With the rise of technology and the rapid pace of change in the world, the role of the CFO is clearly being transformed. The traditional “sweet spots” for top finance executives are broadening beyond accounting and finance toward operations, technology, and innovation.
Lon Searle, CFO of YESCO which makes custom electric signs, provided some glimpses into his role in a recently published Forbes interview. Here is a summary of some of his points:
- CFOs are becoming more focused on operations and supporting every department of the organization through financial analysis: “In manufacturing, the CFO has to get out on the shop floor and understand the operations and the product the company is making; he or she has to move the ball down the field in a way that provides value to the company.”
- Understanding and working with information technology is an important part of the CFO’s role: “The CFO position is gaining a systems focus – it works with IT and financial analysis that can help every department.”
- CFOs can serve as coaches for the finance staff as well as other functions in the organization: “I help train the financial staff, train the sales staff to lease to our customers, and even train our franchisees to help with financial decisions and funding decisions.”
- Understanding international business is increasingly important for CFOs: “I also get involved in global shipping and interactions – getting letters of credit for our customers to ship products all over the world and deciding whether to hedge the currency risk in transactions. We’re a global company but not that large, so to be involved in that is surprising to me, given my career path. But it’s really a global economy now, and almost any CFO should be involved in those decisions and that research. It’s interesting and challenging, too.”
- CFOs can help drive innovation in the organization: “CFOs can be a driving influence, spreading ideas throughout the company, helping employees cross-fertilize and see things from a different perspective. It’s a great position to be in. It’s unfortunate that some financial officers just see themselves as keepers of the books and not champions of innovation.”
Operations, technology, and innovation are broad categories for a financial professional to have on the radar, in addition to developing coaching skills and international acumen. The path toward the CFO role includes gaining professional knowledge and experience in these areas. These are helpful ideas to consider in mapping out a career development plan.