The title of CFO is often seen as the highest accolade for any aspiring accountant, but every discipline has its own number one role or summit as the top job. But how do you get there and what are the challenges you will face?
There are lots of challenges; large and small, generic and bespoke. Here are some of the main challenges I think people face across all disciplines:
The variation of roles between one business and another. What is one company’s MD is another company’s GM. Structure also tends to vary between listed versus non-listed businesses.
Changing workforce. As the saying goes “the only constant is change”, but certainly technology, outsourcing and off-shoring have played a major role in driving that change in recent times. Those ‘stepping-stone’ roles do not exist as commonly as they did before and often there is a huge gap between the person at the top and those beneath them.
Breadth of experience. The changing workforce certainly impacts this at the lower level management level, but candidates often arrive for these top jobs without the necessary experience to land them effectively. They often get, in their eyes, ‘frustrating’ feedback where they are missing one or more requirements.
The differences between roles in one business versus roles in another can be debated forever. Certainly whether an organisation is listed or unlisted is a big factor; as listed firms nearly always want someone in a like for like role already. Whereas unlisted firms are more likely to promote from within and give ‘succession planning’ a genuine go.
There are many ways to address the above challenges but, as the blog title suggests, taking the role now for the next role will have the greatest impact. How often have you taken a role because you need it to round out your skill set, versus instead opting for the role that looks more appealing? Most of us, if we are honest, do the latter or at best are inconsistent with our approach.
Research the experience of the people in the roles above you. How many times have you looked in detail at the CV of an existing Executive like a CFO? These details are accessible nowadays by either asking them or going on to sites like LinkedIn. It saves a lot of the guess work if you know how they got there, allowing you to reflect on any gaps you may have.
Let’s face it, even after reading the above it takes a lot to put it in to play. Some of the experience you need can actually be very technical (particularly if your goal is within a top-50 listed business) so it can take some real will-power to go and get that, especially when you might have a more commercial role also on offer.
Start the process now and be patient. A huge one for many of us. Get in to the mind-set early; that you need the breadth of experience and seek it out. Remember there is no rush; take your time and build your profile properly. Taking lateral moves to build your skills trumps climbing the ladder, as without these skills you will hit the glass-ceiling far too early.
In my experience, having recruited in this space for over 15 years, planning is key. Take control of your career and build the right foundations for your future success.