Boards, says Kissel, want to ensure that they get a CEO candidate who is capable of managing the complexities of corporate compliance without limiting the opportunities associated with managing a large company for profitable growth. "There is no reason why a CFO can't rise to that challenge but it puts enormous pressure on how he must think about conducting his job, managing his time, and organising his team," he says.
The right stuff
Financial prowess alone is not enough to secure you the CEO title. McCall points out that vision and leadership are also prerequisites. But, he says, the CFOs' exposure to a wide range of areas can develop such characteristics. "A CFO has experience of accounting, treasury and HR, he is the key to setting up a company's business strategy and he is the link with the market, creditors and shareholders." And understanding the company's business strategy and market should give a good CFO that all important second attribute – operational skills.
Andrew Lynch, CEO of Compass Group's international retail and travel concessions business, took his job in January 2004 after seven years as Compass Group's FD. He says that the FD role was a great platform because he got to do and see "pretty much all of the company's issues" and understand the things that can impact business.
Nevertheless, he appreciates that as CEO he has to embrace the broader aspects of the business and develop other skills. "It is a much wider role. Instead of looking at business from the finance perspective, you look at it from all perspectives," he says. "It was easier for me because it was a move into a general management role in a group I knew very well which minimised some of the risk."
It is the early development of these skills that mark out those CFOs who make it to CEO from those who do not. "Those that make the step can demonstrate a skillset that is broader than the CFO's normal remit including strategic, entrepreneurial and sales and marketing skills as well as strong man management skills and the ability to take the troops with him/her." says Jeremy Rickman of recruiter Russell Reynolds.
Although there are many skills that a CFO can bring to the CEO role, as Lynch at Compass notes above, the way you reach decisions as chief executive is necessarily different. The big challenge is to demonstrate that you can go beyond a methodical decision -making process while not compromising the quality of decision making. CEOs need to be able to make decisions on an intuitive basis as well as based on analytics. The practicalities associated with limited time make this a reality of the job.
Another, more practical, area of CEO responsibilities that can keep CFOs from becoming top dog is sales and marketing. "The market is moving in to growth mode again," says Russell Reynolds's Rickman. "Three years ago I could have seen more CFOs moving in to CEO roles because of the focus on cost cutting, but in growth mode boards require sales and marketing skills so it is less likely that the CFO will be the obvious choice."
In September 2004, Richard North stepped down as CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group after discovering the importance of these skills to his detriment. He had become CEO in October 2002 following the company's demerger from Six Continents. At the time, the focus for the company – reducing capital intensity and setting a new strategic direction – suited North's skillset as a former FD.
But despite North's success – the company was in the process of selling $2.2 billion of assets and had increased EPS by 86% when he stepped down – when the company changed focus to growing its global brands it decided that they required a CEO with brand development and operations background, which he lacked.
Marketing is something Lynch at Compass is currently learning: "There's nothing you have done before becoming CEO that takes you to that," he says. His solution has been to appoint people who have strengths where he has weaknesses. "One thing above all else is surround yourself with very good people," he adds.
CFOs perturbed by the challenges of mastering leadership and strategic skills outside the financial arena – and who still want to be CEO – can take heart from recent research by Peter Crist of US executive search firm Crist Associates highlighting the widespread disappearance of the COO. In the Crist Volatility Report 2004, only 14 of the top 50 market cap companies in the US had a COO.
Crist's survey revealed that 51% of companies hiring two or more CEOs over the past nine years have done so through internal promotion. Of this 51%, 52% came from the COO position which, following the COO's promotion, was not backfilled. The benefit to the CFO is obvious: with no COO he becomes the number two and a potential heir to the CEO, says Crist.
"Once you take the COO out of the company, the CFO – who is very practised at dealing with external demands – steps in to fill the vacuum. Of course, you get an intermingling of skill sets," says Crist. "And because the CFO is occupying the strategic and