With few exceptions, most financial directors fall into one of two camps: those who believe they could do their chief executive’s job better than he can, and those who are prepared to give it a try. In other words, the majority of FDs harbour dreams of being top dog.
Make a list of the key attributes that make a good chief executive. Strategic thinking, understanding of finance, leadership, vision, communication skills and entrepreneurial spirit, perhaps. Few of these are things that FDs learned to master while studying SSAPs and management accounting.
More to the point, and as a very general rule, finance is more likely to attract graduates who think that spreadsheets are pretty cool, not those who prefer to talk about concepts of customer interaction.
And yet, our survey this month shows that FDs can actually make pretty good chief executives. Of the 58 FTSE-350 CEOs we found who used to be FDs, 34 have generated total shareholder returns better than the market’s. And half a dozen of those who are below par aren’t lagging by much.
So why do FDs make good CEOs? Look carefully at the companies at the top of our list. If any of them have anything in common, it is that they play to the strengths of a CEO who is on intimate terms with the disciplines of finance and how they affect the business. Few of them are household names. Rather, we see commodity traders, property groups, a Lloyd’s insurance business, a mortgage lender and an accounting software company, Sage.
The laggards comprise businesses that have had ambition beyond their means, or perhaps have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Look again at that catalogue of desirable attributes: “flamboyance” isn’t listed. Nor is creativity – at least, not in the sense of turning the concept of a colour into a leading mobile phone company, for example.
FDs can do well as CEOs if they pick their targets well, opting for businesses that need their unique blend of skills more than they need a lifestyle consultant to redefine their brand proposition.
Cambridge-based Frontier Developments has appointed Alex Bevis as its next finance chief
Some of the UK’s top companies are failing to adequately report poor performance and sometimes obscure their true profit figures
Chartered accountant Colin Adams rebuilt the AIM listed company’s finance team and helped turn the business around after a challenging period