10 Keys to Success as a CFO

By Allan Tepper, Co-founder and Senior Managing Partner, CFO Consulting Partners LLC

CFO Consulting Partners provides C-level financial management services to small and midsized public and private companies. Clients often ask what critical elements are needed for CFO success. Being a CFO is one of the most important, yet short-lived jobs in corporate America. Many publications list the average tenure for a CFO at just 3 to 5 years. This turnover is due to many reasons, but at least some relate to how the CFO is perceived by the CEO and peers of the CFO.

To help the CFO evaluate his or her chances of long-term success, I have developed the following ten questions. While there are no guarantees, a good number of YES answers may be an indication of longevity and success. And keep in mind that you may not have direct control over some of the elements listed in the below questions.

  1. Are you an active and respected member of your Senior Management Team?
  2. Can you/do you talk frequently and fluently to the senior management team about the key drivers of your business (i.e., volumes, ratios, pricing, etc.), and about the external variables affecting the business (i.e., about the economy, the industry trends, the competitors, the risks, etc.)?
  3. Is your department staffed with high quality people, and is the staff viewed as efficient and internally client driven?
  4. When you report bad news, is it well accepted? Have you put practices in place to identify and mitigate risks, so that when bad news happens, you report it as one of the identified risks that went south?”
  5. Is your day-to-day department well managed? Do you provide your services quickly and in a quality manner? Is your own office neat and well organized? Do you consistently work less than 10-hour days?
  6. Do you feel more like a guiding light to growth and profitability than a police officer in your company?
  7. Do you or your Senior Management Team believe that internal and external customer satisfaction is Job Number 1?
  8. Would your boss say you think like a businessperson – growth, profitability, ROE, empowerment, motivation, a prudent amount of risk taking, etc.? Would they say you strike the right balance between the big picture and the details?
  9. Have you implemented a sound planning, budgeting and forecasting process? If so, do you have monthly or quarterly meetings with the profit center leaders to review results and identify risks?
  10. Is your audit completed within three months after the end of your fiscal year?