Finance Development and Training Institute: Talent Taboos

Consortium's tight focus is achieving best practices in building finance department staffs.
David KatzApril 3, 2002

Even within the confines of the most exclusive clubs, there are things that members just won’t talk about.

Take the Finance Development and Training Institute (FDTI), a tight little island if ever there was one. Part of a tiny coterie to start with—corporate executives who scout and nurture finance talent, right up to the CFO level—the group has also erected high barriers to inclusion.

For one thing, the consortium demands that corporate members have the will and wherewithal to hire employees focused entirely on building good finance departments. “There has to be a tangible commitment to finance training and development [for a company] to be able to join the consortium,” says Alan Hencky, finance development organization controller at Intel and current FDTI chair.

The consortium thus consists of biggies. Besides Intel, its current members are American Express; Cisco Systems; DaimlerChrysler; Dow Chemical; Liberty Mutual; Merck; Procter & Gamble; Sears, Roebuck; Verizon; and The Williams Cos.

Besides barring indifferent participants, the group stays small by keeping competitors out. Along with its three-year membership, each company gets a veto over prospective members. Members tend to be wary of revealing the details of how they develop their intellectual capital, says Jonathan Schiff, executive director of FDTI and one of its founders in 1994. Competitors have been spurned by members, says Schiff, whose Monsey, New York, firm, Schiff Consulting Group, administers the consortium. (He won’t reveal the group’s entrance fees.)

The group’s exclusivity is meant to foster openness, its leaders say. At FDTI’s three two-day conferences a year, and online between the meetings, members swap details about internal procedures and talent-rating systems. Thus, a “safe environment,” where they can talk freely about their mistakes, is essential, says Schiff, an accounting professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “The only way you learn is when you admit some weakness.”

Hush-Hush on Headhunters

Nevertheless, some matters are strictly taboo. That’s because the competition for good finance folks is still too great, even among companies that aren’t direct competitors. For example, FDTI members won’t talk to each other about the campuses they visit or the headhunters they use, says Hencky.

“We have not had discussion about sourcing practices and where we get our talent,” he says. “It’s not a topic [we’ve] talked about. It is a sensitive one.”

Still, the talent executives feel secure enough to swap a great deal of information. The companies engage in group buying efforts and share employee-training software, says Schiff, whose firm has supplied the group with courses in business partnering for finance managers, disclosure and statement analysis, and skills management.

Members teach workshops held during the meetings, which also include talks by educational-software vendors and other outsiders. Course subjects have included the training and development of internal auditors and E-learning opportunities for financial managers, says Schiff, who says the group is planning a day of workshops focused on early career development.

The group is also looking at later career development in finance organizations. At the most recent meeting in February in San Francisco, members heard a presentation about how companies develop and retain their top dozen finance leaders. Along with Financial Executives International, the group is planning to do a study of the best practices of developing top finance executives, says Hencky.

One question in the study might be whether development is targeted or available to all employees, he says. Finance staffs might also be asked about their requirements for international experience. The sample for the study, which could be done later in the second quarter or in the third quarter, might include four FDTI member companies plus six or eight other corporations, according to the Intel talent official.

Not unexpectedly, internal benchmarking is one of the group’s prime activities. For instance, members recently offered up their finance-department Web portals for scrutiny so the group could compare site features and functioning.

In fact, FDTI provides members with a ready-made benchmark sample of a range of large companies, notes Hencky. In January, for instance, he surveyed the other members online. The question was: “Do you target a specific number of hours for your finance managers to set aside for training each year?” He found that half had no defined number of hours, preferring to allot them on an ad hoc basis, while the other 50 percent used 40 hours as a target.

The ability to do such quick studies is a big benefit, the Intel executive says. “There are 10 companies I can contact at a moment’s notice,” he adds.