What Do CEOs Expect Of CFOs In The New Economy.

by Patrick Liew on September 14, 2013

I have been invited to share on the above topic with the CFOs of the Executives Global Network.

It is not the easiest topic to speak about and I may have to step on a few deserving toes. However, somewhere deep in my heart, there’s a message I like to share not just with CFOs but also with  all professionals.

Depending on how open and receptive they are, I like to start by sharing with them why there is a major fault line with the current education system. A system that was developed for the Industrial Age but is becoming ineffective and  irrelevant in the new economy.

For example, universities are still organised in terms of focus and specialisation such as School of Business, School of Education, School of Psychology, and School of Law. This is very similar to the way we organise the economy in terms of different industries.

The lines between industries, markets and professions are constantly blurring, being disintermediated,  or undergoing a redefinition. The rate of change is increasingly faster than the time it takes to complete an academic module or a degree.

The executives of this age will need to understand different disciplines and how to apply them in their current and future careers. They need to have a comprehensive perspective and be given the tools to develop such a perspective to survive and succeed in the new economy.

All of us are products of our chosen profession and the education that we have to go through to become a professional. They shaped the way we think, work and live.

Let me illustrate.

Given a problem, a lawyer tends to  review it from a legal perspective. The doctor is inclined to study it with a microscopic lenses to find out its root cause.

Few professions will evaluate the problem from a multidimensional,
multifaceted and  multidisciplinary perspective. They will not study it in a wholistic way and to see how the problem and solution can affect the ecology and vice versa.

If they are not careful, they may end up curing cancer and unwittingly cause a heart attack if you know what I mean.

I like to suggest 5 major shifts for CFOs and perhaps other professionals in the new economy.

They are as follows:

1. From I-Shaped To T-Shaped,

2. From Historian To Futurist,

3.  From Fireman To Firewall,

4.  From Steel Vault To Search Engine To System Integrator, and

5. From Custodian To Creator.

1. From I-Shaped To T-Shaped

In the new economy, we cannot take a myopic viewpoint and developed ourselves in a narrow way.

While we may be required to be a specialist, we should also develop ourselves in a holistic way. We need to have a global mindset and the capacity to have and acquire a wide range of knowledge.

In addition, we need to have the capability to develop current and new skill sets. We need to have the ability, agility and adaptability to achieve best practice and continue to strengthen it.

2. From Historian To Futurist

It’s not difficult to look at the rear mirror of life and determine the issues that need to be resolved. However, there is a tendency to look at the past and equate it to the future.

Past success breeds fear of changing. It compels people to hold on to the present.

It drives people to avoid risks and failures. It can lure them to luxuriate in past glory and perpetuate the temporary and transient value of past achievements.

It has been quipped that typical CFOs are good at counting other people’s money but not at creating money for their own and for that matter, for the company.

CFOs certainly need to be more entrepreneurial in the new world of disorder.

What we need is not just bean counters but also bean creators and not just number crunchers but also solution creators. We need to have not just umpires for the games of life but also more importantly, game changers.

To do that, CFOs need to take a more strategic and long term outlook. They need to challenge status quo and embrace failures and challenges.

Moreover, they need to be willing to cannibalise current systems and services. They need to focus on future markets and opportunities and help their company make the necessary changes to capitalise on them.

3. From Fireman To Firewall

We cannot afford to take a reactive approach to fulfilling our duties and responsibilities. We cannot be looking for potential fire and respond when a fire break out in our company.

We need to learn and to set up a firewall to ensure that anything that can go wrong will never go wrong. A virus cannot penetrate the company and cause a breakdown to our systems and processes.

Even it is able to infect and affect the company, there are systems and  procedures in place to repel it and to minimise disruption and other inconvenience. There must be a learning system in place to not only ensure that the breach will not happen again but that it will also strengthen our operational model and resilience.

4. From Steel Vault To Search Engine To System Integrator

The finance and accounts department holds a vast array of  critical and beneficial information for the company. Very often, these information are held under lock and key and multiple security levels and passwords.

They are not properly organised and analysed. They are not being  effectively translated into useful tools and resources to help other units and individuals to leverage on them for better results.

In some major multinational companies, they may appoint a non accounting-trained person to assume the role of a CFO. Why?

These companies have found that it is harder to train a traditional CFO to understand the other colleagues than the other way around.

As a result of taking this unconventional approach, they found  that it led to a better opening up of the informational vault and harnessing of the information for every level of the organisational hierarchy.

The job of a CFO in the new economy is to help integrate all the systems and processes so that the company will not operate in silos. They will be able to function synergistically with and leverage upon each other to improve the bottom line and other achievements.

5. From Custodian To Creator

The CFOs of the the brave new and insanely exciting world will need to chart new paths. They have to turn long and hard corners, and break new horizons.

They should have a healthy dissatisfaction with the current situation. They do not want to be like the rest and that’s why they can come across as being more unreasonable than reasonable. Abnormal than normal.

They look at the world from inside out as well as from outside in. They take a helicopter and a 360-degree view of life to explore all possibilities.

The word impossible is not a part of their accepted lexicon.

They ask questions that defy the norm. They ask:

Why it can be done? instead of What’s wrong with it?

How to make something good out of it? instead of What if it go wrong?

Why not? instead of Why ?

How you know you know? instead of just How you know?

They tell themselves, “Great idea, let’s make it work” rather than “Great idea, it won’t work.”

They should endeavour to see the world through a grain of sand and a grain of sand through the world. And they make sense of where the sand should be in the world and where the world should be in the sand.

They are restless souls, always desiring to know the unknown and discover the undiscovered. They are constantly thinking about how to disrupt current patterns and looking for the next breakthrough.

While others are thinking about what’s next, they are deliberating about what’s coming after ‘what’s next.’ They are looking ahead of the curve and around the bend to invest in the future and be future-ready.

They recreate themselves rigorously, relentlessly and unrelentingly.

In the new economy, there are much more to gain in recreating themselves than not to do it.

In fact, if they don’t change, the increasing rate of change in the new economy may render them irrelevant and redundant. They stand on the possibility of losing everything.

Do the above qualities describe your typical CFO?

In conclusion, I like to see CFOs becoming not just bean counters and number crunchers but also dream-chasers and world-changers.


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

Visit my Inspiration blog at http://liewinspiration.wordpress.com/

For my opinions on social affairs, please visit my Transformation blog at http://hsrpatrickliew.wordpress.com/

Please visit my website, www.patrickliew.net

Please read my reflections and continue to teach me.

Life is FUNtastic!


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