by Julia Salem
May 11 2014
BlueSteps chats with Samuel Dergel, Executive Search Consultant at Stanton Chase International, who recently published Guide to CFO Success.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with the AESC and BlueSteps about the CFO role and your new book, Guide to CFO Success. Can you tell us about the work you do at Stanton Chase International?
I work in executive search, with a focus on the Office of Finance. Working across the United States and Canada, as part of our CFO and Financial Executive Practice, I help companies hire their next Chief Financial Officer, and work with CFOs to build a finance team that will ensure their success. In addition to working with CFOs and other Financial Executives, I do executive coaching.
In your book, you talk about the reality of the CFO role vs. what the CFO role is perceived to be. How do you define the CFO role?
The role of the Chief Financial Officer is a critical one for all organizations. The Board and the CEO set the expectations for the CFO, and it is important for the CFO to deliver on these expectations. In essence, the role of the CFO is whatever the company deems it to be.
Guide to CFO Success focuses on all stages of the CFO’s career, from searching for a new executive job to building out her team. Which career stages are most CFOs unprepared for when managing their careers?
Career transition. CFOs may be well trained to be great CFOs, but no Chief Financial Officer has been trained to become a CFO in Transition. My experience shows that CFOs who are focusing on their career at the same time as their CFO role for their employer are at an advantage over those that just give 110% to their employer. CFOs who continue to develop themselves and network properly throughout their career minimize the chances that they will ever be in transition, or, if they end up in between opportunities, their network will quickly activate to their advantage.
What has changed about the CFO role in the last 5-10 years? How have long-standing CFOs adapted to these changes?
The biggest change in the last 5-10 years has been the visibility of the CFO. Senior Finance Executives are more front and center than ever in their organization. Long-standing CFOs who are used to playing a behind-the-scenes role will not be able to take advantage of the current and future opportunities that could present themselves. For those CFOs who can handle the spotlight, they are well placed to take advantage of this new reality.
"CFOs in transition need to sell their ability to solve problems because that is why companies hire senior finance executives."
In your book, you discuss in transition CFOs and the best ways to cope with searching for a new position. What advice do you have for CFOs who are currently in transition?
I have a lot of advice for a CFO in transition - that’s why I wrote a whole chapter on it. If I were to focus on one key area for the CFO in transition, I would say that he or she needs to build their network with the goal of solving other people’s challenges. CFOs in transition need to sell their ability to solve problems because that is why companies hire senior finance executives.
How can a CFO candidate best present himself to get noticed by executive recruiters in today’s marketplace?
One way for a CFO not to get noticed by an executive recruiter is to blast their email. To get the attention of a recruiter and a call back, a referral is most helpful.
The most beneficial way for a CFO candidate to get noticed by an executive recruiter is to be findable. The reason executive search is called ‘executive search’ is because recruiters work hard to ‘search’ for the best candidates for their clients. If they want to find you, they will. Are you making their job easier? Having an up to date and well prepared LinkedIn Profile is key for any senior finance executive, whether they are actively looking for a new role or not. Unfortunately, too many senior finance executives have poor and out of date LinkedIn profiles, which ensures that they miss opportunities that could have found them.
In your book, you highlight the importance of “critical early wins” for a newly hired CFO. What should a new CFO focus on during the first few days and months on the job?
The new CFO should take the time to focus on what their new employment environment can most benefit from, and compare these needs with the skill sets they are bringing to their new employer. Each CFO has their own strengths that they bring to their new employer. The new CFO needs to appear to be making a difference early for their continued success at their new employer. It is up to each CFO to figure out what will work best for them and their employer. The CFO cannot ignore the opportunity that comes from making a visible difference quickly.
A major theme in your book focuses on the importance of focusing on one’s own career even when happily employed. Why is it important for CFOs to focus on both their career and their employer?
Too many CFOs focus on delivering to their employer while not giving attention to their career. Unfortunately, one day this CFO will be in between opportunities and begin to focus on their career again. Successful CFOs do not ignore their careers while employed. Successful CFOs are constantly building their network, being visible and adding to their leadership skill sets. These successful CFOs are much more likely to have opportunities find them before they need to find another opportunity.
"Many CFOs tell me they don't have time to focus on their career...CFOs need to be aware that their career is a priority, and they need to make it one."
Do you have any recommendations for CFOs who have difficulty finding the time to focus on their career while they’re employed?
Time is the key issue. Many CFOs tell me they don’t have the time to focus on their career because they have an overflowing plate already. Yet, CFOs are masters at being able to manage multiple priorities. CFOs need to be aware that their career is a priority, and they need to make it one. It certainly does not need take a large portion of time, but if CFOs were to carve out 3-5% of their time and focus on their career, their short, medium and long term prospects will benefit greatly.
One unique thing about your book is that you focus on the CFO as a leader rather than the CFO as the technical, number cruncher. A significant part of being a leader is maintaining strong relationships. Which relationships do most CFOs find to be the most difficult and what recommendations do you have for CFOs to navigate those rocky relationships?
Great question. I would say that too many CFOs have challenges with relationships, and that is why I wanted to bring it to their attention in my book. I created my CFO Relationship Map to help CFOs focus on the relationships they have so they can improve them. I find that the relationships that are most difficult for the CFO are the ones where they are the intermediary between other relationships. Managing relationships with the CEO can be difficult enough. Managing the relationship between the CEO and the bank can be very stressful.
CFOs in rocky relationships need to understand the true dynamics behind any difficult relationships, and do their best to ensure these relationships are ultimately successful. In the end, the CFO is human, and not all relationships can be made to work. Each CFO must be honest with himself as to what can be done to make the relationship work, and understand that when failure could be an option, they should proactively attempt to minimize the downside of those relationship failures.
What changes should CFOs prepare for in the next 5-10 years? What new skills might they need? What will they need to be able adapt to in the workplace?
I wish I had a crystal ball that would allow me to see forward as to what the CFO role will look like in the next 5-10 years. I do believe that the formula for CFO Success will not change, even if circumstances for CFOs do. I believe that successful CFOs need to focus more on their relationships and their career in the coming years if they want to be a success. CFOs need to spend more time with people and less time with Excel.
Any final words of advice for our CFO readers?
CFOs are looked up to as business leaders. As CFO, you need to know that people are looking to you for guidance. Remember that your attitude is contagious. If you want to be a leader having a positive impact on your company, stay positive. The best way to lead is with a smile. No one wants a grumpy CFO.To learn more or to purchase Guide to CFO Success, please click here. Guide to CFO Success is available wherever books and e-books are sold. You can also contact Samuel Dergel on LinkedIn or Twitter @DergelCFO.