CFOs: Moving or Staying?

Long searches, short stints, and position experience vs. industry experience. That pretty much sums up what’s going on nationally for Chief Financial Officer careers today.

First from WSJ

Central Garden & Pet Co. (CENT) named Lori Varlas its new chief financial officer, completing a 10-month search that lasted more than twice as long as the official predecessor’s term as CFO. (emphasis added)

Ten months to replace a CFO who served only 5 months. It is quite possible this will not be atypical over the next several years. Realistically, CFOs should count on a search taking 9-12 months. The savvy CFO will understand that he has the most power and the best positioning for that next move while he is still gainfully employed and entertaining offers from recruiters who are beating down the doors to scoop one more seemingly unattainable high-value candidate.

And from

–a growing majority of those CFOs who are hired come by way of internal promotions.

… 78% of the external hires had been either sitting CFOs or divisional finance executives. That kind of experience was far more relevant than industry experience, as 56% of those brought in from outside came from a different industry. (emphasis added)

The first trend is to promote internally. The article cites 57% of Fortune 1,000 companies doing just that, and that figure is up over the previous two years. Good news for that 2nd in finance command – if the CFO is planning to move or retire anyway.

The other trend is what I find very interesting. The Strategic Finance Leader skill set, rather than industry experience, accounted for more than half of all external hires. This isn’t surprising to me. Companies are recognizing that part of their current challenges might stem from the fact that they are immersed in the industry mindset. If they continue to do what they’ve been doing, they will almost certainly continue to get the same or very similar results. A Finance Leader with an outside perspective might just bring the breath of fresh thinking they need to get unstuck or to reach their goals.

Again, savvy CFOs who are considering a move in the next year will be thinking today about who their target audience is and how to get on their radar screen before they need, or want, to make a move.

Over-promoted and Over His Head

How would you like that headline to appear in the #1 slot in a Google search of your name? While this is a fictionalized story of a CFO turned CEO, could you find yourself the “victim” of digital dirt?

And here’s another potential career killer headline in Reuters … “Boston Provident fires CFO Levy for alleged theft.” Or this one, “Ex-Petters Co. CFO ‘Lied for a Living’.

I know, I know. I can hear you now. Those are a big deal and I would never appear in such a headline. Thankfully, that is true for the majority of people. But what about the small stuff? Comments taken out of context in a conversation with a reporter, a statement you made on a controversial position in a Board meeting, an adversarial comment you left on a blog … again, used out of context, or an irritated comment you left on a public forum. 

If you aren’t checking your online identity, how do you know what’s being said about you? In today’s social media world, you are who Google says you are. 

The most recent stats I’ve heard were from an ERE personal branding seminar last week … 77% of executive recruiters use search engines to research applicants and 59% of hiring managers are influenced by your online identity. On an initial Google search by recruiters, could you be confused with someone with an unsavory reputation? What if one of these CFOs happens to share your name … do you also get to carry his baggage?

Testament to how critical a digital footprint is to one’s career is the article in the Wall Street Journal … “More Job Seekers Scramble to Erase Their Criminal Past.” Again, you might not have a criminal past but someone who shares your name may. And as the article states, digital dirt is nearly impossible to eradicate. That also applies to the “small stuff.”