Not all paths to leadership positions are the same. What was once a rigid route to the top finance role – from accounts assistant, to accountant, to controller and treasurer, to Chief Financial Officer (CFO ) – can now be supplemented by roles in other business functions, such as operations and sales, creating an opportunity for those with unconventional backgrounds to step into the position.
While it’s easy to identify the opportunity, it can be harder to seize upon it. The last decade has seen huge shifts in technology, social interaction, politics and economics and there’s no reason to think that this will stop in the foreseeable future. The modern CFO needs a breadth of experience to take on the role, but what do those looking to move into the role do to create cross-departmental value and prepare them for the responsibilities?
Build a broad foundation of finance experience
CFOs often need to ask the right questions across the organisation, which means understanding and having experience company-wide. No process, even technical ones like legal or finance, happen in a vacuum; they affect staff, procedure, process and day-to-day work, meaning that skills in project and people management are key. Of course, that’s not to say that financial experience isn’t essential; almost half of today’s CFOs have had six or more finance roles during their career, 80% have had a finance role in more than one organisation and almost three-quarters have finance experience in more than one industry.
See strategy and business experience as the new baseline
Changes in how we live, work and do business are becoming ever more pronounced and rapid. This means that future CFOs will need to be able to take a high-level overview of not only their department or business sector, but of the entire business landscape. The ability to build relationships and networks of support, as well as a wide range of commercial skills and sensibilities will be ever more important to those hoping for great success.
Career plan for data analytics
Business data and information now reaches the core of many departments across the company and the finance department is ever more important in its role of offering insight into using the data correctly to prevent bad decisions being made. Being able to effectively analyse data and provide insights into what that data means for the organisation is a crucial skill.
Gain risk experience
Risk is no longer weighted into mere profit and loss, as CFOs also need to assess ideas like reputational risk from certain investments being made public, or exposing the company to greater cyber risks from not updating IT equipment. Assessing risk in these wider fields that don’t just affect the finance department will grow in importance.
Get closer to stakeholders
Engaging stakeholders was once only in the realm of the CEO, but creating strong relationships with key stakeholders – and allowing the CFO to talk to them in a manner they understand – is becoming the norm. As investors become more savvy, they’re looking for greater feedback and information and the CFO is the logical conduit for the financial health of the company. CFOs who have strong networking abilities will in turn not only be able to reassure and inform key stakeholders, but use them to ensure the future commitment to the business.
Learn how to be customer-centric
Gaining experience in roles which provide greater customer understanding will be key in developing a customer-centric culture, which drives innovation, service and, in turn, profits. Working closely with colleagues in sales, customer service, customer experience and marketing can provide a broader view of how to satisfy customers and provide the best return on investment.
Be skilled in leadership, communication, strategy and change management
As finance organisations become more diverse, their success is dependent on a strong united leadership vision and an engaged and skilled team. Knowledge of processes regarding change management, project oversight and the ability to communicate effectively between internal and external parties will become a priority.
Bring cross-cultural, cross-market business and finance experience to the table
To be truly effective, the next CFO will be a global thinker. They will have core technical knowledge as well as people skills. They will think globally to take opportunities to expand into new markets and territories and create a diverse and robust company that has the ability to think differently thanks to a diverse workforce.
If you’re eager to progress your career and improve some areas of your knowledge in order to reach for the CFO role, then postgraduate study could be the right path. Designed specifically for ambitious professionals, the University of York has introduced an online Finance, Leadership and Management MSc, meaning you can earn a Masters degree from a world-class Russell Group university without putting your current career on hold. You can access course material and study anytime, anywhere, and on a variety of devices. With six start dates to choose from, you can start your MSc when best suits you. There’s also the option for you to pay in instalments, and you may even be entitled to a UK government-backed postgraduate loan to cover the full cost of the course.