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The CFO Has to Be a Jack-of-All-Trades — and Master of Them, Too

CGMA- jack of all trades2How should up-and-coming CFOs regard their role in the corporate hierarchy? They might do well to think of themselves as “the voice of reason.”

There were many comments about the shifting role of the CFO at the recent World Congress of Accountants 2014. But to me, none rang truer than the quote above, expressed by Carol Calandra, CFO, Global Markets, EY Global.

As CFOs rise in the ranks, and become indispensable partners to their CEOs, there are still distinct differences in their responsibilities. Carol believes CFOs should be independent and work well with the CEO, but she insists the two roles “have to challenge each other. Otherwise, you have ‘yes men’…and that doesn’t help anybody.”

To be sure, there is still much debate on what contributions CFOs must provide and how they fit into corporate culture. That discussion will likely remain in flux. It depends on the culture of a company, of course, as well as the changing expectations of the CFO role itself.  These include (but are not limited to) balancing the responsibilities of stewardship with business partnership, while also being the “navigator” for the organization. 

The successful CFO has to be a jack-of-all-trades, and master of them, too. These individuals will thrive by being versatile, possessing the skills and talents to address a business climate that’s constantly changing—all the while attending to the financial challenges of the corporation. Such diversity is a must, and the new price of admission. As Tony Chanmugam, CFO, British Telecom, stated at WCOA 2014, “the prerequisite for a CFO is that they’ve had to do operational jobs” because it helps them “fit seamlessly” into the senior management role.

But as they continue to contribute to organizational strategy, being an objective voice—that “voice of reason” Carol mentioned—remains paramount.  Since it’s a relatively new role in business, CFOs can anticipate a lot of scrutiny.  That’s especially true because the organization will shape the responsibilities of the CFO to its own needs. For better or worse, the aspirations of a company are heavily influenced by its history and culture, the business acumen of the CFO, the demands of the CEO and senior management, and the current business climate.

What we do know is that CFOs will continue to become an integral part of senior management and have a profound impact on an organization’s bottom line. As they take on more (and more) responsibility, their role becomes exponentially critical. That, in turn, means a company must prepare for the next succession of CFOs and have a successful transition plan in place.

Today’s CFOs already wield great influence, and their power will only grow. So perhaps it’s entirely fitting that they be recognized as “the voice of reason” in their companies.

Read more on the evolving role of the CFO and access exclusive reports, tools and more on CGMA.org.

Arleen Thomas, CPA, CGMA, Senior Vice President - Management Accounting, American Institute of CPAs. 


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