The average tenure for a CFO is about five years, according to a recent Korn Ferry study. This is much shorter than a typical senior management position, but it's a trend that has held steady across different economic cycles.
Mark Nelson, CFO of Beyond Meat, told CFO Dive in November that, after spearheading an incredibly successful IPO, even he began considering his next move. "It had always been my dream to take a company public," he said. "and now I've gotten to do it."
Many CFOs like Nelson reach their professional goals — an IPO, an acquisition, or steady quarterly earnings growth — but may come to a point where they think about transitioning, taking their talents elsewhere. When you've built something really good, how do you leave the company in such a way that the company's owners and stakeholders don't lose faith?
Negative news from corporate — such as a highly impactful CFO retiring — can create lower business valuations and less financial flexibility. And if a company doesn't have a solid transition plan, and leadership doesn't share a clear pathway to maintain its success, stakeholders get nervous.
Streaming giant Roku demonstrated this week the idea that the departure of a key member of the c-suite can create financial ripple effects company-wide.
The Los Gatos, California-based company announced Monday morning that its CFO, Steve Louden, who joined the streaming company in 2015, is stepping down, but will stick around to assist in the search for his replacement. Barron’s reported that Roku shares fell 2% lower based on the news since, thanks to Louden’s tenure, the company's shares value even with the decline would still be left with a 340% YTD gain and a market value of nearly $16 billion.
Louden is credited with not only Roku’s rapid growth following its IPO in 2017, but also the ability to "argue the company's complex financial and business metrics to investors in a market that is seeing intense competition from much larger rivals including Amazon, Apple and Disney," according to TheStreet. In a statement in the press release, Roku CEO Anthony Wood said Louden "managed [the company’s] finances through [its] transition to a public company and rapid expansion into new areas of streaming."
While Louden has promised to help with the transition, his departure will certainly be a loss for Roku. His confidence that competitors Disney, Amazon and Apple, will rely on Roku for streaming software reflects will need to be maintained by his successor, as the new entrants into the field would otherwise threaten Roku’s ability to remain operational.
CFO turnover is not always seen as a bad thing, as shares jumped nearly 7% when the CEO and CFO of Expedia departed together. But Neiman Marcus saw a mixed response after its CFO of less than two years left abruptly, and when Cars.com yesterday announced the departure of its CFO, leaving only an interim executive to serve in her place, shares declined 3.1%.
It can ultimately be difficult to discern just how a CFO's departure will be received by investors, analysts, and other stakeholders. Financial performance is intrinsically tied to the person in the CFO role, and if the person leaves. If they represent stability, is leadership bound to falter when they go?
The sum of each of these factors underscore the need for a company, independent of the CFO who may or may not depart, to build solid financial stability, as well as a talent pipeline and transition plan, to ensure that stakeholders will not hold mistrust against the departed executive for too long.