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What traits will define the successful CFOs of tomorrow?

What traits will define the successful CFOs of tomorrow?

According to the IMF World Economic Outlook, highlighted by IDA Ireland “The Irish economy is the fastest growing in the Eurozone and the 6th most competitive in the world.” This has meant that Ireland has become a key location for businesses looking to relocate and invest. Worldwide, the battle for talent in the finance sector has never been fiercer. As competition in Ireland increases, top talent is only expected to become more in demand. Luckily, Ireland has one of the most educated workforces in the world with more than eight out of 10 employed in the financial services sector holding at least a Bachelor’s degree. However, to find and train this top talent in the market, CFOs need to get actively involved in talent management. To do so effectively, CFOs should take on a number of different roles.
 
Our interviews with CFOs from SMEs to multinationals have revealed four key ways of approaching challenges with talent acquisition and retention in their teams.
 
Click below on the Pilot, Scientist, Coach and Engineer to reveal an insight from one of our interviewees on different approaches to this challenge.
 
 
From moderating conflict at board level to aligning team competencies with business needs, the CFO as coach and talent manager is a growing trend. How has this relatively new skill set impacted on their interactions with both finance teams and the wider company structure – and their view of soft skills versus the more technical competencies?
 
Previously, the finance function required many attributes: analytical thinking, comprehension, assertiveness and - without a doubt - technical expertise. Although these may not have changed, the modern finance employee also needs to exhibit a wide range of soft skills, including an ability to convey complex ideas in simple, yet engaging terms.
 
For Eugene Low, CFO of Mercer Indonesia, some things can be taught easily while others simply cannot. “I can teach accounting in one day - but what I really need to see in an aspiring financial leader is curiosity. Curiosity about the business; curiosity to identify ways to drive different teams towards the same goals and grow the company.”
 

Personal involvement in developing talent

In many businesses, the CFO has already moved up the ladder of influence as a Coach-like figure, moderating conflict at board level and defining their department’s contribution to overall strategy through company-wide visibility.
 
It is highly likely that other senior leaders do not actively monitor issues such as financial management, accounting, tax or the supply chain – but the business requires all to be working harmoniously to function profitably.
 
As the Pilot in this context, driving the company to better performance, Philippe de Briey, CFO of Monsanto Europe, explains this in terms of market view. The CFO is the window into the business for shareholders, investors and other external stakeholders.
 
“One of the things I hope that I bring to the leadership team [is helping them] to think differently about the business, having this holistic and systemic view, really putting themselves in the shoes of the markets,” Briey notes.
 
Coaching other board members when it comes to linking facts and figures to strategy and linking it to investors pays dividends. But to achieve this, senior financial leaders have to re-evaluate not only their own competencies but also those of their closest team members.
 

Building better teams for the future

The battle is not only to locate the best talent, it is to build teams around it, and to ensure the competencies the CFO needs to drive better productivity in their department are available. Bob Braasch, CFO of Marathon Capital, understands that it is as much about depth of talent and understanding as it is numbers of employees. “It adds pressure to make sure you’ve got the right people in the right roles and that you’re also building a depth chart. That’s something we have worried about for years.”
 
When looking closer at the Coach role of the CFO, there is a need to critique their own competencies and drive their own agenda, because a transformational leadership style is important to bring others on the journey.
 
FOs must act as a forerunner for their team, being a coach and motivator at the same time and a focal point for an increasingly diverse team. “But it’s not just about the integration of new generations,” clarifies Latécoère CFO Sebastien Rouge. “Actually, it’s the integration of a diverse work team. You’ve got multigenerational work teams, you’ve got multi-skilled people, and there’s also more ethnic diversity and gender diversity as well. So, really, the challenge is to work better with that diversity.”
 

Clear goals and vision

Understanding that it is more than just numbers that affect the bottom line is a vital part of the CFO’s role. As Engineer, the ability to build a system that helps retain the best people is a huge part of that element, acknowledging the cost of employee churn.
 
Sodexo VP Global Finance Services Florence Rocle says: “It is very important for the CFO to define strategy and needs clearly. If you define too many objectives, or the strategy is vague, you can go in so many different directions and end up doing nothing.”
 
This plays into the media-friendly idea that the work ethic of the millennial generation is lacking. From the CFO’s point of view, this criticism falls short of the mark when the newer generation places a stronger emphasis on personal development and workflow design.
 
This is where the CFO as Coach is called for. As BizSpace CFO Phil Dennis contends: “For the generation that is in their late twenties and early thirties, a job is about their own personal development. Knowing this, financial leaders have a responsibility to directly support employees’ developmental needs, particularly regarding their ability to influence and engage others.”
 
Some CFOs rely heavily on external recruiting; others generate their own CFO trainee programmes in their companies in the sense of continuing training, as they cannot find the personnel and skills they need on the market. As JLL’s UK CFO James Gregory explains: “Our focus on people is around being straightforward with them in terms of the advantages of technology as well as making sure that we are re-training and re-skilling them. Very rapidly you’ll see opportunities coming up that strike a line through certain admin tasks and allow employees to move to the more skill-based positions”.
 
The CFO, though, must know how to use new technologies on the market or at least be able to identify the operational advantages. Andrea Wesson, Eversholt Rail CFO, agrees. “You do need to have a mixture of operational knowledge in my role. I am quite happy to roll up my sleeves, get involved and play.”
 

Key Takeaways

  • Soft skills, particularly curiosity, are a more coveted asset than ever in aspiring financial leaders.
  • CFOs are well-positioned to understand talent gaps across teams and add great value through their involvement in the hiring process.
  • A sustainable business model that develops leadership internally should be a focus as it maintains the right environment for high performance.
  • Having a clear vision and workflow are key to retaining talent.
  • A CFO who is prepared to get involved at all levels is one who can best adapt and profit from a rapidly-changing climate.