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Why it’s time to think outside of ‘finance’

10 years ago, a typical career progression to the role of CFO might have looked like this:

Big 4 training, progression through financial management roles in 2-3 companies, gaining exposure to different organisational types, dynamics and fields of finance (M&A, transformation, cost accounting etc) and then appointment to an FD, or CFO, role.

Today, it may be a bit different. Yes, of course, there will be CFOs with this background, and they are still in demand in Ireland. However, businesses are also starting to seek people with cross-functional experience as the role that the CFO plays in business becomes increasingly commercial, transformational and linked to contemporary priorities such as innovation and risk/reward.

What can you do to make sure you keep up with this change in recruiting preferences?

Think T-shape leadership

Defined by McKinsey, the T-shape leader has deep ‘functional’ expertise and broad ‘leadership’ and ‘collaboration’ skills. If you want to be a CFO, you need to develop your horizontal expertise as much as you develop your functional expertise. If you’ve only worked in finance, it’s likely you’ll be more of an I-shape leader unless you proactively focus on crossing  your ‘T’s, so to speak.

Think critically about the gaps in your broader business understanding

You’re an accomplished finance professional. And while we all accept we’re always learning, as an accounting professional, the ‘technical’ financial elements of your role you’ve probably mastered by now, or you’re well on the way to.

But there are always gaps, from a broader business perspective. For instance, you may have worked closely with manufacturing and have a fairly good understanding of how production and operations worked, but what do you know about marketing? Or M&A? If you’ve only worked in FMCG, do you understandhow institutional banking systems really work?

Identifying where your gaps are will help you to focus on where you need to go next, to get the right exposure and continue to build your T-shape leadership style.

Collaboration is king

Working outside of finance not only gives you a broader business knowledge and understanding, it gives you networks. It also gives you an understanding of how to work with non-finance teams in a practical way. It gives you fresh perspective and exposure to different ways of thinking and working approaches, all of which may be applied to drive improved results, back in finance. Working outside of finance will undoubtedly grow your leadership and collaboration skills and is vital for today’s CFO.

Accept everything is changing, and will continue to

As you know, in business, you can’t stand still. Similarly, if you stay doing the same role, in the same way, for too long, you’ll stagnate. You’ll also miss out on opportunities, as stated above, to push your knowledge boundaries and build those softer competencies that are so critical to a C-suite role.

Just being ‘finance’ is unlikely to give you a step up anymore – to help businesses evolve and continue to be competitive, your skill set need to change too.  By taking proactive action to do this, you’ll be much more likely to achieve your end-goal.

Just make sure you keep up your CPD!

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