What does it take to make it to the top in the finance function?
Who do you need to be, what do you need to know and what do you have to do to reach the highest echelons of the finance profession?
Those were the questions author Sally Percy asked of FTSE 100 CFOs, Fortune 500 CFOs and senior leaders in public practice for her recently published book Reach the Top in Finance: The Ambitious Accountant’s Guide to Career Success. All the executives had their own unique perspective on what it takes to be a finance leader, but they also shared some common views.
Regardless of your personal ambitions, you can boost your career prospects by following these top 10 tips from some of the world’s most successful finance leaders:
1. Be curious
You can never learn too much if you want to be a finance leader, so read widely to expand your knowledge base. Follow what’s happening in your own business and sector, as well as developments within your competitors’ businesses and the sectors of your customers and suppliers. Having valuable market insight will allow you to make meaningful contributions to any conversations around strategy.
2. Invest in your personal growth
No one becomes a CFO unless they are prepared to challenge themselves. So make a point of stepping outside your comfort zone by attending conferences on new technologies, volunteering for cross-functional projects and taking on nonfinancial roles so that you gain valuable operational experience.
3. Learn how to influence
The CEO may be the face of the company, but the CFO is a powerful force behind the scenes in most organizations. Since it is your job to help the business to grow in a sustainable way, you need to know how to influence the parts of the business that are outside your immediate remit. That means nurturing relationships with your peers in other functions and winning the respect of the board.
4. Exploit your technical expertise
M&A and treasury might be among the more glamorous roles in finance, but if you want to make CFO one day, a stint in corporate reporting will almost certainly be better for your career in the long run. It shows that you have a really good grip on the numbers and that you can interpret accounting standards effectively.
5. Embrace technology
Thanks to distributed ledger technology such as blockchain, finance functions will become more efficient and have more reliable information in future. At the same time, advances in robotic process automation, data analytics and artificial intelligence will mean that CFOs know more about their organization than ever before. So ambitious financial professionals should ask their auditors to explain how they can interrogate data to highlight important trends and anomalies.