Insights from a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

Charles Nielson is the former Chief Financial Officer at Atlantek.

What are the duties of a Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”) in a company?

In a typical corporate structure there is as president or general manager at the top. Reporting to this top position are the top managers or vice presidents that it takes to run an organization.

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Some of those traditional positions are VP Finance or CFO ( Chief Financial Officer),VP or Manager of Human Resources, VP Manufacturing (if a Manufacturing Company), VP or Director of Sales and Marketing, VP or Director Of Research and Development (R&D).

Each of these positions typically have organizations of people supporting them (depending on the size and hence the inherent complexities of the organization). Sometimes in smaller companies some of these positions are held by the same person. For example the president of the company could also be the VP Finance.

As to the duties of CFO or VP Finance it is much as the name implies, and it encompasses the overall responsibility for the financial welfare of the organization. Now that is a very broad statement and it is meant to be, as it is a very important role. It involves the day-to-day operations of the financial aspects of the company. It includes what many can relate to being the receiving of the money from customers and depositing that money in the bank, the payment of bills for all the supplies and materials bought by the company, the payment of all employees, etc.

How do they differ from the job description of a Controller?

As discussed above and how there typically are organizations supporting these positions reporting to the president, a controller is one of those positions reporting to the CFO or VP Finance.

The controller is effectively the manager of finance and reports to the CFO/VP Finance depending on the company size and structure.

What kind of training does someone need to do this kind of work?

Basically all of these positions are finance/accounting related and as a base underlying education would be accounting. However some good controllers see beyond and outside of the box, and those are the ones who will be candidates for being a CFO or VP Finance.

Those who stay overly focused on accounting and details to the detriment of seeing the many other non-accounting aspects going on in the company may be performing a most valuable role in what they are doing and may not be as effective nor happy in the CFO or VP Finance seat.

How would a person who wants to become a CFO get started?

By the time he is thinking of being a CFO, he has already started and is probably coming out of college or is presently in a position in the accounting/finance organization.

What does the career path for a CFO look like?

The career path is mentioned above. Typically a CFO would have a strong underlying accounting and finance background. Although a good accounting education is important, it also becomes important to be familiar with the industry in which one is aspiring to become a CFO. It is different being a CFO for an insurance company as opposed to say a manufacturer or a non-profit organization.

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