- 37 CFOs left their Fortune 500 company last year, a departure rate almost 28% higher than in 2019, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. The reason: Covid-19 business disruption.
- The pandemic added to CFOs’ already high workload and long hours, leading to burnout, the report suggested. "2020 was a brutal year for CFOs, in terms of the mental toll," Shawn Woessner, co-head of the financial officers practice at executive-search firm Odgers Berndtson, told the Journal.
- The 37 CFOs represent a 7.4% departure rate compared to the more typical 5% rate, a 2.4 percentage rate difference. CFOs likely struggled to manage lockdowns, fundraising, talent retention and real-estate reorganizations while working remotely, Woessner said.
Given the higher-than-usual departure rate, companies might have trouble finding replacements. A survey late last year by global consulting firm Spencer Stuart found the pool of CFOs with Fortune 500 experience is shrinking, in part because these sought-after executives don’t want to move to another big company unless they do so as CEO.
"CFOs are choosing other paths and not electing to do the job twice," Tricia Clifford, a consultant in Spencer Stuart's financial officers practice, told CFO Dive when the survey was released.
In 2019, of 90 Fortune 500 CFOs to change jobs, only four went to another Fortune 500 company as its next CFO. That’s fewer than 1%, and the percentage might be even lower now.
"The role has changed, and the CFO experience has changed, and the bottom line is, it's gotten harder," Clifford said.
Another reason it’s gotten harder: CEOs and company boards expect CFOs to shoulder much of the executive workload. Not only are they expected to manage both the books and the strategy, increasingly, they’re being asked to take over other function areas, like IT and HR.
That might be behind a sizable drop in the average time a CFO spends at a company. It went from 5.3 years in 2015 to 4.86 years last year, a drop of about 8%, according to Krist Kolder Associates data.
Activists make up another pressure point. Both on boards and off, activists are holding companies to a higher standard on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance, which falls on CFOs to measure and report.
"When you layer on the increase in presence of activists, it becomes a very difficult environment," she said.
Paul McDonald, a senior executive director at staffing agency Robert Half International, shared a similar message with the Journal. "It comes down to the constant barrage of pressure for the CFO to drive the results," he said.