the role that a CFO plays in a company, and this often translates into a stronger work ethic and deeper commitment to doing the job correctly.