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CFO promoted to CEO: a passing trend or a real change?

The recent nominations, particularly in the CAC 40, of former CFO to positions of CEO or COO (Danone, AccordHotels, Engie…), more than being emblematic of a trend, appear to translate a deep and durable transformation of the organisation of the companies.

Let’s talk about the context: companies evolve in an environment that is increasingly complex; we can assume that the finance function provides a relevant analysis key, objectively opposable, likely to give credit to a strategy.

Guardian of the financial picture of the company, the CFO has, in recent years, seen its function expand its prerogative to become an indispensable steering lever of the company.

The CFO translates the business and economical situation into financial figures, evaluates the risks and proposes action plans.

 

« Financialization » on all levels

In the same time, in listed companies, the CEO naturally had to integrate the technical financial issues. Investor relations have therefore become a strategic challenge. This evolution is essentially observed in large groups that are more complex and logically more exposed to markets and investors.

In parallel, the « Investor Relations » function has evolved through recruiting profiles that are more « Corporate Finance » oriented. Investors appreciate interlocutors who are both technical and business oriented to translate economic models that are increasingly complex.

 

The CFO, a Manager like any other?  

The CFO has become more generalist. The exclusively technical profile from large US firms no longer represent the majority. The accounting function has operated its own transformation, the modern CFO far surpasses the technical framework and offers more diversified experience and career path, and not only within the financial scope. The CFO has in fact become a « manager like any other » with strong soft skills, a strategic vision and a deep knowledge of the functional mechanisms within the company.

 

What kind of lessons for the future?

The increasing globalisation, technological challenges and financial exposition, are signs of a fundamental trend. In a world that is increasingly « global » and in constant evolution, the financial function has been evolving. Its actors upgrade and their spectrum of responsibilities enlarge, depending on the schemas and challenges of the company. It is also a « global » trend that tends to turn CFOs into managers that are more and more generalist.

It is likewise completely logical to see more and more CFOs taking on the functions of CEO. However, this observation has yet to be qualified in Mid-Caps. If CFOs regularly become COOs with privileged access to the business strategy of the company and a higher level of contribution, they rarely evolve towards CEO positions.

 

  

ARROWMAN Key Insight

Advice for the CFO aiming to become a CEO:

  • Cultivate your generalist dimension, never forget to work on different levels of « granularity » of the function
  • Deepen your business experience and stay connected to operations. Generally speaking, alternating functional and operational positions is an investment for the future.

 

Philippe MILLOT is one of the Directors of ARROWMAN Executive Search in charge of the practice of the Corporate Functions and Business Development.

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