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The question “What makes a great CFO?” has a thousand answers. In fact, there have been literally thousands of articles and hundreds of books on the subject. So any single author’s opinion on the matter cannot by any means be considered the final word.
But are there a handful of traits and characteristics that must be present for a CFO to qualify as great? I think there are definitely several on which we can agree. First and foremost the individual in question must have a good technical background – he or she is the principal party in charge of making sure that accurate, timely financial information is provided to the organization.
But we shouldn’t stop there. If this information is to be of real value, it must be communicated both to the managers in the organization and also to the decision makers – usually the board. Unfortunately most of these individuals do not have a strong background in finance, or no background at all. Therefore it is incumbent on the CFO to have top-flight financial communication skills.
Simply communicating the information however will not maximize its use. If the CFO is not a well-trusted person, whose integrity is beyond question, those receiving the insights proffered may hesitate to rely on them. So, here again we have a key characteristic – absolute trustworthiness.
Yet another attribute of the best CFOs is that they concern themselves with the entire organization and not simply with its financial issues. With the pace of change what it is today, and the presence of the economic pressures we all face, our nonprofits definitely require holistic leadership from their CFOs if the nonprofit is to truly succeed.
This practice of serving the whole organization leads us to yet another key characteristic. Every great CFO works hard to maintain very strong relationships with essential individuals both within and outside of the organization. Department heads must be comfortable sharing their breakthroughs as well as their concerns with the CFO if she or he is to look after the well being of the entity as a whole. And there must also be solid, trusting relationships between the bankers, attorneys and insurance agents if the nonprofit is to be truly well served.
These may be among the essential qualities that a top CFO will have, but consider this listing just the tip of the iceberg. The qualities of a great CFO run deep.
Details: Lang is president of LangCPA Consulting, LLC, Potomac, Md., and the chief judge of the CFO of the Year Awards. Contact him at email@example.com.