Chief Information Officer, financial officers, financial service, boards, chairman, directors
In talking to candidates, I’m finding that more finance directors are passing over the CEO job in order to build a career as a non-executive director. Ultimately, they have the role of chairman in their sights.
It’s no surprise that as regulation and governance increases, boards have looked to appoint qualified accountants – 84 percent of the FTSE 100 has a qualified chartered accountant on its board. Not all of these are CFOs, as that seat is also being taken by aspiring CEOs with strong financial literacy.
One of the first finance directors to go straight from CFO to chairman at a young age was Phillip (now Sir Phillip) Hampton, who went from Lloyds TSB, where he was group finance director, into Sainsbury's as chairman in 2004.
Before joining Sainsbury, his experience was in banking and industry (steel, telecoms, oil and gas), rather than retail. But under his leadership the then-struggling supermarket chain returned to profit and by 2006 recorded its highest sales increase in four years. He also restructured the board, introduced new incentive schemes for employees and dealt with two takeover attempts.
Phillip was succeeded by Logica Chairman David Tyler, himself a former finance chief of GUS which, before its break-up, owned Argos, Homebase, Burberry and Experian.
I think it is the very versatility of finance directors who often work across many different sectors - from health care to industrial businesses - that makes them attractive at the board level. They understand the business drivers of different enterprises and understand strategy and financial performance need to be linked.
But CFOs who have made the transition say it is not an overnight transformation. It can take a couple of years to achieve the right mix in their portfolios. As the CFO, they are used to leading the troops and being in control, and often have a tendency to drive the business through the numbers. Yet as an NED/chairman they have to change their mindset and hands-on style and learn to navigate the board through broader issues.
Some have described the role of chairman as like being a conductor of an orchestra - getting the right mix of treble and bass and making sure the board plays in harmony. Others use analogies like being a co-pilot in a plane or skipper on a yacht. All point toward the need to be a well-respected team player.
There are several reasons the chair and non-executive director roles appeal to finance directors:
• They can make a difference and create value without the stress and loneliness of a chief executive officer role
• They are comfortable with strategy, governance and risk disciplines
• They are familiar with boardroom discussion and debate
• They are well-known to the market
• They enjoy the variety an NED career can offer
• They are generally low-ego types and enjoy developing and mentoring executive teams.