I am very fortunate to be involved with the careers of senior finance executives, whether I’m hiring them for my clients, coaching current and future Chief Financial Officers, following their careers and sharing their moves with the world, or impacting people just like you with my blogs and my CFO book.
I see, speak with and come across many focused senior finance executives that plan and prepare their career to be in the right place at the right time who are ready to become CFO for the first time.
Yet a number of senior finance executives become CFOs by accident. A typical scenario I have seen is where a company CFO leaves (this is usually unplanned for by the company), and the CEO and Board need to make a quick decision as to what to do to fill their CFO spot. In these situations, they decide (again, without much planning and foresight), to make one of their senior finance executives the new Chief Financial Officer.
As someone who helps companies hire the best CFO for their needs, my opinion is that this is not always the best solution for the company. However, these are companies that do not have a business relationship with me (yet), so they haven’t asked me for my opinion. I’m not saying that this is a bad solution. In fact, it could be a great solution for the company. I am saying that the probability is that if they haven’t done any proper succession planning for this important role, they may be making a strategic and costly error by hiring the wrong person as CFO.
Whatever the situation for the company, it is up to the newly promoted CFO to make sure that the company made the right choice, if only so that this new CFO can truly benefit from this unplanned career opportunity.
Here is some advice for the senior finance executive that finds themselves as a newly appointed, yet accidental, CFO.
[You will see links to previous blog posts that touch on these subjects. For a more comprehensive overview of how these subjects relate to the success of a CFO, I recommend reading my book, Guide to CFO Success]
Relationship Management – This is the biggest area of change for the new CFO. Whatever your role was prior to your ascension to the CFO throne, you now have to deal with new relationships.
Plan – Too many senior finance executives I have spoken with that have been promoted to the CFO chair, when asked how their role has changed since their promotion, tell me that their job hasn’t changed much. This people are missing a critical opportunity. You must plan for any new role as CFO. You also must know what is expected from a real CFO.
Lonely – Now that you’re finally CFO, you will understand what it means to be lonely at the top. You should prepare for it, and find ways of managing this new experience.
Development – You may not have planned to become CFO so soon, or at all. But now that you are CFO, what are you doing to further your development to become the best CFO you can be? In my book, I recommend that CFOs negotiate a Professional Development spending account that can allow them to pay for the courses, coaching and conferences they need to become a better and more productive CFO.
Coaching – I find that the Chief Financial Officers that I work with in executive coaching are motivated to become even better CFOs. I truly believe that most CFOs would benefit from having a confidential confidant and coach to help them better focus, improve and plan for their success. For a new CFO who didn’t plan to become one so quickly, if at all, having an executive coach can make a big difference on the way to become a successful CFO for the company your work for today, and to your future employers as well.
If you are an accidental CFO, or may find yourself in this position one day, take these recommendations to heart. You may be fortunate to find yourself in the CFO chair, but do not squander this wonderful opportunity.