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How Controllers Become Great CFOs

June 22, 2022
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You’re a successful financial controller. And now you’re ready to take your career to the next level.

You want a seat at the main table in the C-suite as a CFO, but you don’t just want the title. You want to be a great CFO, a transformational business leader. So how do you accomplish this?

We’ve pulled together a collection of tips to help you get started. Check out five below and download our latest eBook, “10 Tips to Help Controllers Become Great CFOs” for the full guide.

Show you can motivate others to perform at high levels

To become a great CFO, you need to show you’re an effective leader. That means you excel at motivating members of your team to perform at their highest levels. And you’re skilled at making major financial decisions that help the business grow.

Focus on changing your mindset from a financial leader to a business leader. Show you understand how an entire business operates, makes revenues and profits and differentiates its products and services.

Offer strategic recommendations on how to grow the business

According to Deloitte, other than technical financial experience, the most important skill needed in a CFO role is corporate strategy – cited by 60 percent.

“All the successful CFOs I know are the ones that are involved in strategy,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, in an article for Financial Executives International. “They’re involved in the ‘make versus buy’ decision, the ‘acquire versus build your own’ decision, as opposed to ‘how are we managing health care costs today?’ It’s a very important discussion, but you have to have both skill sets.”

Sanjay Rughani of Standard Chartered Bank offers more insights on this: “CFOs have spent up to 80 percent of their time in small- and medium-sized practices thinking and talking about the past. This must change. It should be 50 percent to 60 percent focused on the future impacting clients and stakeholders.”

Stay current on major technology trends

In preparing to become a CFO, you’ll want to pay close attention to the latest finance, accounting and accounts payable software and how they help your business serve customers faster and easier at lower costs.

Stay current, also, on other major tech trends such as the complete digital transformations of companies. Make sure you understand how this megatrend affects the finances and market positioning of your company now – but also how it’s likely to play out over the next several years.

Pay especially close attention to new technologies. In our latest research, we found that 88 percent of middle market businesses implemented new technologies and solutions within the past year.

Develop relationships with outside leaders

If you want to be a CFO, you’ll get there faster if you’re proactive and comfortable developing relationships with a broad range of people outside your company. They include investors, business partners, lenders and CFOs within your industry.

As a CFO, you’ll want to be a “super-connector” between yourself and your business and all the people who have an interest in your company, what it does, how it’s performing and what it stands for.

Meet with leaders of other internal teams

To prepare to become a CFO, you’ll also want to proactively reach out to internal stakeholders beyond the finance department. Meet with leaders of human resources, marketing, sales, IT and supply chain.

Learn about the challenges they’re facing and how the finance team can help them and vice versa. Gain a solid understanding of how all these departments work together to serve customers. To show you’re a leader with strategic skills, make recommendations based on what you learn from these conversations on how to grow the business faster, differentiate your company’s services and products and generate more profits.

“Say yes to doing things beyond your official scope of finance and accounting,” said G2’s Ted Wetzel during a Controller’s Council webinar. “If you want to become a CFO, you really need to become a trusted partner to every function in the organization. Know how each function operates to make strategic decisions. They need to trust you. Spend a lot of time developing these deep internal relationships.”

Click below to download our latest eBook, “10 Tips to Help Controllers Become Great CFOs,” for more tips on strategy, communication, teammate support and big-picture thinking.

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