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How to Become a CFO

How to become a CFO
Credit: El Nariz/Shutterstock

Finances and money are arguably the most important aspect of any company. Chief financial officers (CFOs) are the senior executives who make important financial decisions and oversee all financial aspects of an organization.

"This position has an impact on virtually all other areas of the company," said Laura Clyncke, vice president of finance at Camp Bow Wow. "It is the one position in the company, next to the CEO, that can see the entire organization."

Do you love numbers and business? If so, a spot in the C-suite could be in your future. Here's an overview of the typical duties, skills and career path of a CFO. 

"A CFO is responsible for the accuracy and the timeliness of the historical financial information," said Julie McCollum, CFO of OpenWorks. "The CFO makes sure that information is in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and also that it's audited every year and comes out clean."

CFOs also make financial decisions. "CFOs help the company make decisions that best serve customers and optimize business results," said Jennifer Ceran, CFO at Smartsheet.

Everyone's path is different. However, there are a few things you can do to build a solid foundation for a future as a CFO. The first step is obtaining a degree in a relevant major or minor.

"Everyone who aspires to be a CFO needs to learn the language of accounting, which they can do with an accounting major or minor," McCollum said. "Now, there are a lot of five-year certified public accountant (CPA) programs that are recommended."

McCollum said if you go the CPA route, you typically start as an auditor. "That's how a lot of Fortune 500 companies' CFOs got their start," she said.

Both McCollum and Ceran agree that getting a master's degree isn't required, but it may be beneficial if you didn't get an undergraduate degree in business or accounting.

"It can be helpful particularly if your undergraduate degree was not in business," Ceran said. "Getting an MBA can help future CFOs develop a broader business perspective and gain essential management skills."

Every senior executive should be a natural leader and communicator, including CFOs. "I believe that a CFO should have strong leadership skills, good communication skills, a strong work ethic, the ability to collaborate with others, a great attitude and be ethical in all areas," Clyncke said.  

In addition to soft skills, CFOs need a solid understanding of business and accounting.

"Strategy, budgeting and forecasting, cash management, process improvement, strengthening the company's decision-making, and problem-solving are among the top skills I feel a CFO should possess," said Clyncke.

Before you begin down the path of becoming a CFO, evaluate your strengths and what you enjoy doing.

"Not everyone should want to be a CFO," said McCollum. "If you get beyond the technical and have the ability to tolerate and take calculated risks, [and] you're a problem-solver and good communicator, CFO might be the job for you."

Saige Driver

Saige received her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Telecommunications from Ball State University. She is the social media strategist for Business.com and Business News Daily. She also writes reviews and articles about social media. She loves reading and her beagle mix, Millie.