- Brian Cabral is a mechanical engineer turned Executive Search Director at ABC Consultants, a reputable executive search and talent advisory firm.
- With over two decades of experience, Brian has successfully recruited a diverse array of senior executives, spanning from Board Directors to MDs, CEOs, Presidents, COOs, CTOs, CIOs, CHROs, CFOs, CDOs, and CPOs.
- The Finance Story caught up with Brian to understand CFO hiring trends for 2024 and what is expected from the Modern-day CFO.
What shifts have occurred in CFO recruitment, and what qualities are now sought after in CFO candidates?
CFO hiring has changed drastically in the last 20 years.
Today when I look at CFO roles, it is more strategic than operational.
The strategy comprises how you set up global subsidiaries, work with investors and private equity funds, and at the same time your build versus buy strategy, which is extremely critical in today’s day.
I need to make sure that a candidate can transition from overseeing operations that are 5 feet above the ground to driving strategic decisions, and engaging in blue-sky thinking when handling operations that are 50,000 feet above the ground.
The right motivation
One of the key factors the board considers is the candidate’s motivation and how well it aligns with the company.
Are you simply looking for a job for the sake of compensation, or will you be committed to putting in the time and effort required for the job? This matters a lot.
The board also considers if he aligns with the organization’s culture; does he understand what is required to construct and propel the company toward success?
We gain insights into the candidates by considering these factors,
- How the candidate is perceived within their previous organizations
- What their colleagues think of them as individual
- What references from board members say about their accomplishments
- His leadership and management style
- His stakeholder management skills
- And how he has contributed to the firm/organization’s growth journey
Leadership and soft skills
Having a strong leadership presence and gravitas is crucial, followed by exceptional communication and confidence skills.
Does the candidate rely on a traditional command and control approach, or does he genuinely inspire, motivate, and lead his team?
The board also cannot overlook this aspect of the candidate.
This will come into play when dealing with investors, private equity funds, regulators, and internal teams.
Strong personal brand
In today’s fast-paced world, it is crucial for you to actively engage with CXOs and build a strong network.
How do you measure yourself every year in terms of skills, knowledge, and the competencies that you build over your career?
Are you keeping tabs on what the competition is doing, what the market is doing, and where it is heading?
You have to keep asking yourself these questions.
In today’s data-driven world, it is all about how curious you are, and how insightful you can be.
What qualities or behaviors does the company not value in a CFO?
Not aligned with the organization’s goals
One of the biggest challenges I face while recruiting is making sure that the board and the organization’s vision and goals align with that of the candidate.
A job hopper
The CEO or board tries to steer clear of individuals who tend to change jobs every two to three years.
Cannot get out of comfort zone
Today, many times candidates are reluctant to disrupt the career ecosystem that they have built over the years.
If they see the bigger picture, they may take the plunge.
How would you compare the role of a CFO in a startup environment versus that in midsize and large organizations?
In established organizations, the focus often revolves around preparing for the next business or financial milestone.
Conversely, in startups, the emphasis is on progressing from ground zero to 10, 10 to 100, and so on.
In the dynamic environment of startups, a CFO must be deeply involved combining insights, curiosity, and hands-on management to drive success.
When considering the balance between strategy and operations, for a startup CFO I find that a ratio of 40% strategy to 60% operations is optimal.
Typically, in larger organizations, the ratio is inverted, with 60% emphasis on strategy and 40% on operations.
Behavioral competencies and cultural fit are equally important considerations.
Specific CFO hiring trends in 2024?
Rise in CFOs stepping into CEO roles
Over the past five years, I have witnessed numerous CFOs transition into CEO positions, many others ascending from CFO roles to leadership positions within businesses and eventually assuming the mantle of CEO.
Additionally, I have observed CFOs leading countries as country managers or heads, subsequently advancing to Global COO or MD roles.
Traditionally, CFOs haven’t commonly been afforded the same opportunities as COOs. However, over the past five or six years, the significance of the COO role has waned across various industries.
Looking ahead to 2024, we may anticipate a surge in CFOs stepping into CEO positions.
Surge in demand for strategic CFO roles
Specific industry experience is not always a requirement
Clients may have biases when it comes to hiring but in today’s finance world, specific industry experience is not always a requirement.
Less focus on just education & experience.. more on agility!
Traditionally clients used to hire for education and industry experience. Now that paradigm has changed significantly.
People who can adapt quickly, are the ones who do extremely well. Their agility can translate into business results.
Rise in hiring younger CFOs
If we reflect on the trajectory of organizations from the 90s to the 2000s growth rates typically hovered in the late single digits or early double digits. However, since around 2014, we’ve witnessed a seismic shift.
Organizations are now experiencing growth rates that are multiples higher, such as 4X, 5X, or even 10X.
In this rapidly evolving landscape, the individual leading the charge must possess exceptional energy, agility, and the right traits to drive the function and the business forward.
From my observations, I’ve found that individuals in their early to mid-40s often embody these qualities most effectively. It’s not about bias; rather, it’s about recognizing the relevance of age and experience in navigating the complexities of modern business environments.
I see the needle moving in terms of hiring young CFOs today, in the late 30s or early 40s.
Demand for Tech skills
Today is all about transformation, culture building, and staying relevant in the tech world.
The Chief Business Officer role is going to evolve.
The COO role is getting very administrative so many companies might do away with this role.
A good CTO and a good CIO also is going to be extremely critical.
Importantly the CHRO has a lot of importance today unlike how it was 30 years ago.
Can you elaborate on the executive search process you follow?
It’s a lengthy and very thorough process as you really can’t go wrong when you’re hiring a CXO or CFO for that matter.
My team and I work together to resolve business challenges for our clients by sourcing the most exceptional talent.
Whether it’s analyzing the company or candidate landscape, we employ systematic research.
At a fundamental level, we follow these steps,
Upon receiving the candidate search requirements from the board/management, we dig into our extensive internal connections or leverage the personal networks that we have built over the years to find the right candidates.
Approaching the candidate
Once we have identified potential candidates through extensive research and our extensive networks, we proceed to approach them.
It is crucial that we effectively communicate the intricacies of the position. This responsibility is not delegated to a junior member of the team, but rather handled by experienced Senior Consultants like myself.
We typically engage in detailed face-to-face conversations with the individual. However, in certain cases, if they are in a different city, we opt for virtual meetings.
During the conversation, we discussed the vision, mission, and potential growth opportunities associated with the role.
This step helps us determine whether the candidate is a suitable fit for the organization.
Present to the board
Next, we identify the top candidates and present a long list to the board.
They then decide which candidates they would like us to engage with. This process is known as the shortlisting process.
We follow a competency-based interviewing model, which involves evaluating their hard skills, soft skills, and how well they align with the company culture.
Once we have thoroughly examined them we narrow down our selection to a final shortlist of three candidates.
Once the board or the CEO has decided on which candidate they prefer, we proceed with a thorough reference check process to ensure accuracy.
Lastly, we handle the negotiation of compensation on behalf of the client until we reach a satisfactory conclusion.
Wait, my job is not done yet.
Once the candidate is offered the position, we assist them during their separation from their current organization to the new one.
We make sure the candidate is aligned with the company’s culture, business objectives, and financial goals. Once they settle into their new position, we make sure that everything that was discussed and promised during the selection process is delivered.
So, this is what a successful hiring process looks like.
Advice to those seeking CFO roles?
Looking to secure a CFO role? There is only one answer: Network, Network, and Network.
For an executive role like CFO, I suggest you take the time to have meaningful discussions with potential employers/recruitment professionals over a cup of coffee.
Spend a significant time learning the nuances of the role, the company’s background, and whether the search consultant has a good track record.
Most importantly, talk to the right search consultant.