Nearly two out of three chief financial officers worldwide aspire to become chief executives of their company, but relatively few succeed in occupying the corner office.

Author: Gordon Platt

The reason, according to a study by the Korn Ferry International Human Resources Center of Expertise, is that the typical CFO’s financial skills alone don’t qualify them sufficiently to make the transition to CEO, a job that relies heavily on people skills.

“To take the next leadership step, CFOs must move beyond their technical left-brain skills and develop more competencies in people- and relationship-oriented, right-brain areas,” says the paper, written by Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry. The executive recruitment firm’s analysis of current CEOs in the Forbes Global 2000 found that only 13% moved into that position from being CFO.

“It is hard work for CFOs (and other C-level leaders) to close the gaps in their competencies to become CEOs,” the study says. Experience in operating roles can help, it says, but CFOs who want to move ahead must also be able to “establish and articulate a vision to engage and inspire thousands of people who will then want to follow them.”

The study cites examples of CFOs who have broadened their leadership roles: Keith Sherin, vice chairman of General Electric and chairman and CEO of GE Capital; Safra Catz, co-CEO of enterprise software vendor Oracle; John Martin, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting System, a unit of Time Warner; and Robert Bradway, chairman and CEO of Amgen, who also served as president and chief operating officer.

The best-in-class CEOs possess both left-brain technical competencies (some of which can be learned in business school), and right-brain attributes, such as motivational skills, that don’t necessarily come with an MBA, Korn Ferry’s study states. Community service or a passion for the arts can help CFOs develop their right-brain skills, it says, improving their chances for advancement.                           


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