(As originally published in FEI Canada F.A.R. member e-newsletter, July 2017)
Learning from the best: 5 career tips from leading CFOs
By: Linda Williams, EY Canada’s Performance Improvement Advisory leader
Looking for summer reading? For the ambitious among us, EY’s recent Reporting Magazine features a new book by Sally Percy – Reach the Top in Finance: The Ambitious Accountant’s Guide to Career Success. The author collected advice from some of the leading CFOs around the world and pulled out some common threads in their paths to the top. Ten, to be exact.
Having worked with finance executives for almost two decades, I know it takes a lot of focused determination to get to the CFO level. But specifically, what are some of their practical tips to getting ahead? I’ve highlighted five pieces of advice below – ones that resonated the most with me.
As we’re continuing to celebrate Canada’s milestone birthday, it’s fitting for us all to pause and take stock of where we’re headed, both as a nation, and personally in our careers.
At a time of unparalleled disruption and uncertainty, the only sure way not to lose your footing is continuous learning. Reading and learning about your own, as well as your customers’ and suppliers’ sectors, is essential. The more market insight you have, the more strategic you can be at the boardroom table.
Invest in your personal growth
Knowing the finance function like the back of your hand is important, but it’s equally important to know what’s going on outside of it. Challenge yourself to take on unfamiliar projects, learn about new technologies and raise your hand for new experiences outside your primary responsibilities. The CFO role is multifaceted and challenging. New experiences will prepare you for the task.
Learn how to influence
The CFO should be able to influence teams and people outside finance to steer the business in the right direction. Learn how to cultivate deep, meaningful relationships across the organization, including with the board. As with anything, authenticity is key.
Nurture your team
You can’t lead an entire function on your own, so make time for those who support you every day. Find ways to motivate and develop them, whether it’s encouraging someone to work on a new project or finding a secondment opportunity for them to gain a fresh perspective. Go above and beyond to recruit the best new members of your team, paying attention to culture fit, as well as technical skills.
Finance professionals now have new tools to reduce costs and shift activities to more value-added ones that can provide insights for more strategic decision-making. Embrace these new technologies, including blockchain, robotic process automation, data analytics and artificial intelligence. Make sure you understand their power and seek ways to glean important insights about trends, irregularities and opportunities.
Finance, like virtually every other function, is experiencing drastic change through this technology revolution. These tips will help aspiring CFOs stay relevant in such uncertainty, which will be essential to climbing the finance ladder.
There are five more tips outlined by Percy, for those who’d like more inspiration on their way to the top.