I doubt the controversy around whether CFOs “need” a CPA or an MBA is going to die down anytime soon. There are lots of opinions … just ask 10 different people.

If you’re the candidate without a CPA, you probably feel one isn’t necessary. Same for an MBA. Just read some of the comments on the Proformative discussions around this issue.

From a company perspective, a credentialed CFO is a matter of preference … and that preference really is not impacted by what a candidate believes to be true. That fact adds up to a lot of frustration on the part of CFOs who feel they are qualified to do the job despite lacking the required credential.

Apparently, recruiters, who are hired by a company to find candidates who meet a list of specific requirements., also hold differing opinions. Another post on Proformative around this same issue generated this comment from one of the members …

FEI SF recently had retained recruiters from Russell Reynolds and Spencer Stuart spark on what employers are looking for today in a CFO. Financial planning was the top skill being sought as companies need to look forward and develop scenarios in these uncertain times. CPA is not needed and in fact Controller skills are less sought after in this post SOX implementation era. Experience is most important vs degrees.

But, a post this week on which talks about who CFOs are hiring said this …

But there is clearly a growing preference for those with broader business training. More than 2.5 times as many survey respondents (16%) have added people with MBA degrees than subtracted them (6%).

Specifically, companies need finance people who not only bring analytical skills but also influencing skills. They also require staffers with the ability to work across functions and, most important, the confidence to be credible business advisers, says Jeff Thomson, president and CEO of the Institute of Management Accountants.

The most desirable finance staffer, says Donald Kilinski, CFO practice leader at recruiting firm DHR International, is a CPA who then gets an MBA. Such a person may be more able to advise on strategic matters, such as what projects should be funded, whether something should be acquired, built, or bought, and whether products or services should be eliminated.

So there you have it. Everyone’s got an opinion. Here’s mine:

Know your value.
Know who needs what you bring to the table.
Play in that space.

If you don’t have a CPA and have no desire to get one, that’s fine. Focus on the companies who desire the proven ability to solve their problems over credentials. Same for the MBA.

One final comment. While I see the same MBA trend noted above, MBAs have become somewhat of a commodity … unless they are from a top-rated school. So, don’t buy one just to get one. Get one to add overall value to your proven track record of performance.

Share and enjoy

5 thoughts on “CFO * CPA * MBA”

  1. Cindy,

    One of the interesting items I ran across in that discussion group was that depending on the CPA/MBA specs seemed to tilt the role and responsibility of the CFO somewhat – a CPA was when they wanted a more control oriented role, while an MBA was required when they wanted more of a strategic partner.

    I think your summary is perfect – play in the space where you add value.

  2. Cindy,

    As someone that follows CFO hires , I see CFOs hired with a CPA, with an MBA, with both, and with neither.

    The buyer (company hiring) wants what they want. Right or wrong, they are making the buying (hiring) decision.

    Whether a company is looking to hire and emphasizes a piece of paper (CPA, MBA or other) or specific industry work experience is not the issue. These are not things a CFO on the hunt can control.

    What they can control is their message. A Chief Financial Officer needs to know their value, and play to their strengths.

    Worrying otherwise is futile.

    Samuel Dergel – The CFO Expert
    CFO Search Specialist
    Stanton Chase International

  3. Well, I must say that in my 30+ year of experience as a finanicial manager and executive I have had by far better luck (on average) with candidates that have the CPA and MBA credential. However, I have always used these credentials as a guidepost only and not a litmus test. I think that any young person interested in a career in Corporate Finance should definitely consider pursuing both if possible. I would also agree that the best MBA schools generally produce the best candidates – not just the private schools but also the elite public school programs like Indiana, Michigan, Texas, etc


Leave a Comment