insight magazine

You’re the Savviest CFO Ever!

Want to know why? Well, we're going to be the ones to tell you. By Selena Chavis | Winter 2016/17


No longer the number crunchers of decades past, CFOs are powerful forces in business today. They have a dynamic presence and lead with great strategic vision—or at least they’re expected to. While audit skills, reporting and capital structure comprised the skill set of yesterday’s CFO, today these professionals are in charge of corporate strategy, risk management, capital allocation and high-level technology strategies.

Making it as a CFO is not for the faint-hearted. For those willing to dig deep and stretch their professional skill set, however, the rewards are rich and plentiful.
Here’s a look at what it takes.

Tech savvy

Technological advancement is driving tremendous market growth and disruption, and companies that aren’t leveraging the best infrastructures are being left behind. CFOs that skirt around the IT stage can expect to be left behind, too.

Savvy financial leaders not only understand the maturation of big data analytics, the cloud, mobile technologies and social media, but they also make the best infrastructure investments for future positioning and sustainability. Simply put, today’s CFOs need to be ready to lead their companies’ technology initiatives while keeping security, risk and the bottom line top of mind.

People savvy

Let’s face it, if your soft skills are still a work in progress, so are your hopes of ever making it as a CFO.

While many finance pros appreciate the opportunity to close their office doors and dig deep into analytics, it’s the soft skills that help to propel them to the top. It’s not only a matter of being communicative and transparent among staff and stakeholders, however; it’s also about knowing how to listen, how to inspire and how to influence. Everything from the way a CFO stands to the way he or she shakes a hand paints a picture of how that leader relates to the world—and the people—around them.

Put in the simplest terms, a CFO who is liked and respected is a CFO who will succeed.

Generation savvy

Four generations are vying for rewards and recognition in today’s workforce. Each has its own distinct characteristics, values and attitudes towards work. Good luck bringing them together! But that’s exactly what savvy CFOs do—rally a diverse team behind a common vision.

How do they do it? Top CFOs understand that building a team of top talent across multiple generations requires more than a competitive salary, medical benefits and a 401(k) plan. They know how to talk to and woo each generation in the ways that resonate most deeply with them. Traditionalists, for example, will favor a face-to-face conversation and a handshake over a text and a tweet, which Generation Z and Y thrive on.

A combination of both first-hand experience and active research (bookshelves and the Web are brimming with texts, articles and studies on the subject) teaches the best CFOs how to communicate and inspire each generation to do its best work and rally around a common goal.

Hat savvy

The title may be “chief financial officer,” but the duties go far beyond finance. Today’s savvy CFO wears many hats, often leading a company’s HR, IT and operations teams as well.

Simply, CFOs are actively engaged in virtually every aspect of business today and are responsible for driving the strategic direction of these areas. Because effective leadership also requires expertise and knowledge, finance leaders must proactively pursue opportunities to learn and expand their knowledge base—often on the frontlines or on the shop floor. One day they might be involved in the intricacies of an HR-related lawsuit, and the next, they might provide direction for the roll-out of a new product. There really is no limit to the CFO’s reach and influence.

Big picture savvy: Until a crystal ball comes along that accurately predicts a company’s future needs and challenges, CFOs will be expected to seek out and prepare for what’s to come. That means looking beyond raising capital and keeping a company’s stakeholders satisfied to determining the present and future influences shaping the organization and the marketplace in which it functions.

Becoming big picture savvy requires forward-thinking, strategic insight, deep analytical skills, a dynamic presence and the ability to connect the dots between challenges and solutions. Only then can a CFO effectively and rapidly respond to market and industry changes and challenges. Sometimes that means the mighty CFO might have to get down into the trenches to understand the day-to-day demands made on the business and its staff. Without this knowledge, companies are at risk of tanking in terms of staff morale, customer satisfaction and overall sustainability. 

Are You Ready?

The expectations of today’s CFOs are many. A wide skill set coupled with a healthy mix of intellect, street smarts and charisma are a good starting point. However, Business Insider points to six skills in particular that strategic CFOs absolutely must possess.

1. Open and transparent communication with staff, peers and stakeholders.
2. Courage to make the right choice even when it’s not the popular choice.
3. Composure and unwavering level-headedness in challenging situations.
4. Technical and technological competence.
5. A willingness to evolve professionally in an ever-changing environment.
6. The ability to communicate big picture vision to the team, the company and its customers.

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