"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent … it is the one that is the most adaptable to change."
Charles Darwin's famous dictum has long applied not only in the natural world but also in the corporate one. As the financial crisis and economic challenges of the past five years have reshaped the global business environment, they have spurred profound changes in organizations in the Americas and around the world. In particular, the role of the chief financial officer has evolved--and expanded--as the finance function has come to the fore.
In addition to overseeing the company's financial health, CFOs are increasingly involved in setting operational and commercial strategy, navigating their companies safely through tighter credit markets, more complex regulation and unstable trading conditions. "The two priorities for me as a CFO are developing the strategy for the organization as a partner to and member of the executive leadership team, and then funding and executing that strategy through financial planning and performance management," says Andy Campion, CFO of The Nike Brand.
Campion was one of 19 leading CFOs at companies in the Americas interviewed as part of Ernst & Young's ongoing research into the role of the CFO worldwide. The results from this in-depth discussions show that as the CFO's job has evolved, so has its shape.
We have depicted that shape in a graphic illustrating the work of today's CFO. Our interviews --along with our earlier surveys of more than 900 CFOs globally -- show substantial agreement among top finance executives in all regions that while their roles and responsibilities vary by organization, six principal activities fairly represent their contribution:
- Ensuring business decisions are grounded in solid financial criteria.
- Providing insight and analysis to support the CEO and other senior managers.
- Leading key initiatives in finance that support overall strategic goals.
- Funding, enabling and executing the strategy set by the CEO.
- Developing and defining the overall strategy for the organization.
- Representing the organization's progress on strategic goals to external stakeholders.
The wheel graphic shows the interdependency of these activities: CFOs execute and support company strategy using their financial expertise; enable that strategy by funding growth or leading key initiatives; and develop and communicate overall strategy along with their organization's CEO and board of directors. CFOs worldwide agreed that although the makeup of the wheel remains consistent, how individuals allocate their time across each segment remains fluid, varying over time.
Bill Douglas, CFO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, is one of many financial executives who support the above view of the job. "Different people and different organizations slice the pie differently," Douglas says. "How you allocate your time is going to vary year to year to year, based on the challenges that your organization is facing. But if you averaged it over a three-year period, it would probably be balanced."