What makes a great finance director?


The role of today’s finance director has evolved into one of a more rounded business leader than their counterpart 20 years ago. It’s time to lay to rest the old stereotype of the humble accountant, feverishly working away in an office behind the scenes.

Instead, this tired image has been replaced with one of an excellent commercial business leader who’s a great communicator, working closely with the CEO and winning the trust of colleagues. In terms of career development, the finance director is at the hub of the business, understanding what drives financial expansion and planning ahead, always looking out for opportunities.

The question is, what makes a great finance director? What is the particular skills set that differentiates between a good and a great one?

Excellent communication skills

Today’s outstanding finance director is one who is optimistic, finding opportunities for growth and taking them, after careful assessment of the facts and risks. Understanding that the economy is likely to be challenging for some time, he advises peers to exploit market place opportunities and invest in the future.

Communication and people skills are key to becoming a great finance director. The role requires a person who is trusted in the business, so that managers will share any problems, rather than trying to hide them. At the same time, the finance director realises it isn’t a popularity competition, so if there are tough decisions to be made, he or she must make them.

Being decisive is essential; they will sometimes have to make decisions that won’t be popular, but that are necessary.

Focus on cash flow

Some qualities of a great finance director haven’t changed, such as resilience, integrity, honesty, qualifications and often years of hard work before they reach the top. Another attribute that remains crucial is their ability to relentlessly focus on cash flow.

After all, this is the most important factor in any business’s valuation. With the accountancy department central to a company’s success, an excellent finance director will think not only about working capital and returns, but also about how to change the underlying economy of a business to optimise its cash flow.

Commercial skills

An outstanding finance director will place a great deal of importance on commercialism and strategic awareness. Commercial skills are learned early on in their career by grabbing opportunities and taking on challenging projects.

The best place to gain commercial knowledge is within a business, necessitating an enquiring mind and a proactive approach. Many of today’s great finance directors have taken on challenges in the past that are out of their comfort zone, probably making mistakes, but always bouncing back.

For many, the toughest challenges have been seen later as among the defining moments in their career.

Building relationships

A crucial skill is the ability to build relationships, not only with counterparts within the company, such as the CEO, board members and managers, but also externally with the shareholders.

A trusted finance director is one who will challenge the CEO on individual decisions if necessary, while supporting him and the board. It’s crucial that a finance director can discuss any challenges privately with the CEO, while publicly they present a united front to retain confidence in the business. They must always speak with one voice in public, no matter what’s happened behind closed doors.

Courage and leadership

Finance directors are expected to lead the company even through dark times, providing the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”. They need to grasp opportunities, not wishing to have a reputation as someone who is over-cautious and always says “no”.

They need the courage to plan for growth, while ensuring at the same time that the fundamentals of accounting are delivered. Leading a high calibre team, they must exhibit an in-depth understanding of the business, its customers and markets, have an affinity with numbers and also possess the ability to interpret relevant information for others.

An outstanding finance director is one who is collaborative, regularly liaising with counterparts around the business to ensure he or she has the full picture of what’s going on, challenging and influencing where necessary.

Finally, a belief in continuous learning is imperative. Keeping up to speed with any new developments in banking, tax, corporate law and technology allows the excellent finance director to keep one step ahead.

At BTG Recruitment were experts in accountancy and finance recruitment, for a confidential discussion on achieving your career goals please contact me or one of the team on 0115 960 7000 or email me on m.finch@btgrecruitment.com

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