Colleagues routinely ask about my transition from public accounting to a role that combines business operations and education. Serving as CFO at Concordia Lutheran High School continues to fascinate me and allows the opportunity to bring together my experiences with accounting, business, education, nonprofits and technology. For those whom might have an interest in serving as CFO someday, it’s important to understand how the responsibilities overlap yet differ from the controller.
The role of the CFO continues to evolve from having financial acumen to complementing it with business operations, strategic planning and innovation. A thirst for knowledge along with having respect for your teammates makes the journey rewarding! This starts with having an understanding of and appreciation for positions. It’s all part of that expanded role in business that CPAs must embrace, which is addressed in the INCPAS 2025 document.
Controllers, serving a management function, have the responsibility for accounting and record keeping of an organization from a historical perspective. They ensure that established policies are followed and are responsible for financial and regulatory compliance. Depending on the size of the organization, additional duties can include coordination of audits, human resources, insurance, management of information technology, and tax reporting including federal income and sales.
CFOs similarly have financial responsibility yet have a more encompassing function. Using a forward-looking and big-picture approach, they review financial statements to gain perspectives on past performance. CFOs analyze information and work closely with operations and management to develop and implement strategy for the organization to achieve its goals. They serve as stewards, play a key role in operations, help influence the future direction of the company as business leaders and strategists, and act as catalysts driving process improvements and innovations that add value to the company.
A CFO can no longer rely on number crunching and spreadsheets alone as the demands rapidly change. According to an article from Business Insider, CFOs must possess these nine skills:
- CFOs must become analytics wizards.
- CFOs must manage an increasing amount of risk.
- CFOs must adapt to new technology.
- CFOs must become better at managing people.
- The CFO of the future must guide decisions in a politically charged atmosphere.
- CFOs must manage big data as a large part of business operations.
- CFOs will make effective decisions with analytics from outside of the enterprise.
- CFOs need to understand business drivers and the underlying non-financial information that drives the financials of their company.
- Hiring decisions will become a major part of the job for future CFOs. They will need to drive talent acquisition and retention.
In a recent Forbes article, “Three Ways to be a More Strategic CFO,” a discussion centers around what it takes to succeed as a CFO today. Three takeaways:
- CFOs must have a passion for and deep understanding of the organization along with intellectual curiosity.
- CFOs should have the attitude and aptitude to properly balance risk and reward.
- CFOs should be visible working in teams as business partners.
I thoroughly enjoy my new opportunity and absolutely relish collaborating with colleagues whom have expertise in each of their areas. For aspiring CFOs, I hope this helps paint a picture for you. A few months ago, I shared an article, “Teamwork Key to Successful Business Office,” regarding the importance of teamwork and collaboration. During my career, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with and learn from what seems an infinite number of talented colleagues at several organizations. As I continue to acclimate with Concordia (having joined in June 2016), I value our teammates with whom I serve. Everyone brings a unique and diverse skill set to each team as they play their positions. We have a very dedicated team of faculty and staff. I certainly have much to learn from an institution rich with history, culture and knowledge, and I look forward to advancing our mission together!