Becoming a corporate co-pilot as a CFO

More than a quarter of all current DAX 30 CEOs have gained CFO experience before assuming the lead role and all of them have been promoted from within their current companies (Status 2020). All of them were the internal solution. They knew the internal routes of communication, the stakeholders and the shareholders. A deep understanding of a company’s DNA helps hugely, while already being known as a good co-pilot can make the shift in cockpit seats an easier transition to make when the time comes.

The other driver of success for the CFO relates to taking responsibility for the playbook of value creation and change, as it holds the detail surrounding transformational projects to increase profitability or drive transformation. It is the interface to other departments in managing transformational efforts and the “front page” presented to shareholders and other stakeholders.

The CFO is now expected to be the co-pilot for the CEO – the ambitious proxy for the owner, who drives profitability improvement, digitalization of the business model, with value creation ultimately the most important goal that stakeholders expect the CFO to manage. 

If the CFO is to truly become the “spider in the web”, it is critical to understand the interdependencies and holding a share in all strategic initiatives such as M&A, financing, profitability and growth. It is this empathetic skill in understanding the key needs of all stakeholders, interpreting them and managing their implementation that creates much more value than “controlling the numbers” alone.

The personal value could then present itself as a significant step towards the role of CEO.

“… Being successful as a CFO includes far more than creating transparency. The constant ideation, development and implementation of transformative changes with strategic relevance in a collaborative manner is a core task. Empathy in communication certainly helps to ensure that these projects are visible, well understood and supported. This is a joint effort – with the CFO acting in concert with a strong leadership team…”

Dirk Schmelzer, CFO Scout24

Key actions for CFOs to take:

  • Establish a regular communication to all relevant stakeholders
  • Assume leadership for strategic items that form part of the playbook for the next few years
  • Become the co-pilot of the CEO by supporting broader strategic company development efforts