The Creative Skills Of the Chief Financial Officer

The Creative Skills Of the Chief Financial Officer

By Ralph Kerle

This article is Part 2 in a four part series on the CFO’s Role in Innovation Series.  

Four years ago, I was asked to run an introductory workshop for a small group of CFOs (12) from major public companies on creative leadership and organizational creativity. “We are not creative and it is not our role to be” were the opening comments, perfectly capturing the sentiment in the room – hardly an encouraging start. It was only after one of the CFO’s began to talk about his recent role assisting the CEO in an acquisition, the doorway to perception opened to reveal the level, power and importance of creativity a CFO brings to his role in an organization.

The story told went something like this. Mr. CEO would be travelling on the plane, playing golf with his peers, attending a discrete charity cocktail party when one of his mates would say. ” I know you’ve been interested in the agribusiness for a while. Did you hear Food For Sale might be up for sale?” Mr. CEO is indeed interested in this news and immediately texts his CFO asking him to have a look at the figures.

Now, here is where it becomes interesting. Before due diligence on any sale can commence, the CFO has to engage with the business for sale to discover how it works. He has to use his imagination to visualize how it operates without actually working in it. The CFO talks to his counterpart bringing his financial experience and knowledge to his visualization to make sense of the numbers. A crucial process that will have a powerful immediate, medium and long term effect on the success of the CEO’s leadership.

When I stopped the CFO at this point and quizzed him on his use of the word “imagination”, there was general agreement amongst the CFOs in the workshop they use their imagination in many contexts like this almost on a daily basis.

From this workshop, I began to see the importance of the CFO as a creative figure in the organization. Their skills and experience with numbers allows them to look at an organizational scenario from a very different perspective to almost anyone else in the organization. However, because of where the CFO sits in the organizational pecking order it is not often the CFO will engage in creative exercises yet of all the individuals in an organization his voice is one of the most important when it comes to envisaging the potential business and commercial outcomes.

Stay tuned for the third article on Tuesday in the four part series, the CFO’s Role in Innovation Series.

In case you might have missed the previous article, be sure to check it out here.

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