Talented CFOs are always on the lookout for next steps, and for many, this may mean setting their sights on a company’s top executive seat. For finance chiefs looking to make that jump, the most important thing to keep in mind is for them to “be inquisitive,” advised Frank Calderoni, CEO of global talent platform Velocity Global.
Making sure you get “the broadest experience in the various finance and CFO roles” as you can is critical for finance chiefs eying the CEO chair, Calderoni, who has served a variety of CFO roles himself, said in an interview.
Velocity Global provides services to help streamline companies’ global operations, including acting as their U.S. employer of record to help with needs such as payroll and benefits. Calderoni took on its top executive seat in early April, the Denver, Colorado-based company announced, in what is his second turn at the CEO wheel. Previously, Calderoni served as CEO of corporate performance management company Anaplan. Prior to Anaplan, he held CFO positions for companies including Red Hat, Cisco Systems, QLogic and SanDisk.
“My roles were much more operational in addition to the planning and accounting,” he said of his CFO roles. Calderoni also served as EVP of operations for Red Hat during his time at the company, according to his LinkedIn profile. “As a result of doing that, you get to learn more about the business.”
Stepping out of the CFO box
Being inquisitive about other areas of the business and “not necessarily going in as a CFO all the time” can help finance chiefs gain the perspective they need when it comes time to move to the CEO seat, Calderoni said. Just taking time to listen and learn about the company’s product that is going to market is critical, he said.
However, executing those accounting responsibilities “extremely well” is an essential step before finance leaders can branch out into other areas. When looking at future CFO candidates himself, Calderoni is looking for someone who not only has a grasp on the basics, but also for someone who is “inquisitive, someone who really understands the business and wants to get more involved in the business,” he said.
Gaining that range of experience may prove useful for finance professionals especially as former CFOs still make up a small number of sitting CEOs, Calderoni said.
There may have been a perception that “CFOs are of a certain make” and that they therefore wouldn’t be as successful in a CEO role, Calderoni said, a barrier he had to cross on his own journey to the CEO chair. “So I think that kind of held back CFOs and I think CFOs also contributed to that to some extent because again, they didn't take on that broader experience.”
Lessons learned from the CFO seat
Successes by previous CFOs turned CEOs may be swinging open that door, however: while still rare, such moves are on an upward curve, according to the latest Volatility Report by Crist|Kolder Associates. CEOs who took the seat directly from a CFO position accounted for 7.9% of sitting CEOs in 2022, according to the report, compared to 6.6% in 2020. Of that figure, 7.2% were internal company hires.
The increase of CFOs moving into the top seat may be occurring as more companies reassess their business needs — finance chiefs bring an attention to detail and a helpful comfort with crucial business metrics to the CEO chair, Calderoni said.
Additionally, CFOs are increasingly dealing with an expanding suite of responsibilities at their companies, including that of hiring. Labor still remains tight, Calderoni said, with business leaders juggling a narrowing pool of workers, remote and hybrid workforces, and an expanding hunt for global talent.
Therefore, “going after the right skill, regardless of where it is, is what all executives and CFOs are mostly concerned about,” Calderoni said of hiring trends. “So CFOs play an active role.”
While former CFOs can offer a unique perspective as CEOs, they also need to ensure they are not clinging on to old habits and making sitting CFOs feel micromanaged, according to Calderoni.
“As a CEO...let the CFO do the CFO job,” he advised. “Even though I have a background there, I've always stepped away from that because there's so much else that needs attention.”