To become a CFO, you need more than just your CPA credentials and experience as a Controller or in a similar role – although these are some of the building blocks on the way to the top.

According to a recent analysis of the career patterns of Fortune 100 CFOs, you’re more likely to get there if you have extensive experience within your own organization, versus moving in as an heir apparent. In the study by Russell Reynolds Associates, 69 percent of F100 CFOs were promoted, internally, into their positions. Of the remaining 31 percent, nearly three-quarters previously held CFO roles at other companies.

Of the majority hired internally:

  • 70 percent had at least 11 years’ tenure with their organization.
  • 41 percent had more than 20 years’ tenure, and
  • Only 15 percent had worked for their employer for five years or less.

Common Roles on the Route to the Top

Nearly half of F100 corporate Chief Financial Officers previously were divisional CFOs at their companies, making this the most common route to the top. Others included:

  • Significant divisional or general management experience, cited by 36 percent of respondents.
  • Treasury experience, also listed at 36 percent.
  • Senior corporate financial experience, at 32 percent.
  • Service as a divisional or regional Controller, also at 32 percent.
  • Experience in strategy and corporate development, listed at 31 percent.

On an educational note, 62 percent of F100 CFOs hold advanced degrees. 54 percent have earned an MBA, though only half did so at a Top 25 business school. Finally, only 12 percent earned their undergraduate degrees at Ivy League institutions.

Team Players Become Team Leaders

Achieving a pinnacle position in any field requires superb interpersonal skills. Financial professionals tend to have more of a stigma attached to their work – seen as curmudgeonly bean counters with a silo mentality that may overlook other business and human needs.

  • Continuously build rapport. Develop and nurture relationships with your CEO, your direct reports and others in various departments and at all organizational levels. Be a member of the Senior Management Team who looks at the big picture and takes a long-term view of investments. Work with operations, sales and marketing and HR to identify and help them effectively address their issues.
  • Make your boss look good. In a healthy work environment, when you succeed, so does your boss. If your manager is mature and observant, they’ll be delighted with your progress and look to reward you and your growing career. Understand the way your boss is measured and go the extra mile to ensure that your contributions deliver relevant results.
  • Coach and develop your subordinates. Help them become skilled enough to do your job. Otherwise, if a promotion opportunity arises, you may be perceived as too critical in your current position, and passed over.

Let Your Results Speak for Themselves

When you successfully complete an activity, communicate the Also, be sure they’re part of your next performance appraisal.

Think and Act Like A C-Level Executive

Communication skills and professional savvy mark the difference between a very good Controller and an excellent CFO.

  • Focus on strategy, execution and value creation. As CFOs manage accounting, reporting, internal controls and tax compliance, their emphasis never wavers from the bigger picture of how the overall business is performing, both in the short and long-term. As noted by John Morrow, vice president of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, a great CFO “must be a significant part of growing the beans, in addition to counting them.”

For more tips on advancing your accounting career, or if you’re currently seeking financial recruiters in Philadelphia, contact the recruitment experts at Magellan Search & Staffing today.