I recently met with the FDs of two rival companies operating in the same sector within the space of a couple of weeks. The experience drummed home to me just how the age-old stereotype of the accountant is both long dead and simultaneously alive and kicking.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Both of the individuals in question were perfectly charming, but they had very different management styles, for want of a better phrase. Let’s start with the similarities; they had both trained with big firms, both had a good ten years’ experience with their respective organisations and had both successfully moved up the career ladder.
And there, I have to say, the similarities ended, for me at least. One was dull (there’s no other word for it) and the other was vibrant, passionate about the business, a true business partner and oozing self confidence and a sense of fun. The other insisted on an outline of questions prior to the meeting (the answers to which were subsequently reeled off, parrot fashion like some sort of homework assignment). He came across as a very competent ‘process’ man but not a ‘plant’ in the Myers-Briggs psychological profiling sense of the term (i.e. creative).
I left one interview feeling geed up about the company, and excited about their industry. I left the other half asleep and wondering how on earth I was going to turn the presentation I’d just endured into something anyone would want to read.
In all my time writing about business, I’ve met enough great CFOs to know that those at the highest echelons of finance are pretty much as good as it gets on the business front. There’s a reason why the vast majority of CEOs in the FTSE 100 have an accountancy background and have worked their way to the top via the CFO route.
But for those who haven’t grasped it yet, the message is clear; it’s time for FDs to up their game. The economy may be showing signs of picking up but the trauma that was the recession is still fresh in everyone’s mind. The need for strong numbers, top notch corporate governance and faultless risk management, all peppered with not insignificant amounts of creativity have never been more sort after.
Never has there been a better time to be in the financial hot seat. In terms of opportunities to prove your worth, raise your profile and add real value to the business, the eyes are well and truly on the CFO. Just leave the bean counter stereotypes well and truly where they belong.