This is the second of two articles about how finance professionals who are a step or two away from a CFO seat can make the final strides. Read the first one here.
People who are a mere promotion away from becoming the chief financial officer of, say, a Fortune 200 company are already extraordinarily accomplished. Typically in their early 40s, they also tend to be fairly wealthy at a relatively young age.
Such folks might not be easily impressed by something like a mere three-day educational program, even one aimed at shoring up skills they’ll make greater use of when they do make CFO.
However, just such a program, Deloitte’s Next Generation CFO Academy, gets rave reviews from both participants and the finance chiefs who send them there.
Deloitte has been offering the program twice a year for seven years. During that time, a cumulative total of some 500 finance executives from very large companies have received valued education on leadership, influence, and the skills needed for certain CFO duties they’ve likely had little exposure to, such as conducting earnings calls and interacting with investors. Many participants lead functions like controllership or treasury or run finance for business units.
The academy has operated with little external fanfare. Deloitte approaches CFOs directly for recommendations as to which of their reports would be best fit for the program, without seeking publicity. However, the academy’s dean, Bill Ribaudo, recently spoke with CFO about its content and goals.
“Everybody who comes to the academy is very competent, no question about that,” says Ribaudo, who’s also national managing partner of technology, media and telecommunications for Deloitte & Touche, Deloitte’s U.S. member firm. That’s why most of the program is centered around the softer but crucial skills a finance chief needs to be a leader and exert influence, from the perspective of speakers such as CEOs, sitting CFOs, and audit committee chairs.
“As in many professions and the other CXO roles, when you’re coming up through the ranks everything is about getting the job done and being technical,” says Ribaudo. “But we know that the higher you ascend in an organization and the bigger the organization is, much more of your success is determined by your ability to lead the team.”
Participants also get to choose 3 of about 10 breakout sessions focused on specific functional areas or activities, allowing them to begin filling some of the gaps inevitably left even after going through a rotational program with their employers.
Pfizer CFO Frank D’Amelio, who has sent many high-ranking finance executives to the program helped Deloitte design portions of it and has served as a speaker. He is realistic about what can be accomplished in just three days but is a staunch advocate for the academy nonetheless.
“Does someone need that program to be a CFO? No,” D’Amelio says. “Does it help them and enhance their abilities? Yes. Listening to what certain people did to get to the positions they’re in is helpful.” He adds, referring to program activities like conducting mock earnings calls, “They would not [otherwise] be in some of the situations we put them in until they actually sit in the CFO chair. That is very helpful.”
An additional important element of the academy, which is located at “Deloitte University” in Westlake, Texas, is an exchange of ideas among participants about how things are done in other companies and industries. D’Amelio has an especial appreciation for such cross-pollination, having moved in mid-career from the technology industry to the pharmaceuticals business. “There were certain things I did in tech that weren’t getting done in pharma,” he notes.
Johnson & Johnson finance chief Dominic Caruso echoes the value of multiple perspectives. “You can learn how to be a CFO from your current CFO, of course,” he says. “But learning from other CFOs and from people at Deloitte who have established a practice supporting CFOs is a [worthy] purpose of the program, and it’s very well done.”
Another devotee is Carol Tomé, who heads finance at The Home Depot. Impressed by such aspects of the curricula as how to deal with investors and how to make a pitch to the board, she too has sent several almost-CFOs to the program. Some of them are now finance chiefs at other companies.
As a speaker, Tomé says she “loved the engagement of the participants and the questions they asked.”
Former academy participant Scott Schenkel, now CFO of eBay, says the greatest value comes from taking time out to “step back, think about your career, the feedback you get, your strengths and development needs, and what you’re working on and trying to do.”
Illumina finance chief Marc Stapley, another one-time participant, agrees that the opportunities for reflection and networking form the heart of the academy’s value. But he also applauds the technical content, saying he’d had no investor-relations experience and that the breakout on IR that he selected was “really good education.”
Meanwhile, a year after participants graduate from the academy, Deloitte invites them to participate in another three-day program focused strictly on communication, “because if you can’t do it, you won’t be a successful CFO,” says Ribaudo.
Participants take a class and then prepare, videotape, practice, and ultimately deliver a presentation that’s based on an actual, data-heavy presentation previously given by a real CFO. They are taught various tactics for improving their ability to organize their thoughts and deliver them in a persuasive way.
Ribaudo says the programs have generated a close fraternity of passionate believers in developing the next generation of CFOs.
“One CFO that has sent six people to us told me he had no more to send, because he didn’t want to belittle the academy by sending people he didn’t think could succeed him,” says Ribaudo. “And we have CEOs who spool up their corporate jet, fly to Texas to speak for an hour to our 40 students, fly home, and write me an email asking when they can come back and do it again.”