[CFO Job Hunters Version] What Do Employers Really Want?

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One mystery for more senior job hunters is the  question of “What do employers really want?” in terms of backgrounds, skill sets and experience.

Thanks to one executive search person you can get one good answer – particularly if you’re looking fill a Chief Financial Officer role.

Karen Quint of Spencer Stuart addressed the San Francisco chapter of Financial Executives International,  the preeminent association for CFOs and other senior finance executives last month. I’m an executive and team coach, not a CFO –  I was attending as a guest. Karen is a senior member of the Financial Officer, Consumer Goods & Services, Financial Services and Private Equity practice at her firm and the material below is taken (thank you Karen!) from her presentation.

Her talk to the group – What Companies are Demanding of their CFOs Today and the Implications for You – gave a great overview of how the CFO role has continued to evolve, and the types of skills and qualifications expectations that companie have for CFO candidates today. It’s also great information for what firms broadly may be looking for in senior hires.

She also gave some bits of general advice was well. Work with an executive coach (pointing to me) for bettering your managerial, executive presence, and teaming skills. Learn to work well with search people and do things like return phone calls and be helpful source. Tips on how to work well with executive search firms are posted here and here.

As background, Karen displayed the current make-up of Fortune 1000 Chief Financial Officers:

  • The number of CFOs with an MBA, CPA or both is increasing. From 2003 to 2009, the percentage of Fortune 1000 CFOs with CPAs has grown from 29% to 45%.
  • The average tenure of CFOs is increasing. Current average tenure is 4.8 years vs 4.4 years in 2008. Two thirds of the F1000 CFOs have been in their role less than 5 years and only 12% have been in the role longer than 10 years
  • In 2009, the number of female CFOs has seen its largest increase. There are currently 9.1% of female CFOs in the F1000, up from 6% in 2001

Data she shared for the the 105 Fortune 1000 Companies in California:

  • Former Positions: There has been a significant increase in the number of former CFOs taking the F1000 CFO spot, up 25% since 2007. In 2009, 54% of the new CFOs to the F1000 in CA were former sitting CFOs
  • External Hires: 49% of the CFOs were hired externally, slightly higher than the national average of 40%
  • Tenure: Average tenure is 4.5 years versus the F1000 average of 4.8 years. There was only 12% turnover in 2009 versus 19% in 2008
  • Compensation: Average cash compensation for CFOs is $1.2M, slightly higher than the F1000 national average of $965K

What’s changed recently about the CFO (and perhaps other senior roles) position?

  • Complexity and risks of the job have increased
  • The focus is much more strategic in nature than before, has a wider scope of responsibility and greater vulnerability
  • Able to manage and motivate a geographically dispersed and diverse team; can work across different cultures
  • More influential, more visible, broader impact and skills set
  • Must have a deep understanding of business models, the business and economical situation, and a willingness to contribute beyond strict control
  • There is a premium for creative problem solving, not simply saying “no

Here’s what employers are saying in general about their ideal skill set for a CFO:

  • Degree + MBA or professional accountancy qualification
  • Success in an international business environment, a variety of business units
  • Functional experience in FP&A, Risk and Strategy/M&A
  • Commercial acumen – can assess and balance risk; has a broad minded approach to business analysis
  • An effective business partner – a foil and support to the Business Head, helping to develop appropriate business plans and drive performance improvement
  • Balanced career:  mix of operational, project management and staff roles
  • Able to build strong and sustainable relationships across the business (not just in finance) – has flexibility, pragmatism and curiosity
  • Leadership:  able to inspire, motivate and develop talent
  • Diversity is (always) on their (employer’s hiring) agenda

Anything in particular to call-out in an entrepreneurial environment?

  • Requires broad business thinker
  • Often responsibilities beyond finance – CFO
  • Need for hands on, operational orientation
  • Ability to manage various stakeholder relationships is a premium
  • Acute focus on value creation
  • Often a shorter term focus on liquidity or transactions

Key things for senior hires such as CFOs in their first 100 days:

  • The CFO’s – and any other senior manager’s –  first 100 days are critical: What should you be doing?
  • Listen, Observe, Reflect
  • Need to be a fast learner of Process, Culture and People
  • Talk to third parties about the business
  • Must make immediate impact on both the finance team and the organization as a whole
  • Position yourselves and your teams for long-term success >First 30 days, assess your team and identifying top 3 most valuable contributions you can make

Last, Karen mentioned that the time to get ready for a new role is before the job comes up. All in all is was a great presentation from someone who clearly knows her business.

And for would-be candidates, it sounds like it’s better to be ready than wanting.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.

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  1. Pingback: What Employers Want from CFOs | Career Management Alliance Blog

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