Monday, August 4, 2008

Jumping Ship or Just Jumping?

I just read that Wachovia's Chief Risk Officer, Donald Truslow, is on the way out the door just a week after CFO Thomas Wurtz announced his resignation. Given the sad state of the banking giant, I wouldn't be keen to stay, either. It makes sense. And I'm sure that it makes very good sense if you are sitting in what are probably two of the hottest seats in the house when the risk around one major M&A activity, in this case the Golden West Financial Corp acquisition, may scuttle the company. So in Wachovia's case, the run for the door makes sense.

Then I read the following list of CFOs on the Move, which covers just the week of August 1: Wachovia, Campbell's Soup, The Children's Place, Navigators,, United Plastics Group, Icahn Enterprises, Hayes Lemmerz, ARI, Orisis, Michaels, JP Morgan Cazenove, EnBW, Friends Provident, Ascom, AP Moller Maersk, Sistema.

While I've been posting about the changing role of the CFO recently, I haven't written about the individual impacts of that changing role upon CFOs. According to Heidrick & Struggles, 106 CFOs at Fortune 1000 companies left their positions in the first half of 2008. What the heck is going on here? Where are all the CFOs going? Are these voluntary resignations, jumping ship like so many of the Wachovia team, force-outs, or is this a trend brought about by the expanding nature of the role.

Are CFOs leaving companies when there is little opportunity to participate as a contributor at the strategic level? As regulatory compliance becomes stricter, the risks associated with the CFO role increases. Well beyond job pressure, CFOs are putting their legal necks on the dotted line every quarter. I believe in this time, when the CFO manages such a large portion of the corporate risk, that the benefits of the position have to outweigh the risks they're been forced to assume. If data is accurate and trusted, performance management systems well-designed and implemented, and the business practices sound, much of the fear of compliance is eliminated.

Companies that are focused on innovative ways of running their businesses, with Finance as a key contributor to the strategic and operational vision, tend to be exciting places to work. If the CFO can trust the accuracy of data coming from their systems (and with a 3-5 year CFO tenure at the best of times, unless it's a startup, you can assure that most CFOs have inherited their accounting, G/L, performance management etc. systems), then they are freed up to focus on contributing to the company at a more strategic level.

My opinion: perhaps the incredible CFO turnover that we've seen in the past several years has less to do with the company as the role.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kimberley, have you actually compiled the number of CFO's leaving during another time period. Really, 100 out of 1000 doesn't seem that out of line. If that trend continued, it would end up being 20% for the year, meaning the average company would get a new CFO every five years. Seems about right to me.

Michael Senchuk