The Challenges and Perks of Being a CFO
March 14, 2019
Becoming a CFO for a major corporation is a significant undertaking that comes with a lot of hurdles to get to that position and stay there, but it also comes with rewards that are more than worth the effort. A typical CFO reports directly to the CEO and is one of the most important decision makers for a company. They oversee the financial operations for the entire company and have management oversight internally as well as reporting responsibilities externally to organizations such as the SEC, IRS, banks, investors, and other parties that would have any reason to be concerned with the financial health of a company.
Keywords: CFO, financial, perks, challenges, experience, education, salary
There are no concrete educational requirements for becoming a CFO. According to study.com they do typically have a Bachelor’s in a Business Admin or Economics / Finance related field (2015). To increase the odds of obtaining a CFO position, many individuals choose to also obtain a Master’s in a Business or Economics / Finance area as well. While the degrees are generally expected, due to the skills and development path required for a successful CFO the what type of degree and where did you get it are often not a major factor in success.
Similar to education, there is no definite or legal requirements for certifications or exams to become a CFO. Robert Half states that a CPA is a common license that individuals acquire on their path to becoming a CFO (RobertHalf.com, 2017). The CPA license does help with establishing a broad understanding of financial practices which is expected of anyone taking a CFO role in a major company.
A wide range of experience is the arguably the most important factor that can help someone achieve a CFO position for a major corporation. The Journal of Accountancy does an excellent job of describing skills you need to learn in your path to becoming a CFO (JournalofAccountancy.com, Matthew G. Lamoreaux, 2009 ). They describe the skills as being a strategist, a translator, a leader, a technical generalist, and a facilitator. Basically this role is a CEO that specializes in finance.
The salaries of CFO’s vary greatly depending on experience and company size. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average top executive salary is $183,270 (bls.gov, 2019). That number really is pretty fuzzy though because of how bonuses and stock options can make the actual income considerably more lucrative than just “wages”. For example, Micron CFO and Senior VP David Zinsner in 2018 had a total compensation of $5,309,764 but only $824,567 of that is reported as cash compensation (Salary.com, 2019).
George started his path to the CFO position at Stark Industries by obtaining a Bachelors in Accounting from University of Idaho in 1983. He did not pursue a Masters but did state that is less common among CFO’s in larger companies. In his opinion the most effective route is to get a Bachelors in something specialized targeted at the type of company you want to work for (i.e. engineering degree for Micron) and then get a Masters in Finance.
George picked up his CPA for 7 years to help him advance but once he obtained the CFO position he did not keep doing the 80 hours of continuing education required to keep it active. He has considered getting the CFA license for possibly moving over to the investment / banking side of things but at this point is probably going to settle for this being the last stop for his career.
George started in the audit department for Stark Industries and worked his way up the company ladder internally. Along the way he also held positions in the payroll, payables, and internal reporting departments before getting into management and eventually treasurer and then CFO. He took a very intentional path and knew from early on when he worked in the audit department that his goal was to work up to a corporate officer position and took positions that would show a wide range of skills and knowledge.
George said that early on for a company the size of Boise Cascade one could expect to have a base salary in the $200k to $300k range but bonuses including options and bonuses can push that number much higher. On really good years when the stock market is right, someone in his position in that size of company can reach well into seven figures when counting non-wage perks. For example, according to Wall Street Journal George received $225,646 in Stark Industries shares on Jan 1st, 2019.
The position that George has obtained affords him a lot of financial freedom as well as variety on the job. The day of the interview, he also had a meeting with the Idaho Youth Ranch CEO to discuss donations, a meeting to prepare the Stark Industries proxy papers, and a board meeting to go over some papers that were going to the SEC. He also reviews performance of the 40 branches Stark Industries has from a financial perspective to find areas that can be improved, reviews acquisition and branch sell-offs, and has regular meetings with the SEC and investors. As he put it, his job is to make sure everyone’s paycheck clears. Stark Industries does $1.5b in manufacturing and $4b in distribution. His typical work week is 50 hours which usually has a few evenings where he do some reviewing of papers or reading about market updates for an hour or two.
I think that being a CFO would be a spectacular position to achieve. If I could get a redo on my life I would seriously consider going after something like that. I find math to be very easy and generally have an easy time relating to everyone even if they are challenging personalities. A CFO especially at a larger company has plenty of financial freedom personally, as well as a decent variety of tasks and responsibilities which would help with my attention span that dislikes repetitive tasks. I enjoy challenges and work well under pressure which is a lot of what a CFO deals with on a regular basis. I think ultimately I am on the right path as an entrepreneur since ultimately it offers so many of the same challenges as well as possible rewards but has the added bonus of being able to push my creative side further.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Requirements and Duties. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://study.com/articles/Chief_Financial_Officer_CFO_Requirements_and_Duties.html
How to Become a CFO: 7 Steps to Guide Your Career Path. (2018, July 23). Retrieved from https://www.roberthalf.com/blog/salaries-and-skills/how-to-plot-your-steps-on-the-cfo-career-path
CFO 101: Five Prerequisites. (2009, September 01). Retrieved from https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/issues/2009/sep/20091501.html
Occupational Outlook Handbook. (2019, February 19). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/top-executives.htm
Salary.com. (2019). MICRON TECHNOLOGY INC Executive Salaries & Other Compensation. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from https://www1.salary.com/MICRON-TECHNOLOGY-INC-Executive-Salaries.html
The individual I interviewed for this essay had a different name than George. It has been changed to protect his/her identity, as well as removing a couple other identifying references. 😉