Once a presentation blip that lasted 10 minutes at most in a board of directors’ meeting, today’s CFO (chief financial officer) no longer labors forlornly in the farthest corner of the office where flower arrangements and UPS deliveries never dwell.
Instead, a CFO is expected to provide insightful leadership and guidance on issues ranging from technological operating investments to risk management.
Now standing alongside and in equilibrium with the other c-suite integrals (chief executive, chief information, and chief operations officers), the CFO with auxiliary skills in digital transitions, customer engagement, and stakeholder management wins favor from corporate administrations and boards across the global spectrum, especially those undergoing major transformations in operations, mergers, or developmental resources.
Michael J. Burwell, the new CFO at a leading global advisory, broking, and solutions firm, Willis Towers Watson, knows the newfound value of a CFO very well. With over three decades of experience in financial and professional services at PwC, which provided services to 419 companies in the Fortune Global 500 in 2017, Burwell was chosen for his diverse skills in finance, transactions, and transformations as well as his client acuities.
Willis Towers Watson’s (WTW) CEO, John Haley says as much in the announcement of Burwell’s hiring. “Mike understands managing, leading, and driving results in a complex, global company with a strong focus on clients,” said Haley in the announcement. He said Burwell poses an instrumental piece in WTW’s “long-term growth and remaining integration efforts—allowing us to achieve our full potential.”
Indeed, City A.M., London’s daily business newspaper, claims in a 2017 article that the role and influence of a CFO is entering a stage of transformation that opens new opportunities for the formerly cloistered officer on the team.
Burwell represents a paradigm in this transformation for his expertise in finance, transactions, and transformation, while bringing 11 years of audit experience and 12 years of transaction services advisory under his belt. Moreover, his instrumental role at PwC in helping with pre-mergers, specifically in due diligence and valuation, demonstrates a new definition for a CFO.
City A.M. conducted 200 interviews with senior finance executives across the United Kingdom regarding their major focus areas and the role of the CFO. Increasing profitability and overall company growth topped the list of their focus areas.
Further, City A.M. reports that these executives specify digital transformation in their discussion of these two focus areas. “In the rush to stay one step ahead, organizations are embracing digital tools and processes to improve customer engagement, develop new business models, and drive operational efficiencies,” the article says.
The success of a digital transformation, according to the article, increasingly rests on the shoulders of the redefined CFO. This focus area is no small concern: The interviews revealed that nearly 40 percent of finance directors named new technologies as a priority through 2018.
It’s not so much that the CFO is looked upon to possess expertise in the actual outlay of digitalization, automation, or newest tech trends, but is relied upon to fill a partnership role, a team collaborator at the executive realm who plots the course to digital change and upgrades.
Again, Burwell’s record represents a model of that which attracts corporations in the throes of tech transitions. According to Euro Investor, Michael Burwell served in high-level leadership positions for PwC as Head of Global Transformation, COO, and CFO in the U.S., not to mention head of transaction services in the U.S.
Somewhat shy of a jack of all trades, the repurposed CFO—at the very least—wears a couple new corporate faces, mostly tied to leadership. In fact, many boards of vital organizations are beginning to allot equal time to CFOs at their meetings. In other words, these hybrid CFOs are nearly regarded on equal footing with many CEOs across the globe.
This new stature derives from an ilk of CFOs, like Burwell, who have demonstrated an acuity for recruiting and assimilating financially and technologically savvy consultants and specialists who can advise on best practices from outside the company box, so to speak.
Increasing workloads, heavier reliance on data analytics, automation, and even job descriptions—not the least being the CFO’s—serve as the major drivers of this need for a multi-faceted chief financial officer.
Increasingly, executives such as those interviewed by City A.M. are eager to integrate a new role for their CFOs. “As we look closely into the challenges companies are already facing,” reports Matt Weston in the article, “from the skills gap to economic uncertainty, chief financial officers and finance directors are facing the challenge of these changes.”
The director at Robert Half goes on to say in his article that as painstaking as it may be, culling fresh perspectives and guidance relevant to a company’s primary transformations is viewed by chief executives as the key to staying ahead of the game. Indeed, the redefined CFO becomes analogous to a running quarterback, sporting ground and air skills all at once.