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FEI’s Cunningham to Step Down

After three and a half years of travel, Sarbox 404, and congressional testimony, Colleen Cunningham will step down as president of Financial Execut...
Marie LeoneAugust 29, 2006

Colleen Cunningham, the president and CEO of Financial Executives International, has announced that she is stepping down from her post as soon as a successor is named. Cunningham told CFO.com that she was leaving FEI to spend more time with her family. She was appointed CEO in March of 2003.

The news of Cunningham’s departure was released to FEI’s 15,000 members on August 10, and a public announcement will be made next week regarding details about the search for a replacement. Mary Jo Green, a former FEI chair, has agreed to head up the search committee. Cunningham speculates that her successor will be hired by December.

FEI is a professional trade association for financial executives, whose members comprise CFOs, vice presidents of finance, treasurers, controllers, tax executives, audit committee members, and academics.

Cunningham said it was “the right time to leave,” adding that it was both her expectation, and FEI’s, that she would remain at the organization for three to five years. That tenure is in line with the term of other FEI chief executives. For example, Phil Livingston, who preceded Cunningham as CEO, announced his resignation after about three and a half years on the job.

Cunningham’s successor will have to keep a hectic schedule. As CEO, Cunningham spent 80 percent of her time on the road, visiting 75 chapters, speaking at 30 conferences annually, and testifying before Congress several times a year. She confirmed that search firms have already contacted her about her next job, but emphasized that she will not start her personal job search until after a replacement is found.

Although Cunningham declined to comment on the type of candidate the search committee is looking for, she posited that “a good formula” has been to find a financial executive from industry who is at the midway point in their career. Asked whether FEI would likely hire someone with political lobbying experience—as other trade organizations have done recently—Cunningham said she did not believe that was a focus, mainly because FEI was involved with more than just advocacy.

In July, the Equipment Leasing Association hired former Texas Congressman Kenneth Bentsen as executive director to replace Michael Fleming, who retired. A CFO.com blog post speculated that ELA may have brought in a big political gun to help the association gird for a regulatory battle likely to bubble up this year concerning lease accounting rules.

Cunningham also declined to comment on what the big issues for FEI will be going forward, but she noted that she was particularly proud of the way the “organization and its members pulled together” to address internal controls regulation, specifically Section 404 of the Sarbanes Oxley Act. “I think we had more credibility than any other organization,” regarding the cost vs. benefits debate, said Cunningham. She added that FEI and its members admitted that there were benefits to implementing more stringent internal controls, but clearly wanted to work with regulators to ease the cost burden. “From a credibility perspective, we did not run around calling for repeal [of 404].”

Before joining FEI, Cunningham was CFO of Havas Advertising and chief accountant at AT&T. Asked if it was likely that she would return to one of her former industries, she replied that she considers herself more of a technician, so she wouldn’t rule out any industry. She would, however, like to find a job closer to home where she could cut down on travel.