Bertrand de La Noue
Total Holdings USA
Bertrand de La Noue joined Total Petrochemicals in 1985 as area manager for Total Oil Great Britain. Twenty five years later he is CEO of Total Holdings USA, the parent company of the group operational subsidiaries in the US. He is also CFO of Total Petrochemicals USA.
Total Holdings' CEO position has always been linked with a CFO position in one of the main subsidiaries, says De La Noue. "That way a CEO can keep contact with the day-to-day operations in a subsidiary, see what the challenges are and how he can use the examples set within that subsidiary to benefit others in the group. It helps me a lot to play, on one side, the shareholders role and be in touch with the CEO of the subsidiaries, and on the other the CFO role, talking with the business managers and staff on the ground. My CEO position helps me with the CFO position and vice versa."
From his dual perspective, De La Noue can see clearly that both roles have changed. Corporate governance demands have put pressure on the CEO to be more aware of financial controls that in the past he would have left to the finance team. "Having financial experience as CEO is vital," he says. "It is critical that a CEO understands the complexity of the financial world, the complexity of handling tax, control and Sarbanes-Oxley. Having contact with the CFO and the financial communities will help a CEO to ensure it is dealt with in the proper manner."
At the same time a CFO has had to take a broader view of his role within a company. A good example is the link between HR and the CFO. "Pension plans and health issues used to be handled by HR, but they have such implications for the finances and the future of a company that CFOs need to fully understand the impact of them and influence the group's decisions in these respects. The CEO's role has always been involved with HR and that helps me a lot in my CFO role," he adds.
Can I be CEO?
As a future CEO, you need to be able to understand not only the financial results but also what drives them. This requires insight into the sources and drivers of intrinsic value across the organisation – a capability that not all CFOs have, says Neal Kissel, partner at management consultants Marakon Associates. In addition to the mastery of finance, his advice to any CFO angling for the top job is to be:
A strategist – one of the main reasons CFOs don't get the CEO's job is because of a gap in strategic thinking.
An information specialist – being able to organise financial and strategic information in a way that provides guidance to an
organisation about decisions on where and how to compete and how to invest the firms resources. The CFO must work with line managers to create a fact base to support the company's long term development whilst still delivering in the near term.
A communications expert – a CFO should see his role as not just reporting the numbers but as being an integral part in
communicating what the company's strategy is; he must also exercise judgement in determining what, when, and how important information should be communicated externally to investors and the media.
A corporate leader – providing guidance on how to accomplish the company's goal and direction, nurturing a strong and
constructive relationship internally with business unit leaders and fellow executives.
And, if you can't yet tick all of these, don't be downhearted says Kissel. "Great CEOs are not born, they are developed. There is no reason why a CFO doesn't have the inherent capabilities to expand his horizon and to become the CEO."
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