Journey to the centre of a business: CFO in five steps

Photo of a businessman between two skyscrapers
By Daryl Harper, Senior Consultant, iMultiply

11 October 2018

Inspiring success stories such as Skyscanner, Forth Ports and AG Barr have been underpinned by the strength and qualities of their CFOs.

Being integral to the strategic direction of a business rather than being on the periphery during international growth or a turnaround is perhaps why many join the accountancy profession in the first place.

As an accounting and finance professional considering your route to CFO, it is worth taking stock and considering the steps you need to take on your journey to the centre of a business:

1. Become a Chartered Accountant

Although this is not a prerequisite for becoming a CFO, achieving a CA qualification will help to provide you with a solid business foundation upon which to build the strategic skills needed to add value to any organisation you join. The CA qualification combines professional study with practical, relevant work experience which will equip you for the business world.

2. Start growing your network early

On average, it takes over a decade for an accounting and finance professional to grow from an entry level accountant to being appointed as a CFO. As finance and executive search recruitment specialists, we have worked with financial controllers, finance directors and CFOs across different sectors, industry sizes and cultures across the UK. The leaders we have engaged with tend to be personable and born connectors; recognising from the outset that the accountancy profession is a close-knit community.

Many of the CFOs we have worked with over the years have enlisted an experienced mentor at various points in their career. Having a mentor whom you can rely on as a career sounding board and who can offer words of advice about potentially career pitfalls is incredibly valuable. The ICAS career mentoring programme is a great place to find a CA mentor.

Don’t hesitate to put yourself forward.

Equally, building a bank of trusted advisors who perhaps specialise in a sector or skill where you may have identified a knowledge gap are also important. These valuable allies can not only compliment and enable you to grow your experience, they are also there to bounce ideas off and turn to for a fresh perspective.

"Work hard on process efficiency to create some time and space to contribute in other areas of the business. Use this time to broaden your commercial experience with other key members of the senior management team understanding why decisions are made and how to influence them with financial analysis and input," confirms Will Gold, Stevenswood CFO.

3. Gain international experience

Working abroad, whether in practice or in industry, at an earlier stage in your career can set you apart from the competition. Taking a measured risk at an early stage in your career often pays dividends in terms of showcasing your ability to adapt to working across borders, in international teams and within complex organisations.

4. Find your niche, grow your reputation

Many CFOs share the common trait of being experts in a particular field and are passionate about that field. Whether it is raising capital, restructuring, preparing for exit or providing operational expertise, it is important to believe in what you do and do it well. The leap from Finance Director to CFO could be expedited by the fact that you have the specialist skill-set and background required to meet the needs of a business as it evolves and as a result, your expertise will be recognised and rewarded.

5. Embrace new opportunities

Having the instinct to spot the right commercial opportunity and run with it is critical to your career success.  These opportunities could either emerge as you grow within an organisation or arise externally. If you sense that a business is about to scale or a new office is about to open which may need your support and require your expertise, don’t hesitate to put yourself forward. Keeping abreast of business and technological changes will also ensure that you are poised to target the right opportunity and take the next step on your career journey.

Find out more

Get in touch with Daryl Harper from iMultiply for further advice or to discuss your next career move.

About the author: Daryl Harper is a Senior Consultant at iMultiply, a dedicated finance and executive search firm operating from offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast. Daryl specialises in the senior accountancy and finance market across East of Scotland.

This blog is one of a series of articles from our commercial partners. 
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of ICAS.


  • Leadership and management
  • CA life

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