The Ideal CFO: How the Best of the Best Distinguish Themselves

According to Financial Times columnist Luke Johnson, these are the traits of an ideal CFO or controller, at whatever level of the organization:

  • Conservatism and prudence. Concern about the downside and risks of business decisions.
  • Attention to detail and mastery of facts about the company's (or entity's) financial position.
  • Hands-on facility with creating and analyzing financial reports.
  • Ability to explain complex financial issues clearly and concisely in plain language, without resorting to arcane financial jargon.
  • Expertise in information technology (IT), especially related to the company's accounting systems.
  • Backbone to stand up to the boss and respectfully disagree.
  • Willingness to work hard, and long hours if necessary.
  • Coolness under pressure.



Additionally, recent surveys of financial professionals by both Ernst & Young and IBM indicate a broadening of the role of the CFO (and thus, presumably, of others on finance staffs, such as controllers).


This appears to validate the longstanding norm in the financial services industry where controllers, CFOs and other members of financial staff often have strategic roles, not just record-keeping and reporting duties. The effectiveness of CFOs and controllers thus is enhanced by having prior operational experience, and by keeping in close touch with suppliers, clients and people in the operational divisions of the company. Moreover, it is important that controllers and CFOs have a great deal of independence from line management (a particularly sensitive issue for those in matrix reporting relationships).



- based on a publication by


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