News

COVID-19 May Bring Lasting Change to CFO Recruiting

Executive recruiters discuss how the pandemic could reshape CFO searches and hiring in the months and years ahead.


The Wall Street Journal | July 24, 2020


The Wall Street Journal article, “COVID-19 May Bring Lasting Change to CFO Recruiting," quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Jenna Fisher on how the pandemic is affecting the CFO role and what she expects to see moving forward. The article is excerpted below.

The coronavirus pandemic has already brought significant disruptions to CFO hiring. To understand which of these changes may become enduring features in the years ahead, we turned to five  CFO executive recruiters for their outlooks.

The New Market Dynamics 

All five recruiters expect to see an eventual resumption of a competitive “seller's market," driven by pent-up corporate demand, an increase in private equity acquisitions, and more CEO replacements (which often lead to CFO replacements).

Demand for first-time CFOs, however, may be tempered by a widening gap between corporate winners and losers in the aftermath of the pandemic, observes Jenna Fisher of Russell Reynolds, “with companies in stronger financial positions better able to poach well-known, sitting CFOs from their weaker competitors," she adds.

On the flip side, “CFOs at companies that are performing well may think themselves safe, but their organizations may consider their strong position as a talent arbitrage opportunity," warns Fisher, adding that she has recently had conversations with several clients looking to upgrade.

CFO Attributes ​That Matter

The recruiters say the pandemic is raising the importance of several skillsets that they expect will shift the most sought-after CFO attributes―and could produce more diversity in CFO hires.

The recruiters suggest that the distinctly human elements of the current crisis will shift the criteria for companies. Communication and collaboration skills will be more in demand as a result of the ongoing health crisis and the recently raised awareness of social and racial justice issues. “The response to the pandemic is showing that leadership qualities traditionally considered “softer" traits―empathy, compassion, reflection, openness, and communication― are equally effective as traditionally “stronger" traits of leadership―dominance, risk-taking, and a more assertive take-charge style―and arguably more so," says Fisher. That growing recognition could help expand the pool of CFO candidates, she says, just as virtualization, by enabling and normalizing more flexible work schedules, “should ultimately benefit men and women's careers," she adds.

Succession Challenges Ahead

Although companies are now prioritizing experience, over the next few years demographics alone will help boost rookie appointments as seasoned CFOs retire, according to Fisher. “On the other side of the crisis, we'll start seeing the older generation give way to an accelerated cycle of internal promotions," she observes. When that happens depends on how long the pandemic lasts.​

To read the full article, click here.