Job Hunting

Taking Care of Business? Office Depot Still Looking for a CFO

Retailer's 14-month search provides some insight into what CEOs want in a finance chief.
Justin WoodOctober 9, 2001

When Bruce Nelson was named CEO at Office Depot in July 2000, it didn’t take him long to put together a list of principles he hoped would characterize his leadership. At the top of that list: his desire to build a ”world-class management team.”

And yet, 14 months later, one key position is missing from Nelson’s dream team — company CFO. Two weeks after Nelson took the helm at the $12 billion-in-revenues office products retailer, the company’s previous CFO, Barry Goldstein, retired and left almost immediately. Ever since, Nelson and a handful of headhunters have been searching for a replacement.

So far, no luck. The reason, says Nelson, is because a successful candidate has to satisfy a demanding set of requirements and there’s no room for compromise. ”This is a key post. If it takes me from now until the sun goes down to find the right CFO, then so be it,” he declares.

So what qualities would the right CFO possess? Obviously, financial acumen tops the list. But interestingly, Nelson rates trust almost as high on his list of CFO attributes. ”That means being forthright and direct, and having no hidden agendas,” he explains. ”CEOs get into trouble when they cut themselves off from an organization, so I want a CFO who has the courage to tell me the truth.”

Next, Nelson wants maturity, a trait he says has many parts to it. ”I want someone who’s tough-minded but with good people skills, who can work closely with the owners of the business units and develop collegial relationships.” That’s not all though. The CFO will need to be able to develop an equally strong relationship with Nelson himself. ”I want somebody who’ll stand up to me and voice their opinions. But once we’ve made a decision, I want the CFO to stand by my side and say: ‘Let’s go get ’em.’ That’s a partner.”

The Office Depot CEO is also looking for a finance chief who’s commercially minded and capable of thinking strategically. Nelson doesn’t just want timely financial figures — he wants insight with those numbers.

He also want someone who Nelson is searching for a ”seasoned Wall Street veteran.” As Nelson puts it: ”A significant part of the CFO’s job is to communicate with the Street, so I need someone who’s been there and earned a solid reputation.”

Indeed, anyone thinking of applying for the job should reckon on some tough due diligence from Office Depot. Nelson says he’ll personally call a number of analysts and ask for their opinions of how the candidate has handled investor relations in the past.

For more on what CEOs want in CFOs, visit our sister site CFO Europe (www.cfoeurope.com).