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Majority CFOs don’t want to be CEOs : E&Y study

/ 5 November 2010

DUBAI — It has become fashionable to say that any ambitious Chief Financial Officer (CFO) wants to be a CEO. But, a quite different picture has emerged in a report titled, The DNA of the CFO, which provides a fresh insight into what it is to be a CFO today.

Seventy-three per cent of the CFOs surveyed in the report by Ernst & Young see their role as a destination in its own right and only 10 per cent harbour an ambition to be the CEO.

The report found that CFOs are a group of people whose unique optic on the business has rightly earned them promotion to the forefront; they are embracing their increasingly strategic remit; and they see their career choice as one to be celebrated — not a staging post to the role of CEO.

The CFO is playing an increasingly broad and vital role within today’s organisations, says the report based on the analysis of a survey of 669 senior finance professionals in Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa, and a programme of in-depth interviews with leading CFOs and finance directors from these regions.  The research was conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit. 

The report was presented by Joe Murphy, managing partner of Ernst & Young — Dubai, at the Fourth Annual CFO Strategies Middle East Forum in Dubai on Wednesday, as chairperson of an interactive panel discussion titled, CFO as a co-pilot to the CEO.

The survey found that the traditional finance skills of analysis, reporting and control are in demand outside of the finance function and the job of the CFO is broadening far beyond its technical heartland into a role that is more “strategic” in the broadest sense of the word.

Leading CFOs are overturning outmoded perceptions of finance as “business prevention units” and repositioning the function as an enabling partner to the business.

A large proportion of CFOs feel their contribution to strategy focuses on providing insight and analysis to support the CEO and ensuring that business decisions are grounded in sound financial criteria.

There is a delicate balance to strike between being the “objective, independent voice” of the business and assuming a broader responsibility for operations.

A growing number of CFOs are adding operational responsibilities for functions such as IT and property to their portfolios.

The CFO role is now more embedded in the development and enablement of corporate strategy and yet the financial crisis has forced CFOs to increase their focus on fundamentals of finance as well.

Increasingly, the CFO has to act as the face of the company on all issues related to overall financial performance.  Following the crisis, the CFO’s key priority is to increase trust in the financial health of their business. Communication and influencing is considered by the CFOs as the most important area for improvement.


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