Leadership

More CFOs Should Be CEOs: Corporate Execs

A broad cross-section of executives like their own finance chief’s qualifications for the top job.
David McCannFebruary 8, 2013

If you’re a CFO who thinks you’d make a fine CEO one day, you’re not alone  in two senses. Yes, we know, a lot of finance chiefs think they deserve to run the show. But did you know that executives throughout your organization probably think so, too?

In a survey performed exclusively for CFO by recruiting firm Korn/Ferry, more than half of 600 corporate executives believe the finance chief at their company is qualified to be a chief executive officer (see chart, below). To Korn/Ferry, it was a surprising result, considering that only about 15% of CEOs in Fortune 1000 companies are former CFOs.

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“The support for CFOs in this survey result is much greater than proven by reality,” says Joshua Wimberley, head of the recruiter’s North American financial officers practice.

The result to another question was even more surprising, and not just to Korn/Ferry. We asked for opinions about the hirability of a CFO candidate who had previously held that position with another company but left to take a lesser role with a different employer to gain experience. I, as well as Wimberley, figured more people would shy away from such a candidate than find the prior career move appealing.

Boy, were we wrong, as the chart below shows. Now Wimberley has a new piece of advice to offer CFOs with higher aspirations. “What an interesting takeaway,” he says. “The respect for somebody’s longer-term career-development view outweighs an appreciation for the normal ‘power play’ career trajectory: always going for a bigger job and a bigger title.”

He allows, though, that “when somebody has done this, we certainly check it out as we get further into the recruiting process. We would want to speak directly to the candidate’s bosses in that lesser job to confirm that yes, it was a true learning situation.”

(Note: The survey participants are all registered users of Korn/Ferry’s website, who are corporate executives of all stripes. Their collective responses are useful for understanding the overall view of CFOs that prevails within an organization.) 

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