Making the move from CFO to CEO

As we struggle through the longest double-dip recession to hit the UK for more than 50 years, companies are being forced to safeguard their future. Simon Drew explains why CFOs are the next generation of power-wielders...

by Simon Drew
Last Updated: 24 Aug 2012

Today, businesses are under huge pressure to perform thanks to  challenging economic conditions the world over. But this is a perfect opportunity for the ambitious CFO to promote their value and climb further up the ladder. Businesses' goals have shifted significantly since the UK descended into economic turmoil: many firms are shunning fast growth in favour of cautious consolidation. Increasingly, business is searching for robust financial leadership.

According to executive head-hunters firm Odgers Berndtson, the number of CFOs aspiring to become chief executive is at 59% and is rising. CFOs are often accustomed to taking a less conspicuous position, conscientiously ensuring the company is moving forwards and growth targets are being met. However, to be recognised as leadership material it is essential to demonstrate how vital the CFO is in keeping the business afloat and directing a course through the current challenging conditions.

Reduction of overheads, controlling costs and increasing profitability have become essential priorities since the economic downturn, holding CFOs up as the indispensible element of any business success. 

Company boards no longer have the time to entertain strategic leaders who might have the directional capability but cannot back it up with solid financial guidance. In a time when shareholders need to be kept sweet, CFOs can create the value that is necessary to take the business forward.

But true leaders will also have to be able to step outside of their financial remit and understand other vital elements of the business such as staffing pressures or the importance of marketing. 

Those running companies in the current climate need a broad spectrum of skills from understanding how customers think to how to react when important staff leave. Experience within other departments of the business could be a huge help when overcoming unsuspecting hurdles.

If a CFO is prepared for these challenges, then now is the time for them to step forward and wrest more control of the boardroom. They have the ability to confront the realities of what is slowing their business down and make the harsh decisions to turn the situation around. 

The generation of chief executives that are forging a successful path through this recession are those that can make strategic decisions while understanding their true financial implications. Finance directors and CFOs should therefore embrace the opportunity to fight for the top spot while it is theirs for the taking.

Simon Drew is chief executive of InterResolve, claims mediation experts. 

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