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People skills add up for CFOs

It’s not just about numbers – people skills add up for CFOs

CFOs are no longer hired purely for their abilities with numbers and analytics, with strong people skills equally as important says recruiting experts Hays in New Zealand.

According to a survey of 500 CFOs, conducted for the recruiter’s ‘DNA of a CFO’ report, commercial acumen, people management, strategic planning and stakeholder engagement are four important skills for any successful CFO.

“Compared to 15 to 20 years ago, people skills and general management capabilities are a much bigger part of the selection process,” says Jason Walker, Managing Director of Hays in New Zealand. “CFOs are certainly no longer hired purely for their abilities with numbers and analytics – although of course this has to be an underlying technical strength – but added to the classic skills mix is an increasing requirement for a whole range of different competencies.”

According to the Hays survey, 64% of CFOs say commercial acumen is the most important skill for a CFO to have. People management took second place (57%), reflecting the CFO’s role as a leader, influencer and negotiator.

This was followed by strategic planning (51%), while almost one quarter (24%) of respondents nominated stakeholder engagement and risk management/corporate governance skills as essential.

“The importance placed on commercial acumen can perhaps explain why so many CFOs go on to become MDs or CEOs, or take a calculated risk to set up their own business ventures,” says Jason.

“It also explains why many CFOs take on roles outside finance on their way to the top finance job. A general management position can certainly give an up-and-coming CFO a more strategic mindset and understanding of how other departments operate – which can put you in a stronger position when you do become CFO. It’s important for a CFO to stay close to the business, and commercial awareness is essential if you want to be a successful business partner,” he said.

“Meanwhile the importance of people skills is understandable when you consider that CFOs manage large teams and also need to know how to present numbers to non-financial people in easily digestible pieces.”

The Hays survey also showed that 27% of CFOs believe that the operations function is the single most important discipline for them to partner with. “Over the past decade CFOs have been instrumental in reviewing the policies and controls within their organisation. This has brought them into close contact with operations teams and so coining the term ‘business partner’ into day-to-day business and finance language,” said Jason.

Operations was followed by sales (10%), IT (8%), HR (7%), legal/compliance (5%), procurement (5%) and marketing/communications (2%), which all trail some way behind the strategic importance put on working hand-in-hand with operations. But 36% of CFOs indicated that it is important for finance to partner with all of these departments.

The report is available at


500 finance professionals were surveyed face to face over December 2013 and January 2014. The majority held the position of CFO, while a small percentage indicated their current job title was Finance Director, Group, Divisional or Regional Finance Director, Director of Finance, Head of Finance or GM of Finance.

400 were based in Australia and 100 were in New Zealand. Of these, 47 per cent work in commerce and industry for an ASX non-listed organisation and 20 per cent work for an ASX listed organisation. 28 per cent work in the public or not-for-profit sector, and 0.4 per cent work for an accountancy firm. The remaining 4.7 per cent elected not to specify their organisation.

These CFOs were asked about their educational background, qualifications, international experience, responsibilities, challenges and personal aspirations.

To see more detailed profiles of the CFOs who appear in this report, please visit

Hays, the world’s leading recruiting experts in qualified, professional and skilled people.

- Ends -

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