Attributes that can help and hinder a CFO's chances at becoming a successful CEO

The perception that CFOs can make for excellent CEOs is growing.

Executive search firm Russell Reynolds recently compared 129 CFOs with its own broader database of executives, including CEOs. The goal was simple, to determine how traits exhibited by CFOs differ from their CEO counterparts.

The Russell Reynolds survey compared CFOs assessed over several years by looking at both public and private CFOs and enterprise and divisional CFOs.

The left side of the chart focuses on positive attributes CFOs can bring to the CEO role. The right side features negative perceptions of a CFO moving into the CEO position.

CFO and CEO AttributesRussell ReynoldsCFO versus CEO: Attributes for success

Reasons a CFO can become a great CEO

Russell Reynolds survey takers clearly believe that CFOs are empowered with the ability to better interpret data, review data in more detail, and make more objective and logical decisions. They also found CFOs to be more likely to build on the ideas of others and work with teams, and to be more concerned about the future of their businesses.

Reasons a CFO may not be ready for the CEO role

Some respondents in the survey worried that CFOs are too cautious, too conventional, and follow rules too closely. They also found that chief financial officers are less likely to sell a company’s ideas and products, act too conventionally, and often avoid the spotlight, even when it’s needed.

In the end, it all boils down to the individual CFOs. If they are willing to step out into the public spotlight, sell a company’s ideas and products, and throw caution to the wind when needed, there is no reason to believe that a successful CFO can’t also become a successful CEO.

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