As the scope of the modern CFO's responsibility continues to widen, candidates for the role may find themselves needing to perfect a balance between hard and soft skills. This applies both to seasoned, traditionalist VPs of finance who have been in the industry for years, as well as newcomers who may be less attuned to the requirements.
Jennifer Barnes, CEO of Optima Office, told Forbes last week her primary questions when it comes to hiring a potential CFO:
- Will they fit in well with the company culture and get along with other leaders?
- And do they bring the experience to guide accounting and financial decisions "with a forward-thinking, strategic mindset?"
In response, CFO Dive asked Tom Kolder, president of Crist|Kolder Associates, an executive search boutique focused on recruiting CEOs and CFOs for Fortune 1000 clients, which questions he — and his clients — ask of potential new CFOs.
"In today's world, the most important element [our] clients are looking for is really strong operational DNA," Kolder said. "CFOs need to have strong financial accounting skills."
Kolder also stressed a focus on grasping companywide issues. "The CFO must drive operational initiatives across the organization," he said. "That, in addition to working with the CEO on setting the strategy, and then mobilizing the organization to execute it, are the top priorities for virtually every CFO search that we work on."
Kolder acknowledged how much the job has changed over the years, and the growing trend in which a new CFO is hired to redirect a company's efforts following a difficult stretch. "There are unique instances where a CFO needs to rebuild a finance team, or bring in particular expertise in accounting or financing, or maybe even, in some cases, investor relations," Kolder said. "But those are the exception rather than the rule; today, the rule is that companies want and need CFOs who contribute across the business and increasingly can be viewed as CEO succession candidates."
Crist|Kolder does 50 to 60 searches per year focused on the C-suite and the boardroom, and 60% of their business is CFO-focused, Kolder said.
"The reality is that what may have been a traditional CFO candidate 10 years ago is now much broader, and [candidates] need a much more expansive toolkit," Kolder said. "The ability to unite the business on setting their operating performance targets, and helping them put in place a plan to actually achieve those operational and financial goals, is now critical for the CFO and their team."
Kolder points to his business to substantiate his claims. "We do a study every year on what's happening in the C-suite, and over the course of the last 20 years, we’ve seen a steady decline in the use of a COO in corporate America, and the CFO is being asked to take on those tasks," he said. "Leading the finance function is a big, challenging job that has definitely broadened over time."