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Making the CFO chair is no miracle

There is a common misconception that making it to the CFO chair (or any promotion for that matter) takes joining the right company, at the right time, with all the right conditions to open up the right doors…

Insights Brad Eisenhuth 04 August 2015
— 3 minute read

Is the company big enough? Is the company in the right industry? Does the company produce a product or service that I’m interested in?… All important questions, but not the questions that will determine your career success and reaching your goals.


In tracking the development of many of my contacts, there have been two schools of thought when it comes to “making it” on the path to CFO.

There is often a certain amount of confusion about what is the right career move and when to make it. This confuse can arise to professionals at any stage of a career. Is the market right for a move now? What will people think if I work for this company or that company? Is this company going to give me career progression?…. Many are out there looking for the miracle move that will solve all of their problems, often focusing on the superficial.
Often the same group that adopts this logic that also has the perspective that other successful people have made all the right moves. That they made the miracle play where luck and skill collided to turn their career from run of the mill to glamorous. That you spend 5 years doing X role, followed by 3 years doing Y role and you should be ready for Z. Ironically, in writing my new book CFgrOw, the best in the business; those that have reached the CFO chair or other “Heads of” positions (and usually in quick time) take another set of logic. They’ve been living in a “career incubator”, where growth is happening every day, even when others from the outside can’t see it.

First… understand THE CHICKEN AND THE EGG
In 2001, Jim Collins wrote a profound article around his timeless book, Good to Great. It was an exposure of what differentiated good from great companies from over 40 years of review. Jim talks to the paradox of the egg and the chicken when it comes to change in a major organisation and explains that there is a misunderstanding about change. The chicken (outcome of change) is often the focus external commentators when exploring an organisational change, but it is the egg in incubation that determines who the chicken will be. In the same way we build a career, there is a lot that happens before a chicken is born.
From the chicken’s perspective, there are many different chemical activities inside the egg and the nurturing of the egg from the outside that has the chicken growing from day one of fertilisation. The chicken hasn’t made one big play to split from the egg and magically appeared at the time it should. It has been growing all along.

The same occurs for those that build a career towards their ultimate goal.

The insights that I have taken from successful CFOs and other executives in writing CFgrOw, is that your career doesn’t just hatch at some point. It is created through a collaboration of high quality performance, clarity in your goals and self awareness, professional networks and your ability to influence. There is a lot going on in and around the egg.

Of course, the decisions and career moves along your career journey make up a significant part of your development, so I don’t discount the importance of selecting the right organisation, culture and leadership that works for you. However, there is clearly not a glory shot made from half way, where the crowd goes wild and the game is won. From the outside, it might appear that way when we see someone gain a promotion or move to the top job, but behind the title change there have been countless hours of solving problems, tackling and delivering on challenges facing their business, building relationships and understanding what the next building block is on their development curve. The incubation period is as important as the chicken hatching, and is vital to the chicken hatching in the first place…. The CFO is made, not born.

Walking away from an opportunity that doesn’t work, taking a perceived risk, joining an organisation facing difficult times or change, and sometimes taking on something that isn’t so “sexy” are commonplace for top leaders in the CFO space. These all form part of career incubation. In fact, like the leaders explored in Ryan Holliday’s book “The Obstacle Is The Way”, top CFOs have all found ways to turn challenges into career making opportunities. It is what separates good from great.

Are you a “miracle mover” or a “career incubator”?

Making the CFO chair is no miracle
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Brad Eisenhuth

Brad Eisenhuth

Brad Eisenhuth is a Director of [axr] executive recruitment with over a decade of experience recruiting senior and executive talent for ASX listed and international organisations. He is also the newly published author of CFgrOw, a book dedicated to exploring success factors of aspiring CFOs on their journey to the top chair.