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