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Advice on Career Tracks for Finance, Accounting and Treasury

In speaking to MBA students with concentrations in finance and accounting, as well as Masters students in finance and accounting, I keep getting questions regarding the career tracks that would make the most sense for them.  Unfortunately, as a student and a marketer, I lack the perspective they need to get a good feel for how to go where they want in their careers.  Several students have asked how they can work their way to positions as CFOs, controllers, senior auditors, VPs of finance or treasury, and how to make a life for themselves even if they are not hired through one of the Big 4.

As the "Inside the Executive Suite" series of interviews seems to show, there is no single track that everyone can take to get where they want to go, and many successful professionals will find their way into positions and companies they never foresaw.  Your experiences and advice will be extremely valuable to career seekers, regardless how far afield you may have gone. This thread should be useful for students and younger professionals, and I thank anyone who posts their opinions or personal stories to help out.

 

Answers

Mark Stokes
Title: CFO
Company: Private
(CFO, Private) |

Great question! And there are innumerable paths to take. In my path to CFO I found that building some bedrock skills helped me immeasurably. It's not sexy, but I started in cost accounting and spent two years with a major tech company in that area (as well as financial analyst duties) and did everything from coming in on the occasional weekend to actually go on the floor and build stuff (goodness was that useful) to setting standard prices to dealing with variances and all the nitty gritty that the job entails. From that point on, if it had to do with cost or manufacturing or variance analysis or inventory levels or any of dozens of things that I had touched directly - really lived - then I was your guy. As I look back now, building that bedrock skill set, which I could fall back on at any time and basically have inimpeachable expertise in, was invaluable. It gave me a great reputation internally and great confidence when dealing in those areas. That served me very well.

It is a natural consequence of a rising career that you will not get the opportunity to build that bedrock more than once. If you are climbing the ladder you usually only get one or at most two rotations like this which are long enough and focused enough to build deep, deep skills. After that it's up, up, up, managing people and teams and organizations, etc.

I think if you take those early, perhaps less exciting opportunities as the great stepping-stones that they are, and build your strong foundation, you will find that when the cement has cured (sorry, had to complete the metaphor) you will be in a great position to drive your career growth. This is not the only way to chart a career, but a good way to start.

Jordan Baines
Title: Marketing Intern
Company: Proformative
(Marketing Intern, Proformative) |

Mark,

This is excellent. This is exactly the sort of thing I am looking for, and I have a few individuals in mind this will specifically be useful to in the near term.

If anyone else has stories, please don't hesitate to share.

Ginny Burkey
Title: Executive Recruiter
Company: Colorado Corporate Search
LinkedIn Profile
(Executive Recruiter, Colorado Corporate Search) |

There are so many paths - every one is really different. For me, I came out of public accounting and went into a small company as a senior accountant. While the title wasn't sexy, I quickly moved up and was the lead person in charge of a small company IPO (back in 1997). I worked long, hard hours and happened to be in the right place at the right time - the CFO that hired me left the company and the CEO gave me a chance to prove myself. From there, I went to a big corporate accounting group where I was bored doing the same old thing every month, so I targeted smaller hi-tech startups. I found that I really enjoyed the breadth of responsibility, including financial reporting, managing the accounting team, planning/forecasting, board reporting, interacting with investors and working with the management team. Overall, I think each person needs to explore areas and find out what they are passionate about. Maybe you find out you are really good with managing people and you love it - so a larger company might be a better fit for you. Or you may enjoy process improvement and being in a consultative role so internal audit might be a good place to start. In any case, the most important thing is to find what challenges you and what makes you want to get up and go to work each day. If you can find that, you will naturally be successful.

If I were in their shoes today, I would find a company that I could get excited about and a position that interests me and challenged me to learn new things, and then I would master that and move on to the next thing. Don't worry about the title so much - as long as you are growing, learning and being challenged. There is no magic formula - it's mostly working hard, doing a great job, being able to lead a team (which is not natural for everyone) and a little bit of luck - i.e. being in the right place at the right time.

I hope this helps! Good luck!

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