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.

What Employers Want from CFOs

Executive coach Mike Smith did a great job of summarizing comments made by Spencer Stuart’s Karen Quint at a chapter meeting of FEI.

Some very key points from that presentation include this one … “Karen mentioned that the time to get ready for a new role is before the job comes up.” In other words, embrace the “I’m merely between searches mentality.” Have a career survival plan and execute it daily. Despite the fact that CFO tenure is up (partly due to the recession), the fact is that corporate loyalty is tied directly to last quarter’s numbers. 

Additional key points from the article …

–Since 2003, the number of CPA CFOs has risen from 29% to 45%.

There is a lot of chatter among finance executives around the necessity of holding the CPA designation. The reality is, if a company requires it … that is their prerogative. You can’t get around the requirement through a job board or a recruiter, but you “might” be able to get around it through a direct contact with the CEO or a Board member. 

–The national average of an external CFO hire is 40%.

That means a couple of things. First, 60% are internal hires, which is a pretty big number. And it also means that the competition is extremely stiff for the remaining 40%, which is a pretty low number. To compete for those external positions, a candidate must stand out from among all the other CFO candidates vying for those same jobs.

–Today’s Chief Financial Officer is more influential and more visible. He is able to build strong relationships throughout, across, and beyond the company and serves as a strategic business partner.

Bean counting is out … driving strategic vision is in. To accomplish that, CFOs must possess solid interpersonal, communication, and negotiation skills. "CFOs not only want people with people skills working for them, they themselves bring higher value when they bring relational skills sets to the table." (full post)

Quint also wrote an article for Business Week if you’re interested in her thoughts on “Boards and the expanding role of the CFO.”


Back in March of 2007, I authored an article on CFO career trends. Here’s an exerpt:

CPA CFOs are the candidates of the future. A CPA CFO with operational experience will offer a compelling value proposition.

The catalyst for “Who Needs a COO,” in was Starbuck’s elimination of the COO role and the filling of that role by the CFO. And, according to this article, other companies are following suit as CFOs with technical qualifications, absent from most COO backgrounds, are challenged to partner with the CEO in driving profitability.

I’m updating my previous statement … CPA/CFOs with a solid record of operational contributions offer a compelling value proposition.