Building the Financial Leader of the Future

The CFOs, controllers and chief accounting officers of the future will need a strong mix of technical skills but also ability to engage multiple “masters” while also inspiring teams that support the finance function.

“The skill set that is necessary as a financial leader continues to evolve, and beyond just being a good leader you need to have a rare combination financial, technical and personal skills,” said Linda Zukauckas, EVP and Deputy CFO at American Express during a panel discussion at Financial Executives International 2018 Financial Leadership Summit. “And that skill set continues to grow and grow.”
The role of all financial leaders continues to expand, and the CFO position specifically, as organizations rely on finance to manage or run additional core business functions. According to a recent survey by McKinsey & Company, on average five functions other than finance report to the CFO. That often also includes a company's’ risk, regulatory compliance, and IT staffs.
That’s why when boards of directors go on a CFO or financial leader search they often cast a wide net to capture the unique set of personal and technical skills required to run a modern finance function, said Leslie Seidman, currently a board member Moody's Corporation and General Electric and the former chairman of Financial Accounting Standards Board.
“I am fairly new to serving as a director, and in that position you see first hand the skills the board feels are important to a CFO and other financial leadership, including the chief audit executive,” Seidman said. “Boards expect a strong leader that sets the ethical tone at the company. That is very hard to know when you interviewing people.”
Seidman explained that boards often seek leaders with a combination of “EQ and IQ”, saying that EQ is defined as someone’s “emotional intelligence quotient.”
“Technical skills are often table stakes today.  You won’t even get to the interview unless you possess them,” Seidman added.
Being able to partner with business line and think strategically is also a key component of the modern financial leader, added panelist Janet Clark, EVP and CFO of Marathon Oil Corporation. “You need to think like an owner, because when there is so much disruption going on, you constantly be thinking how to do things better. ”
Financial leaders also need to understand that, as a company fiduciary, they don’t just report to the CEO, said Jeffrey Curtiss, a board member at Houston-based KBR. “As companies change the needs of CFO will change, and they have more than one master,” Curtiss said. “They have an audit committee and a board that continue to need to have faith in them.”