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How To Keep Your CFO Job

I recently read an interesting article on which CFO's are more valued.

It made the point about rampant age discrimination against late-40's and 50 year olds, but to the type of CFO which is disposable. A company hires these experienced CFO's, they fix the major problems in 18 months or so, and then get fired for cheaper, less experienced talent.

One B2BCFO felt that the tactical CFO, the number cruncher is the real loser; whereas the strategic CFO is more valued.

What do you think?

Answers

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

Wayne:

I've mentioned here in several threads that I never understood what age discrimination was all about until I faced it myself as I approach 60. Employers have been saying all along they valued proven experience above all else. But, they have been lying.

The interesting part, if one can take the emotion out of it, is that it isn't really about money; about younger candidates working for less than older ones as is often touted. The labor cost differential is immaterial in the overall picture of executive level compensation.

It's really about perceptions. Younger candidates are seen as "young Turks" ready to go out and slay dragons whereas, the older, more experienced candidates are pigeon holed as "has beens" unwilling to adapt to change or take risks.

The one serious advantage to many years of experience IMHO is, the ability to remain calm and steer a course in times of crisis. Along with a lower risk from years of experience of making a serious mistake.

Many successful, young execs I've worked with have never had to deal with the bad times that every long term business venture encounters sooner or later. From my perspective, they are often the ones that quickly fall apart when it hits the fan. Or, they make a mistake of significant impact to the organization, because they believe they are invincible.

A couple of experiences in life like that usually teach one to remain calm and steer a course out of troubled waters. That's why you really want the more experienced in the executive level positions. But, tell employers that. Please!

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

I don't necessarily think the companies have been lying. I do, however, think they aren't being completely open about what they want. Employers do want and value proven experience above all else (in most instances) but they really want someone in their 40 to no more than early 50s (in general) because of the thought process that someone in their 60s isn't too far from retirement and won't last long anyways.

This is at least my experience as a someone in my early thirties being passed up to replace my controller who just retired. The replacement was someone in their mid to late 40s, someone with proven experience, but not too much.

On the bright side, I didn't get to replace my boss, but I am bring promoted to another sector of the business as its controller. One door closed, but another one swung wide open.

I see a whole lot of truth in what you state above and it's a shame that it's that way.

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

My favorite Napoleon quote is, "A leader is a dealer in hope." Clearly, a CFO needs to be a leader, but of what really? Well, engaged employees!

Take a look at the 10 point checklist on pages 5 & 6 of this free whitepaper:

"Employee Engagement as a Business Strategy for Finance and Leadership Teams"
https://www.proformative.com/whitepapers/employee-engagement-business-strategy-finance-leadership-teams

Kind of interesting to compare where your organization stands on receiving the benefits of employee engagement.

A person who can deliver all of those benefits is surely not one overly in danger of losing their job. And if this job does turn out to be your Waterloo, maybe you're just around the corner from your next Austerlitz!

Anonymous
(Controller) |

Accountants in general need to stay up on technology and the business environment to not only stay relevant, but to stay valuable (or gain value) and employed. The problem with many of them is that they don't change, or at least not fast enough, hence rather than move into a different position when things are changing, they are let go. I have worked with older accountants, some of which were very up to date on technology and some of which still wanted to do everything by paper.

I tell my wife frequently we need to save money, invest and live small. Sure, I work hard every day to improve and gain value, but I don't want to be dependent on having to work when I am in my late 40s and early 50s just in case I get laid off.

Stephen Ambler
Title: Director of Service & Delivery
Company: RoseRyan
(Director of Service & Delivery, RoseRyan) |

If all a CFO does is "crunch numbers" they aren't really a CFO, they are a controller. A true CFO is someone who can look at the business and add value to it from a financial viewpoint, raise money, handle investors and drive a business forward, as well as ensure its financial integrity. They will always be in demand, with or without technological progression.

Topic Expert
Barrett Peterson
Title: Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis
Company: TTX
(Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis, TTX) |

I agree that "number crunching" only is at most a Controller role, handling the transaction process and reporting operations. A broader business perspective is needed for long-term functioning in the CFO role. "older" CFOs need to adopt periodic "young Turk" activities to stave off the perception they are gliding toward retirement. Co-opt potential rivals.

Don Weymer, CPA
Title: Controller
Company: CEO Foods, Inc.
(Controller, CEO Foods, Inc.) |

While I do agree that strictly number crunching is a Controller, I doubt that anyone doing just that would get a role as CFO. Like any other issue, perception is the key. Everything is relative and we simply are not afforded the luxury of knowing the history of those who are hiring/recruiting so that we can understand their hot points. However, I do think some see age as a representation of energy; lower age=more energy. The key to me is how we use that energy, not everyone is created equally, so even though someone may have less energy they may be a superior performer because they get more done in the same amount of time. Maintaining current on technology is required at any level of an organization, if you are not developing you are falling behind, daily.

Bill Chorba
Title: CFO
Company: NineSigma, Inc.
(CFO, NineSigma, Inc.) |

This is a personal topic, sensitive for many, and without a right/wrong answer. Instead, it is a reflection on each of our experiences and those of our peers. But one analogy I think holds true; CFOs/CEOs are like head coaches of professional teams in many respects. What happens when a professional team is not performing well enough or needs a shakeup? The head coach and/or key coaching staff are let go and "new talent" is brought in. Look at the Cleveland Cavs for instance. David Blatt enjoyed great success by most measures, yet he was fired coming off of an NBA Finals appearance and when he had the Cavs atop their division in first place. But the GM felt the team had a chemistry issue, and his solution was to fire the coach. Fair? Discriminatory? Don't know. Reality? You bet.

When a strong performing, strategic CFO is let go, it's hard to determine the factor(s) that contributed. Maybe the CEO is penny-wise/pound foolish. Maybe the CEO is not an owner and wants to preserve his/her own role by placing accountability on the CFO and "making the tough decision" in the eyes of the Board. Maybe the CFO is simply not adapting quickly enough to new trends and expectations of the business. Maybe the business is no longer traditional and evolving at a faster pace than the CFO is able to evolve. Maybe it's none of the above and the organization simply needed a major change.

CFO as a role is a high cost position often viewed as overhead. We need to do our part to demonstrate contributions to the economic value of the business, validating our cost and driving up the perception of such. If we are operators and not owners, we do not fully control our own destiny and have to recognize that as a risk. But I believe one thing remains critical to our success - visibility and perception. We need to be visible to all facets of the organization (up to the Board and down to all staff) and we need to ensure that the perception of what we do is beyond numbers. It's strategy that results in value creation. It's communication that exudes leadership. It's self-promotion based on facts that stops short of arrogance. (That last one is often not natural to us, but it is important).

Finally, are we trying to survive on our own merits or those of the teams we build and work within? Having fully engaged, strong-performing teams are directly attributable to our ability to lead and create value. We do not need to do this alone. By building staff that are better than ourselves we are arguably ever-improving the organization. Quite a legacy if we can achieve it!

I've been a CFO for 10 years and have 24 years of professional experience, so my perspective is confined to this period of time. In other words, I am far from an expert. But does this resonate with anyone else's experience?

Mike Haile
Title: Founder
Company: Haile Consulting Solutions
(Founder, Haile Consulting Solutions) |

Yes, Bill I'd agree with that.

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