Irv Rothman leveraged a successful career in finance to become president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Financial Services. At the recent Executive Dinner Series meeting, “From CFO to CEO: The Next Natural CFO Progression,” Rothman shared five pieces of advice for any CFO looking to follow a similar path.
1. Learn to Work in Gray
Often a finance perspective, can mean gray — ambiguity— doesn’t go down well with you. You’re a quantitative kind of person. You need information. You want the liabilities and the assets to look the same on the balance sheet. If you’re a leader of an organization, you have to be able to deal with ambiguity, and realize there is no such thing as perfect information. If you wait for perfect information, you could miss opportunities.
2. Visit Customers
From the finance perspective, there’s an in-depth knowledge of what your shareholders want and what your bankers want, but there’s not necessarily an in-depth knowledge of what your customers want. As CEO, you need that knowledge, and the best way to get it is to go out and visit customers on a regular basis [while you are still CFO].
3. Embrace Risk
CFOs tend to be risk averse but the world of business today is faster and very unpredictable. It’s much more complex than it has ever been and it’s globalized. If you’re not going to consider change, you’re going to miss out on some very important business. Be more open minded about evaluating, taking and managing risk.
4. Develop Your Leadership Skills
As a CFO, you are in a position with significant visibility; but the sense of leadership with respect to the organization’s operating principles and operating philosophy is not necessarily uppermost in the CFO’s mind all the time. It’s very important for you to believe in whatever your organization’s operating principles are. It’s very important for you to have conviction about them, to live them, and to be consistent about role modeling them.
5. Master Communication on All Platforms
If you’re going to be a CEO, communication skills, platform skills, the ability to explain a vision, get people to rally around it, and to feel motivated by it, is a skill that needs to be acquired.