How to Transition from CFO to a CEO

October 11

What Skills Does A CEO Need?

The ability to hold a vision and engage in long term thinking is a crucial trait that a CEO will need to keep the company focused over the long term in reaching goals that have definitive and positive impact. A C-level worker will already have certain skills that make them capable of holding the position; much of it comes from mind set and insight into the industry that the business is in. While it is possible to learn about an industry or market that a specific business is in, having the capability to run it from a CEO or CFO level requires drawing on interpersonal skills and outlook techniques which will see the both the C-level employee and the company thrive.


The CEO mind set

A CEO is targeted to think on a long- term outlook, in a visionary and strategic way. It is common for a CEO to view a company from a five-year outlook. A CEO often thinks outside the box and looks to create a competitive edge; rules are not at the forefront of a CEO’s daily outlook, as they are constantly trying to create an edge for the company to distinguish it from its competition. Blue sky thinking is the goal for a CEO. They will be interested in what is happening in the industry and especially with their closest competitors. Visionary goals will be at the forefront of a CEO’s working day. The CEO is often referred to as the company’s visionary.


The CFO mind set

CFOs are commonly working in environments that have shorter term goals, such as by the quarter, bi-annually or annually. A CFO is a rule-driven mindset as they need to think about accounting standards, auditing and statutory reporting. A CFO will consider the known facts that they can determine through reviewing facts gained from previous years and make links between aspects of the business that passed, such as looking at the past few years of company finances and comparing different times of year to make factual links. A CFO is risk averse, and as such they normally go unchallenged by stakeholders and investors, whereas a CEO will be front and centre for those meetings and will have to think outside the box to respond to any question and at times appease everyone, from the customer to the investor. A CFO is often considered the conscience of the company.  When the CFO and CEO work together, a perfect blend of the needs of the company come in to play together for the best positive result.


Changing Roles

If a CEO wants to work as the CFO, or vice versa, then they have to put themselves into the other person’s shoes and consider the needs of the role. It will soon become apparent that where it might have seemed to one or the other that their contemporary’s outlook on the company was due to their own mindset, they will soon realise that the mindset is dependent on the needs of the company overall.

If you are trying to become CEO you will want to start early in your career by gaining skills across the industry that you believe you will continue to work in. Observational skills during this time, and ongoing, are key in picking up the skills that other CEO’s have used to successfully complete a given task. When you are an experienced choice and at the stage in your career that you believe you stand a chance of being a viable CEO, it is time to strategically consider your placement in the business and calculate what steps you will need to take to get to your chosen C-level role.

If you are already in a C-level position, such as a CFO, and wish to position yourself into a CEO role, you should start to consider your desire to shift roles after a year and expect to change roles in another two to three years. It is often the case that a CFO who has proven themselves in the role might end up being stuck in that role for considerably longer than they had envisioned at the outset. To stand out apart from your CFO position you should show skills which are outset the remit of the financial aspects of the company you are being relied on for. Once you begin to show interest across all areas of the business, including the operations, sales and back office work, as well as understand competitive factors that influence the business, it will be easier to show that the skills which a CEO needs are in hand.


CEO-ready Positioning

Sales and marketing are key aspects of a CEO’s position, which a CFO would not have had to deal with previously. Showing that there is an ability to listen and be comfortable with other employees and customers of the company will go a long way in showing good CEO material.

In order to see what might be missing from your current C-level skill set, you should consider why you want to be a CEO, do you like meeting goals and setting seemingly unattainable or hard to attain goals?  Do you think with a positive vision? Can I create a solution or idea creatively and think outside the box?  Can I take risks and make blind decisions? You will also have to hone your skill set to suit the requirements of a CEO position, which includes taking courses that are aimed at senior management and CEO roles and expanding your creative thinking ability.

Problem solving skills will always be a key aspect of a CEO role, which means that you should have well rounded analytical ability and strategic thinking skills. Keeping abreast of any new technological developments in the industry you are in or seeking to change to will be crucial in showing that positioning yourself as a CEO will be a good step for a company. You will need to be highly entrepreneurial and show a high level of market acumen to show that you are a good choice for a CEO role.


About the Author

Shay Dalton

Managing Director 16498583

Shay Dalton is the Managing Director of Lincoln Recruitment Group. Shay is a qualified ACCA Accountant with over 20 years’ experience specialising in the placement of senior positions across a broad spectrum of Accountancy and Finance positions within the industrial and financial services sectors. Having been involved in the establishment of some of the most respected financial recruitment brands in the Irish market, Shay subsequently set up Lincoln Recruitment Specialists in 2008. He also hold’s an MSc in Organisational Management and is a member of BPS, qualified to conduct and interpret psychometric testing as well an EQi testing.

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