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!

Branded Differentiation & Value

Whenever I come across the same theme multiple times within a short amount of time, I feel the need to write a blog post. That happened yesterday.

First, the Fractional CFO blogged about “differentiation.” Now his post was focused on differentiation within retailers … Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Linens n’ Things; Best Buy and Circuit City; Home Depot and Hechinger’s … but there's a definite pattern. Only one lives on.

“Without a strong differentiation from competitors, a business is much more vulnerable and therefore more likely to suffer from pricing pressures, loss of market share, and eventual failure.”

The word “candidate” could just as easily be inserted in place of “business” in the above quote. 

Then, my good friend and C-Suite Colleague Deb Dib summed up branded value in this tweet …

How good hires happen: 

Brand+value = interview 

Brand+value+ROI = short list 

Brand+value+ROI+chemistry = fit = hired! 

A visible, branded, and differentiated ROI is the key to standing out from the competition while offering something of value that a company is more than happy to pay to get. Whether you live on as a high-value CFO target, get bested by the competition, or disappear in the masses … is a choice.