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Any CFOs here?
Old 05-24-2011, 12:51 PM   #1
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Any CFOs here?

I'm in the accounting field and wondering how I can eventually get to a CFO position? I've been doing this for 8 yrs, public/private experience, CPA, pretty good coverage of experience… only thing missing is 10k/10Q. I know that I can eventually get to controller level but not sure what it takes to being a CFO. Any insight will be helpful. Thanks.
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Old 05-24-2011, 01:00 PM   #2
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Good luck with your endeavor, but I don't think you're likely to get much useful advice here on that topic. For many of us, the ambition we have (or had) in the workplace was to get out of it as soon as possible.
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Old 05-24-2011, 02:28 PM   #3
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Hatepayingtaxes. We have similar career backgrounds. I don't know about you but nearly all of the people I know who have made it to that level have done so through both an extreme work ethic (work above all else) and networking. Its all about who you know. Most of them also left public after making at least manager at a Big 4. Also, they had a really big leap when they left public. Not your typical work with a recruiter stuff but either hired by former clients in a bind or referred to a company in a bind who was willing to take them as unproven and put them in a controller or VP level role right from the get go.
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Old 05-24-2011, 02:43 PM   #4
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Since you ask, I'm a CFO for our organization.

I'm retired (and handle most of the financial stuff).

I report directly to DW, who is President (and Chairman/woman of the Board) ...
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Old 05-24-2011, 02:54 PM   #5
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Since you ask, I'm a CFO for our organization.

I'm retired (and handle most of the financial stuff).

I report directly to DW, who is President (and Chairman/woman of the Board) ...
So, she's also your bosses bosses boss? Gotcha!
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Old 05-24-2011, 03:27 PM   #6
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I've never been a CFO, however I worked closely with one for years at MegaCorp. When I first started working in his department, he was the controller, then a couple of years later was promoted to CFO.

He had a Masters in accounting. He wore a suit to work every day...he was polished man. He consistently had a calm, slight smile on his face regardless of the situation. He spoke softly, yet was able to command attention with his voice.

In staff meetings as people were yammering on, he would sit back and not say a word. Everything people said was soaked up like a sponge by him. He never made snap judgments and was able to listen to everyone's problems like they were his own. He took ownership of everything that went on in his department.

He was a firm believer in teamwork...and made us all want to be a part of his team

Parties and happy hours were no different. He was a consistent man
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Old 05-24-2011, 03:34 PM   #7
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My DD is a CFO and a very young one at that. However she does not work for a publicly held company. In her case she was a CPA working for one of the big 4 accounting firms when she was contacted for a controller position in an industry closely related to her audit clients. She did not audit this firm. They assessed not only her accounting skills but her ability to work well with other members of the firm as they were looking for a future CFO. Work ethic? Oh yes, but she is also has a family life and is active in her industry professional association. But she does have staff and a husband who puts her and their kids in #1 position.

She exhibits the behavior BbbamI mentions.

It is my observation that many (most?) controllers at one time worked for the employer's accounting firm or conducted audits in that industry.

Networking is very important, that is how you get noticed. Daughter wasn't looking for a job when she was recruited but others suggested her to the firm. They felt she had the skills the firm was seeking. You don't get noticed sitting at your desk doing a good (even great) job.

Anyone considering such a position should be very careful, read the last couple audit reports with a critical eye and do as through a job researching the management team as they should you. The best sign of trouble is turnover at CFO position not explained by death, retirement or self evident professional growth.
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Old 05-24-2011, 03:43 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by HatePayingTaxes View Post
I'm in the accounting field and wondering how I can eventually get to a CFO position? I've been doing this for 8 yrs, public/private experience, CPA, pretty good coverage of experience… only thing missing is 10k/10Q. I know that I can eventually get to controller level but not sure what it takes to being a CFO. Any insight will be helpful. Thanks.
I'm not a CFO, but it was the top job in my career path until I decided that I would rather not put in the amount and type of work needed to get there and be successful. I was in big 4 public for 8 years or so. I partially report to the CFO or our organization and I partially report to the VP of Finance who is also the overall corporate controller. The organization is about $2 billion in revenues.

From my perspective, the difference between the VP level and the CFO level is mainly high level leadership, networking and similar soft skills. From a practical perspective, I can usually randomly go to lunch with the VP and talk sports. My lunches with the CFO are scheduled 3-4 weeks out, can be changed and are usually 90% about work issues. There is a huge difference in the time commitment.

You mentioned you were in the accounting field, but didn't say what type. If CFO is your goal, I would shoot for the Big 4 audit route although a rotation or exposure to tax will be helpful. Once you make senior manager (if you aren't already there), I would look for opportunities to jump to a controller position at one of your large clients. Once you are there, you need to ramp up the networking for open CFO positions, probably first at a smaller private company and work your way up. SOX issues make the difference between public and private big.

Good luck.
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Old 05-24-2011, 03:47 PM   #9
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Private companies can have SOX compliance requirements too.
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Old 05-24-2011, 03:50 PM   #10
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Private companies can have SOX compliance requirements too.
Assuming no publicly traded debt, the differences are night and day from a compliance and legal responsibility perspective.

I didn't intend to imply no requirements, just a matter of degree.
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Old 05-24-2011, 04:17 PM   #11
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When I used to work for real public companies the CFO's usually came from a manager level position at an audit firm. I guess there was a relation with the board of directors and they would be hired when they wanted changes. I saw this 2 or 3 times. They were both CPA's. I was an IT director at the time and reported to them, however, they left most of the IT management to me. I saw them mostly when we were spending a lot of money on IT projects, otherwise, months could pass and I would not speak with them.


The part time job that I have now has a CFO but he pretty much manages the accounting department. He is young and it is probably his first CFO position and will probably move on in a few years. He manages the controller and she manages one other person. Pretty much just titles.
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Old 05-24-2011, 10:49 PM   #12
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I am currently the CAO (Chief Accounting Officer) for a private company. In order to become a CFO at a public company qualificaitons will be - CPA, MBA, years of public accounting experience, background in tax, banking and audit. And lastly, some luck along with the skills will help. Need to be in the right place at the right time knowing the right people.
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Old 05-25-2011, 06:22 AM   #13
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I was a CBO(chief bookkeeping officer) for my old company. No CPA, no MBA, just a run of the mill degree in accounting. If you have the extras, great. But I was fortunate to go to work for a small company and eventually own a piece of the rock. And it paid off nicely in the end. Point being, don't get too hung up on titles as those were not important where I worked. Some of the better careers can be had with small companies where all you need is a good work ethic. And a good break.
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Old 05-25-2011, 07:11 AM   #14
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I am CFO of my current firm, and was CFO of the firm I worked at previously for 13 years. My path was 5 years at a mid-tier CPA firm, getting my audit experience and CPA license. Then I jumped to a start-up investment banking firm as their controller and was promoted to CFO as the firm grew from 15 people to over 250. I left that job six years ago to take the CFO job here, which was also a start-up. I tested as ISTJ in the personality thread. I think of myself as organized, confident and able to manage people. At the end of the day, CFO is a glorified accountant. If you have the skills, you can do the job. The big difference is how big/complex the company you want to be CFO of is. I preferred startups so that I could control its growth and setting up its procedures.
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Old 05-25-2011, 07:26 AM   #15
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I am currently the CAO (Chief Accounting Officer) for a private company. In order to become a CFO at a public company qualificaitons will be - CPA, MBA, years of public accounting experience, background in tax, banking and audit. And lastly, some luck along with the skills will help. Need to be in the right place at the right time knowing the right people.
My brother was a CFO before he retired, and this is a good description of his path to that position. All I would add is that he put in a lot of hours and he is very capable.
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Old 05-25-2011, 07:35 AM   #16
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I'm not a CFO, but have worked with and for a few of them over the years. I'm in a line role now, and have been for most of my 25 years with megacorp, but I did report to the CFO for three years while in a staff role. (megacorp was a $700million company in 20 countries when I signed up, about $25billion in 70 countries now). As background, in my role now, I lead a major geographic division with revenues of several billion USD, have a Divisional CFO and COO along with 10 or so country managers reporting to me.

I think the best CFO I've ever worked for or with was very much as bbbamI described. From my experience, you will need to develop those attributes, as well as developing skills and experience with the following, if you want to reach the CFO level in a major public multinational:

1) SOX
2) complex tax strategies and transfer pricing
3) complex treasury strategies
4) investor relations and dealing with stock analysts and fund managers
5) legal, to an extent
6) M&A, integration

If you are still in a private company, I would suggest looking for the highest role your experience will allow in a public firm so that you can get exposure to some of the experiences I mentioned above, that you are not likely to get in a private co. My guess is that it will likely take a couple or three, maybe more, career moves to get the experience you need.

Good luck to you.

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Old 05-25-2011, 09:37 AM   #17
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There is no single profile for the CFO position. It does tend to fall into one of two broad categories:

1) Part of the senior executive team, or
2) Senior manager of the finance function

The senior manager of the finance function has in depth knowledge of finance operation: reporting requirements, financial standards, auditing, accounting, management reporting, tax, business financing and financial systems. In this case the controller and treasurer are operational managers. Usually, the CFO has either a treasury (banking) or a controller (accounting) background.

The CFO as a member of the senior executive team understands the business, sets corporate goals and develops business strategy. He/she understands how finance can be used as a business strategy or how it can enable or support achieving other business objectives. In this case the treasurer and controller are executives that oversee and manage financial operations.

In both cases, the CFO is responsible for achievement of the profit plan and has the primary role in protecting the shareholder value. There used to be (I'm not sure there still is) an expectation that the CFO was also the most trustworthy individual in the organization.

One final comment: a private company that hopes to go public will be need at least one person that understands how to do that, and that is either the CEO or the CFO.

bbbamI describes someone I would have love to work with but never had the opportunity.
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Old 05-25-2011, 12:54 PM   #18
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Leadership + Work Ethic + Luck + Accounting/Finance skills (thats a tablestake)
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