Many Execs See CFOs as Poor Operators

Amid all the chatter about how today’s CFOs should have an operational mind set, a majority of executives don’t think their own finance chief is qu...
David McCannMarch 25, 2013

CFOs may be taking on more operational responsibility, but many corporate executives apparently don’t think that’s a great idea.

Among 145 executives with various titles surveyed exclusively for CFO by recruiting firm Korn/Ferry, 71% said the CFO at their company is at least somewhat involved in running operations (see chart below).

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But at the same time, more than half of the respondents think their finance chief is unqualified to be a chief operating officer. Only 17% said either that their CFO is already leading company operations or would be very effective, were he or she to assume that role.

“There’s a real disconnect showing here,” says Joshua Wimberley, head of the recruiter’s North American financial officers practice. “There is still some organizational pushback to the idea of CFOs in that lead operating role.”

He offers two reasons for the executives’ skepticism. One is a legacy view of the CFO’s role as being mostly about accounting and reporting. Second, he opines that “a number of CFOs aren’t wired with the softer people skills needed to come across as an effective COO who is leading and managing an organization.”

Wimberley points out that there are actually two different kinds of COOs: those who manage the company’s business lines as well as its operational infrastructure, and those who just do the latter. “Many CFOs today have bled into the second category,” he says. “The leadership gap I’m talking about is more in the first category.”

(Editor’s note: CFO recently published a series of articles profiling operationally oriented finance chiefs in such widely divergent industries as aerospace, amusement parks, environmental cleanup, and network security.)