Are You a CFO with the Goal of Being CEO?

I have thought for years that the Chief Financial Officer was a natural fit to step into the role of Chief Executive Officer, even before the expansion of the Finance Chief’s responsibilities. And while I still believe the facts support my perspective, the statistics of those finance leaders “actually” stepping into the top position at a company are quite low.

However, for those CFOs who have the CEO seat in their sights, Crist Kolder’s president says

“For about 80% of the CFO searches we’re doing, our clients are specifying that they want someone who can be a CEO successor someday.”

Regardless of whether your goal is your first CFO role, a new CFO position with more responsibility, a CFO position that leads to a CEO role, or our first Chief Executive Officer role, there are 3 things that are critically important to positioning yourself for any of those roles.

A cohesive message of being a leader who solves problems

Whether you are positioning yourself for an internal or external move, your ability to solve problems and deliver impacts matters … greatly. There are limited CFO and CEO opportunities in the marketplace. Separate yourself from the competition, who largely focus on duties and responsibilities, by concentrating on the challenge you faced, the potential risk or consequence of doing nothing, and the action(s) you took to resolve the issue and position the company to achieve its objective.

I have heard Finance Chiefs say … “if I can only get in front of someone, I can close the deal.” That’s great. But you need the opportunity to get in front of a decision maker. Your value message must be cohesive and flow throughout every written marketing document, including a Linkedin profile, as well as verbal messaging.

There is also a mistaken belief by internal candidates that they do not need to work as hard as external candidates. That is a flawed perspective. If anything, the internal candidate needs to be even more visible and vocal about his or her contributions. You might think the people who need to know do know, but your job is to make sure they know rather than assume they know.

Proven and recognizable soft skills

I talked about this in my previous blog post – In Demand CFOs – but it is worth repeating. You did not get to be a Chief Financial Officer because you do not have finance skills. But it might very well be the case that you miss out on a really great opportunity without proven soft skills.

A cone of influence

The truth is you need to know people who know people. Job boards are seductive, and ineffective. Recruiters want the perfect-fitting candidate and they don’t have a monopoly on the market. Your network is the best source of leads and referrals to those great opportunities you are seeking.

When you are looking for that first position – whether it is as a CFO or CEO – someone who knows you and can vouch for your ability to do the job just might be the influential lynchpin that gets you in the door.

A strong network cannot be understated for any executive candidate.

Copyright CFO-Coach 2017


Cindy Kraft is the CFO-Coach and America’s leading Career & Personal Brand Strategist for Corporate Finance Executives helping clients understand their marketability, articulate their value, and position themselves as the clear and compelling choice. She is a Certified Reach Personal Brand Strategist, Certified Reach Online Identity Strategist, Certified Career Management Coach, Certified Professional Resume Writer, and Job & Career Transition Coach. Cindy can be reached via email, by phone 813-727-3037, or through her website at



CFOs Movin’ on Up to CEOS

My good friend and colleague, Deb Deb, forwarded me the recent Business Week link that talked about CEO churn being at a 3-year high. What does that have to do with you as a Chief Financial Officer?

As early as April 2009 I thought that the CFO-to-CEO track would become a more typical pattern.

CFOs as CEOs
CFOs as CEOs, the Update
Will 2010 Begin the Decade of the CFO?

It’s not “just” that CEO churn is up, it’s who companies are looking for to step into those CEO slots. Here’s the excerpt with my emphasis added …

“After three years of declining turnover among CEOs, churn at the top is back. As the economy improves, the rate of corner-office shakeups has picked up as more boards replace veteran CEOs with younger leaders with very different résumés.”

“Younger leaders with very different résumés” doesn’t necessarily translate to CFOs, but, it can. And it could. And it might. A recent report said that 25% of start-up CFOs make the move to CEO. That’s a pretty high statistic … and I can see that same pattern migrating beyond just start-up companies.

But generally, it’s not an easy path. If you have the lead dog as your long-term goal, then here’s what I believe it will take. You MUST

— hold a seat at the table and be intimately involved in setting and guiding vision;

— be known as a trusted advisor to the CEO, Board, investors, and shareholders;

— bring a solid track record of quantifiable operational experience … a pure finance background won’t get you to the CEO slot;

— possess stellar communication and leadership skills. That necessitates being a people-person, not just a numbers-person.

If your goal is the Chief Executive Officer seat, 2011-2012 might just prove to be the right time to position yourself to make the move.

P.S. I wrote this on the plane on the way to the CFO RoundTable in Boston on Tuesday. What was very interesting to me was the CEO on the panel affirming the second item on my list … being a trusted advisor. It’s a critically important part of the equation!

Why MEASURABLE Impacts are So Important

According to the article “CEOs Don’t Earn Their Pay, Execs Agree” in Today in Finance at magazine,

>>Although chief executives are usually charged with setting performance measures, 58.8 percent of respondents said the reason for overcompensated CEOs is a lack of real performance objectives and evaluation. Further, 47.8 percent said rewards bore little connection to future corporate performance. And 39.6 percent faulted "undue CEO domination of the process" as the reason for exorbitant pay.

With everyone seemingly ganging up on the CEO, it might comfort some that 56.3 percent of those surveyed said that their board has a formal CEO succession plan. Good news for the CFO is that most of those queried consider the finance chief to be a natural choice to take the top job.<<

A CFO can become the trusted advisor and confidant to the CEO in creating and executing strategic growth initiatives; benchmarking world-class finance performance measures; and becoming a very visible face of the organization through liaisons with investors and lending institutions thereby positioning himself to move into a CEO role.

The challenge I see … constantly … from my CFOs is a focus on what they did rather (responsibilities) rather than how they delivered (performance). If that sounds like you, begin today to keep track of both the measurable impact to the bottom line and the long–term strategic importance of your contributions. It will matter in defending your future salary.