Top Advice for Highly Effective CFOs

Being the chief financial officer for any business is a huge responsibility.  As with any career, one way to improve your performance as a CFO is to learn from industry experts. That’s why, today, we’re bringing you some expert advice for highly effective CFOs. This advice comes directly from top CFOs from the Boston chapter of the CFO Leadership Council, including:

  • Keith Seidman (former CFO at Thinking Phones, Kiva Systems, and Acme Packet)
  • David Noymer (CFO at the Greater Boston Food Bank)
  • Ted Myles (CFO & COO at Ocata Therapeutics)
  • Mary Jefts (CFO at Unidesk)

How to Land Your First CFO Position

As with any top-tier job, landing your first CFO position takes diligence and effort. Hiring teams want to see CFO experience. Here are three ways to break into a career as a CFO:

  • Work your way up in a company by training under a CFO. Being second in command to an existing CFO can give you the experience you need to eventually land a CFO position.
  • Networking is key. If you have a good rapport with the CEO of a small company, they may take a chance on you.
  • Take similar positions to show that you can perform the necessary tasks to be a CFO.

Despite the difficulties with breaking into a CFO position, panellists still advocated for caution. Do your research on a company ahead of time. The last thing you want is for your first CFO position to be a failure because you weren’t aware of underlying financial black holes.


Get Used to Working with Board Members

To be an effective CFO, you have to have the support of board members. Build strong relationships with members of your board by interacting with board members outside of meetings. Learn what each member cares about so that you can tailor your presentations accordingly.

When it comes to board meetings themselves, treat every board meeting like a job interview. This means being on time—or early—and well-prepared. Always speak candidly to help build trust with the board. Here are some important habits to adopt when it comes to preparing for board meetings:

  • Practice your pitches ahead of time and on different audiences
  • Get used to negotiating
  • Understand and memorise your key objectives
  • Always have materials ready to hand out with important statistics and figures board members may want to see

For more information on connecting with board members, check out this article.


Communicate Clearly

One of your most important duties as a CFO is to keep all of your stakeholders on the same page. To do this, improve your communication and ensure that you’re delivering the same message, with the same goals and objectives outlined, to everyone who may be affected. This list may include:

  • Employees
  • Upper Management
  • Investors
  • Board Members
  • Customers

Make a point of building strong relationships with all company stakeholders when things are at status quo so that you’re in a good position to communicate with them when changes occur.


Understand the Changing Role of CFOs

30 years ago, a CFO did a much different job than a CFO does today. Today’s CFO is much more directly involved with the company’s long-term success. This means that there is less time available for nuanced day-to-day tasks. In order to be successful, today’s CFO needs to be able to manage a team and delegate day-to-day tasks in order to have time and energy available for large-scale projects.

Today’s CFO also needs to be a practised leader. It’s no longer enough to hide behind your desk and churn out reports. CFOs work closely with CEOs to develop business strategies. If leadership qualities don’t come naturally to you, you may need to attend leadership seminars or courses in order to fine-tune that skill set.


The Future of CFOs

A CFO’s role is constantly changing and evolving. To be a successful CFO, it’s important to stay up-to-date with new technologies and industry trends. Think outside the box, and learn how to inspire your team members. For example, millennials expect flexibility in the work place, and may need to be trained on appropriate workplace communication.

Other concerns of today’s CFOs include cyber security and keeping company reviews on sites like Glassdoor positive. Continuing to connect with industry leaders can help you stay ahead of the curve and ensure a strong CFO career.


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