The Role of a CFO

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CFO Studio Magazine, Fall 2011


A strong financial foundation is of critical importance for either a growing or a struggling business. Every successful company needs an active CFO. During an economic crisis, with positive cash flow more difficult to obtain, a CFO needs to put himself even more in the center of the business strategy.

In today’s world, most CEOs expect that their CFO gets beyond offering input, but instead gets involved in every key decision, is proactive in challenging the business strategy; and, importantly, must display a forward- and outward-looking attitude instead of offering backward and inward-looking views, like many finance professionals are used to doing.

While strategy is important, a core responsibility of the CFO remains ensuring that the financial version of the truth is heard and understood. This often results in having to find ways to trim expectations in a manner that does not bring the business to a halt, and not being the one who simply says no all the time.

—Gunther Mertens

CFO at a Glance:

How do you hope your colleagues describe you?

Gunther Mertens: Principled, pragmatic, collaborative.


What are you reading right now?

Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, by Robert B.Reich.


What are your hobbies?

Traveling and getting to know new places.


If you weren’t a successful CFO, what type of career might you have pursued?

Private equity, mergers, and acquisitions.


What’s the worst and best part of being a CFO?

The best part of being a CFO is that you have the best positioned function within a company to understand how the business is really doing. In addition to understanding the numbers, you are able to help with the strategic decisions. I see not really a bad side to being a CFO other than perhaps when things go bad the CFO is often blamed.
What are your plans for retirement?

I have not really given it a lot of thought yet. As retirement—probably it will be another 25 years before I get there. If pressed for an answer, I would say I want to work hard until retirement and retire to a vacation home in the Caribbean.


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