The CFO role is quite broad, so there is not a one size fits all approach toward training and developing experience to become a CFO. A CFO can develop a career by way of banking, financial analysis, or other related fields. Because my career path started with accounting, I will focus on the accounting route toward the CFO role. Along the way, an accountant who is used to focusing on traditional “bean counting” will find the need to develop broader skill sets and see the “bigger picture” of how the organization creates value in the marketplace. However, understanding the nuts and bolts of record-keeping and compliance is essential.
Typically, a newly minted accountant fresh out of undergraduate studies will pursue a role as staff accountant. My first “real” job out of school, besides a tax season internship at a regional CPA firm, was a staff accounting role in the cash management group for a commodity trading company. This role involved day to day reporting and forecasting of cash position, foreign currency purchases, foreign wire payments, reconciliation of bank accounts with the general ledger, interfacing with accounts receivable and accounts payable to coordinate how cash would be flowing through the business, and analysis of funding sources and interest allocations, among other things.
Some time after this role as cash manager, I had another role as staff accountant for a small local CPA firm. In light of having recently passed the CPA Exam at that time, my objective was to gain a well-rounded array of experiences in tax, audit, and monthly client write up. The environment wasn’t easy, but I gained the experience I desired. This was the job where I “cut my teeth” and learned the nuts of bolts of the craft.
As I progressed to roles as assistant controller in a private company and now controller reporting directly to the CEO in a different company, I have found that my lessons learned from the staff accounting position at the small local CPA firm were integral to my development. Far more than my years of college education, my experience at a CPA firm taught me to “think like an accountant.” I will further explore what this means in later installments.
I am now in a role that is teaching me to “think like a financial manager.” To be sure, one important pillar of financial management is understanding the nuts and bolts of accounting — this is the area in which I am currently the strongest — but there are other areas to master in my role as Controller, especially given that the enterprise currently has no CFO to undertake the traditional finance functions outside of accounting. I am excited about exploring these areas, developing them, and honing my skills and experience as I progress toward the CFO role.