Finance Chiefs Getting Shot at CEO Role


The Wall Street Journal | August 7, 2015

June 15, 2011 – Roseville, California – Richard Ross and Augustine Grine restocks watermelon at the produce department of Sprouts Farmers Market in Roseville, CA. June 15, 2011.

It may finally be getting easier for CFOs to ascend the corporate ladder.

Sprouts Farmers Market Inc. Friday promoted its CFO, Amin Maredia, to CEO. Church & Dwight Co. Inc., the company that owns the Arm & Hammer brand, this week said CFO Matthew Farrell would take the top reins in January.  MoneyGram International Inc. a week ago announced a 2016 CEO start date for its CFO W. Alexander Holmes.

A Sprouts spokeswoman said Mr. Maredia's move was the result of the "board's deliberate succession plan."

Church & Dwight did not respond to requests for comment. MoneyGram's Mr. Holmes told CFO Journal that a stint as chief operating officer groomed him for the position.

The common thinking is that the jump from CFO to CEO is difficult, as chief executives require operational and people skills that aren't common among those from technical, accounting-driven backgrounds.

Korn/Ferry International labels it the "right-brain leadership gap." Russell Reynolds Associates, in a recent study, sought to identify and measure some of the attributes that could hinder a finance chief in a CEO role. The firms also try to help ambitious CFOs close those gaps.

Of sitting CEOs on the global Forbes 500, only 18% were CFO immediately preceding their chief executive appointment, according Korn/Ferry data.  Nearly a quarter of sitting CEOs in the Forbes 500 have senior-level finance experience, holding roles such as treasurer, controller, vice president of finance at some point.

For those seeking move up, doing so within the same company is often easier, said Peter Crist, chairman of executive recruitment firm Crist|Kolder. "The board sees the CFO at every meeting and comfort and trust is readily developed," he added.

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Finance Chiefs Getting Shot at CEO Role