Exploring the issues that shape today's business world.

CFOs Go Global

7 skills launching finance leaders on to the international stage. By Sheryl Nance Nash | Summer 2015

Summer Clobal

When Christopher Columbus came to the New World, who did he bring right along with him? “An accountant, Rodrigo Sanchez, who was sent by the Queen and King of Spain,” Roberto Castaneda, program director of acc-ounting and finance at Walden University in Minn., explains.

To put it simply, finance leaders have been, and always will be, among the most trusted business advisors—particularly in the “New World” of international business.

Undoubtedly, finance is an interesting place these days. “Major U.S. companies continue to expand overseas in fertile lands of business opportunity such as China, India and Mongolia. Businesses are looking for more talent to assist in these endeavors,” says Castaneda. The truth is, even the smallest business can have a global reach today.

What does that mean for finance professionals? “Their roles are becoming more global in scope because the underlying nature of business is changing,” explains Norma Lauder, director of the MS Tax Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “The impact that a transaction or decision can have is now global, and as a result, they must view their work through a global lens.”

“Businesses are realizing the CFO’s knowledge of financial data and information is a powerful asset that needs to be used to make good business and strategy decisions. They also realize the CFO and finance team have inherent disciplines to execute on strategy that others in the organization can’t provide. Unleashing this asset is required to compete in this global market of intense competition for market share, margins, and more,” says Alexander Hansen, executive partner of CFO Services for Hardesty LLC, a national executive services firm.

However, not all finance professionals are ready to step into global roles. “The globalization of business has evolved too rapidly for everyone to keep pace,” Lauder contends.

The change will indeed prove challenging for some. “The average corporate finance professional may not necessarily be prepared for the size, scope and technical aspects of interpreting changes in accounting policies that are facing large multinational organizations,” says Chandra Pappas, senior vice president with Randstad Professionals, a professional interim services firm with locations across the globe.

Are you the stuff global CFOs are made of? Here are seven skills, qualities and traits that promise to launch finance leaders into the international marketplace.

1. Speak a Global Language

In order to be a truly global business leader and keeper of public trust, “business experience in foreign countries is a necessity. Foreign tours of duty are a must,” says Harry Zike, group CFP of Chinook Sciences. For those on their rise up the ranks, put in your request for an international assignment ASAP!

 What’s more, “A minimum of two, preferably three language skills is becoming essential to fulfill the global business role,” Zike adds.

2. Understand the Global Marketplace

Making sense of an increasingly complex market is a big challenge. “While many companies are finding they need to be global to be competitive, the risks are more complex, and complying with regulations from multiple jurisdictions can be confusing,” says Hansen.

 With more than 100 countries following IFRS, finance professionals can bring exceptional value to their companies by understanding these accounting rules, along with local customs and laws, says Castaneda.

“Having the ability to understand and not judge foreign rules and regulations, and having experience in diverse environments and geographic locations is very helpful,” adds Zike.

3. Embrace International Relations

To be a trusted business partner, you need to inspire the confidence of local management and other local stakeholders, while  also supporting the needs of the U.S. company.

“This includes developing relationships with local banks, vendors and the community at large,” says Castaneda. “I’ve visited and lived in many countries as an expatriate and have found that finance professionals, in terms of trust and ethics, are treated with high regard everywhere.”

4. Put Ethics Front and Center

The CFO is the natural leader and keeper of public trust, and often serves as the conscience of the organization. CFOs therefore need to understand the consequences of their actions and their impact on business activities. Ethical corporate governance is every employee’s responsibility, it’s true, but it’s especially in the CFO’s purview to be a global ethics watchdog.

5. Grab a Few More Hats

The CEO and board at many companies, particularly those that play in the global marketplace, demand that a CFO have a well-developed and diverse toolkit in order to successfully manage finance, strategic transactions, M&A integration, systems and data management, and controllership. “They are looking for not only a team player, but also a leader who will help to drive operational improvement and develop strategy,” Hansen explains.

6. Yes, Soft Skills Play a Part, Too

In an expanded, more global role, soft skills become evermore critical, since finance professionals are communicating with a broader range of constituents with diverse cultural backgrounds and customs.

“The CFO of tomorrow needs strong public speaking skills and presence to be a collaborator, and have the ability to compromise at the right time,” says Hansen.

7. Make Diversity Your Mission

Today’s savvy CFOs are champions of diversity and inclusion, Hansen explains. “As companies become more global, finance teams need to match their clients and those with whom they interact in the same way that the rest of the organization needs to.”

If there’s one guarantee in today’s corporate world, it’s that change will come on a global scale. How you adapt to that change will determine your ability to take your place on the global stage.