Prague MP Marek Huml talks about what makes for a successful CEO
In his 20 years with Stanton Chase, Managing Partner Marek Huml has seen considerable changes in the world of financial management. Here he sits down to talk about what it takes to be a successful CEO in this day and age and how CFOs can look to make that leap, how training in a job requires the skills and dedication of an athlete, and how the search for good candidates is like detective work.
How much has the world of financial management changed over the past decade?
There have been very significant changes in financial management. The shift from passive and reactive work to proactive strategic management is most important. The chief financial officer is now expected to be a partner in business strategy, to monitor and implement new trends in financial analysis and to help identify new business opportunities. Financial managers want more responsibility in companies. For example, they want to manage IT, HR, legal, purchasing and sometimes even sales.
What’s the situation like at large companies?
At international companies, we have seen a shift toward a more centralized management. Instead of having a financial manager in each country, it’s not uncommon that they’ll have someone managing finance for several countries. This goes hand in hand with the centralization of some financial functions or their outsourcing, especially in the areas of payroll processing, invoicing and accounts receivable. This frees up space for the financial manager to handle strategic areas and real management. Digitization also plays an increasing role. We conducted a global survey on this topic last year and found that 85 percent of the hundreds of financial managers we approached considered data and predictive analyses to be the technologies with the greatest impact on the future. At the same time, 65 percent of respondents considered introducing such changes to be a challenge.
For the past 20 years, Marek Huml has been finding senior executives and since 2008 has been managing partner of Stanton Chase’s Executive Search. He is also the European leader for finding CFO positions. He is a member of the CFO Club and Private Equity Association CVCA.
What does one need to be a good financial manager?
It is said that one learns the most important things in kindergarten. With a little exaggeration, this also applies to financial managers. The beginning of their career is an extremely intense period for most of them because they have to get into financial management issues as quickly as possible. Anyone who wants to stay in shape or improve must learn continually from this point on, until the end of their career.
How can a company get returns on their training investment as quickly as possible?
Effective investment in training is managed systematically. It must be based on a competency analysis, i.e. what a person knows, and aim toward further training in order to acquire the skills they need for their present or future role. It is necessary to strengthen the skills that are most important for the role, just like in athletic training. The entire training process needs to be constantly monitored and evaluated.
Is it difficult to fill CFO positions?
There is a shortage of good people, and it is our task to find them. It is like detective work, as we reach out to those who are not currently considering a job switch, get them excited, and motivate them to make a change. Making decisions quickly, being responsible, credible, and looking for common ground are qualities that both sides want.
What is the path from CFO to CEO?
A CFO must prove to be business-minded and able to define and implement financial as well as business strategies. They must also be interested in other areas such as sales, manufacturing and so on. Ambitious and successful CFOs want to manage a broader part of the company; in certain cases, it might be easy for them to transition smoothly to the CEO position.
Moving from the CFO’s post to head of the whole company is not unheard of, but it is not automatic. For example, at a trade company, it is expected that the sales director will go on to become CEO; at a manufacturing company, the production manager ascends to CEO.
What are the skills and competencies required of a successful CEO?
A CEO must be a natural team player who can deal with and get along with people. They should be able to motivate and develop others and be willing to train their successor. And, of course, they must be great strategists and understand their field. It’s not so difficult to become a boss; but keeping the position and proving yourself is the challenge. We know that the average life span of CEOs in the world is getting shorter and they are leaving after three to five years. This is a very short period in which to demonstrate success. Without a clear corporate strategy and direction, it’s just not possible. Nor is it possible without a great team to depend on.