Analytic Mindset of CFOs Keeps C-Suite Harmony


The Wall Street Journal | July 29, 2015

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter sits mounted in front of the United Technologies Corp. Sikorsky helicopter plant in Stratford, Conn., on Monday June 15, 2015. Douglas Healey/Bloomberg News

​​Although the odds might be stacked against finance chiefs trying to reach the CEO seat there’s growing evidence that the skills they bring to the job help balance out the entire C-suite.

The “analytical bent” of CFOs tends to serve as a “counterbalance to the more emotionally-inflected nature” of top executives, according to a recent study by executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

The firm compared the leadership qualities of 129 CFOs with leadership assessment data of other executives in its database.

A CFO’s “objective and logical approach to problem solving,” helps ready them for chief executive roles, as they must grapple with more complicated business environments, Russell Reynolds said.

United Technologies Corp., for instance, looked to its CFO, Gregory Hayes, to fill the top slot when CEO Louis Chenevertabruptly stepped down last November. The Hartford, Conn. manufacturer is selling its Sirkorsky helicopter unit to Lockheed Martin Corp. for $9 billion.​

Arthur Minson Jr. , formerly CFO of Time Warner Cable Inc. left the post in June to become president and chief operating officer at WeWork Cos., a provider of flexible workspace and services. Twitter Inc.’s CFO, Anthony Noto, is reportedly a front-runner for the vacant CEO seat.

Many finance chiefs have the technical know-how needed to run a business, but are sometimes missing the “soft-skills” needed to be the leading face of a company, the study said. That’s a typical refrain from executive recruiters, although they add that those who have the right mix skills make for good CEOs.

Of sitting CEOs on the global Forbes 500, for instance, only 18% were CFO immediately preceding their chief executive appointment, according to a June report by executive recruiter Korn/Ferry International. That’s up slightly from 16% in 2014 and 2013.

Nearly a quarter of sitting CEOs (23%) in the Forbes 500 have senior-level finance experience, holding roles such as treasurer, controller, vice president of finance at some point in their career, Korn/Ferry said.​​​

Sign up for our newsletter

Get the newsletter that prepares you for what's next with valuable insights across industries and geographies.
Analytic Mindset of CFOs Keeps C-Suite Harmony