In part two of my interview with Bill Knese, CMA, CFM, CPA, member of IMA’s global board of directors and CFO of Angus Industries, Inc., we discuss the unique job responsibilities of private company CFOs.
Click here to read the first part of our interview: “Why Private Company CFOs Would Benefit from a Separate Standard Setting Body.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jeff Thomson: How does the role of a CFO in a large firm differ from that in a smaller firm?
Bill Knese: The roles are similar in many respects. Obviously, both are responsible for the integrity of the numbers and internal controls, but the main difference is the breadth of the work for a CFO in a smaller firm. For instance, in a larger organization you have experts in many different areas and your job is to coordinate that expertise. If you are the CFO in a smaller organization, in many cases, you have to be the expert in each area. For example, I’m the firm’s general accounting manager; I handle cost accounting, supervise the cost estimating function, and have 401K responsibilities.
JT: What are the most important on-the-job skills CFOs need today to succeed?
BK: Today, CFOs have to be knowledgeable, which requires them to stay current in their field. Once you have that, you need to deal with people. I’ve always been a proponent of the softer skills, the people skills, and the ability to communicate effectively. Any person who looks to succeed also needs to be able to think quickly. If you aspire to the CFO role, you must be able to grasp a situation very quickly to know what you’re dealing with and formulate a response. Finally, you need to have a good toolbox of skills and know what to pull out of your knowledge base to deal with any situation at hand.
JT: How has the accounting and finance profession changed over the years, and how has this impacted the CFO’s job?
BK: When I look back over the years I recall the days where CFOs were referred to as number crunchers. If someone wanted a number, they came to you. If someone wanted the results, you produced the results. Obviously, this foundation is still here for CFOs and we still have responsibility for numbers, but more and more I think people are looking to the accounting function to help formulate strategy, communicate the meaning behind those numbers and interpret them. The foundational role as number crunchers is still there, but it’s expanded to a role that is much more inclusive.
JT: What career advice would you give your younger self?
BK: The number one thing would be to stay current. This means building on your foundation from school and technical training through continuing education. Stay current with topics that are being covered in the business press. Read magazines and business publications. They have the advantage over schools of being a lot nimbler and focusing on newsworthy topics that will take a while to filter into textbooks.
I know that the Bedford report addresses many of these issues related to staying current and the gap between what is taught in schools and what is needed on-the-job. I agree with that. We come out trained to do certain things, but the workplace changes very quickly. The pace of change is only increasing, so it’s important that people continue to stay current and polish their skills.
This column offers CFOs, and their teams, insights and ideas related to challenges of the position, in light of market demands and global economic conditions. Jeffrey C. Thomson, CMA, is president and CEO of IMA (Institute of Management Accountants), one of the largest and most respected associations focused exclusively on advancing the management accounting profession. . Follow IMA on Twitter and visit IMA’s YouTube channel.
By Jeff Thomson, CMA. This article originally appeared on Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffthomson/2012/10/23/cfos-from-number-crunchers-to-inclusive-leaders/