29th September 2023

How Can You Make the Move From FD to CFO?  

So you’ve made it to Finance Director (FD) level – fantastic! But now you want to take the leap and become a Chief Finance Officer (CFO).

To state the obvious – it’s going to take some work and focus on some key areas to show that you’re ready for the challenge.

In this guide I cover the three that I see as most important based on the experiences I’ve had supporting people into CFO roles where they’re expected to be a strategic and influential finance leader.

I should caveat that this guide assumes that the FD reports into the CFO (who is the most senior person in the finance team) – but your company might have different titles for these roles.

Anyway, let’s get to it!

1. Thinking strategically: A mindset shift

To rise from Finance Director to CFO, there needs to be a fundamental mindset shift – from execution-first to strategy-first. Yes, execution is super important, but as CFO the primary focus is on the bigger picture.

This transition means a shift in perspective. So in each situation, instead of thinking, “How am I going to get this done?”, you could think “How does this thing matter in the broader context?”.

It usually takes around six to twelve months of practice before this comes naturally.

Three things to focus on here:

  • Considering the broader context before deciding how to achieve specific goals.
  • Aligning your decisions with the company’s strategic direction.
  • Embracing a strategic mindset where you’re always looking for growth opportunities and how you can improve things.

2. Mastering effective communication at a strategic level

Successful CFOs are great at managing relationships with several stakeholders at once. We’re talking CEOs, boards, management teams, investors, and shareholders.

These people want the CFO’s strategic point of view on where the business is going – it makes a huge difference to communicate your thoughts on this really well.

Three strategic-level things to focus on here:

  • Quality conversations that emphasise your strategic perspective.
  • Providing insights into the company’s future direction rather than micro-level execution details.
  • Initiating discussions from the top-down to influence decision-making.

3. Thinking externally: Navigating mergers and acquisitions (M&A)

A chicken and egg situation because it’s HARD to get experience in this without being at CFO level already.

Even if your organisation isn’t currently involved in M&A activities, a competent CFO has the ability to view the company’s operations from an external perspective.

Essentially this means thinking about “What would it look like to add something else in or take something out of the organisation?”

Try identifying potential opportunities and challenges, and pro-actively talk about them with key stakeholders.

Three things to develop in this area:

  • Seeking early opportunities in your career to gain exposure to M&A.
  • Exploring courses or mentorship from people with experience in M&A.
  • Expanding your knowledge about M&A processes and strategies so you can provide valuable input.

What are you waiting for?

In the journey from Finance Director to CFO, financial leaders can practice new ways of thinking, mastering the art of strategic communication, and considering external perspectives.

Remember that progress takes time and dedication, so it can help to find ways of ensuring you commit to continuous learning. Easy… right!?

The good news is you don’t have to do it alone. I’m an executive coach for finance leaders, FDs and CFOs to help you get clarity on your goals and support you to achieve them.

If anything in this blog resonated and you’d like to talk it through with someone, let’s jump on a discovery call!

Oliver Deacon

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