Magazine article Financial Management (UK)

Premier League: Do You Have What It Takes to Make the Quantum Leap from Finance Director to Chief Executive? Tony Grundy Sets out the Extra Skills and Attributes Needed in the Top Job and Explains How to Develop Them. (Management Careers)

Magazine article Financial Management (UK)

Premier League: Do You Have What It Takes to Make the Quantum Leap from Finance Director to Chief Executive? Tony Grundy Sets out the Extra Skills and Attributes Needed in the Top Job and Explains How to Develop Them. (Management Careers)

Article excerpt

When the idea of becoming an accountant was first presented to me as I considered my career options, one of the things that most attracted me to it was the prospect of having an overview of the business. I actually saw this as a possible route to becoming a chief executive. Although being an accountant involves the tactical mastery of detail, it also requires the ability to see the relationships between the drivers of value in a business, both internally and externally. I felt that a background in one of the more operational disciplines would only narrow my view.

Once I stepped on to the ladder I found that there was a strong anticipation, among non-accountants as well as accountants, that I would follow a vertical path through the accounting discipline. Rather than to go into a senior line management position, the route (presumably) was to become the senior partner of an accounting firm or perhaps the FD of a significant company. Becoming a chief executive was not an obvious option.

But many of my clients who are chief executives actually have an accounting background. The analytical skills they had learnt as financial managers stood them in good stead for their eventual role, but they also had to acquire some broader skills.

Have you ever thought of yourself as a potential chief executive? Perhaps this seems an unrealistic goal, but many accountants do make it to that position. While it's not every accountant's cup of tea, the chief executive's role may offer a number of key advantages, including more power and influence; a greater sense of challenge; more variety and breadth; and, of course, bigger financial rewards.

With the rewards may come a greater sense of uncertainty. As chief executive you need to create and deliver profit, rather than simply plan and measure it. While these activities overlap and interrelate, they are not exactly the same thing.

Although accountants have been accused of wielding too much power in the boardroom, there is often a feeling among line managers that accountants act as frustrated gatekeepers. Some line managers even try to sideline their finance colleagues when major strategic decisions are being made. While this is not a universal problem, being an accountant can limit your influence to areas of decision-making that are more easily quantifiable.

In some ways the senior accountant's role, although challenging, is clearer cut than that of the chief executive. The latter's role is never predictable, for as soon as you've got one pressing decision out of the way, three more will pop up. The top job will offer a broader range of activities--and probably a faster pace of change. This demands significant agility of thought and responsiveness.

The key attributes needed by the chief executive include:

* operational knowledge across the business;

* commercial acumen;

* business development skills;

* people skills;

* financial awareness;

* problem-solving skills;

* strategic thinking;

* leadership and political skills.

Of these, a good senior accountant should possess several, especially operational knowledge, commercial acumen, financial awareness and problem-solving skills. In addition, an outstanding senior accountant should have strong people skills. But an accountant with true potential to be a chief executive should have them all. These are "soft" skills, and are not at the heart of traditional accountancy training, which is primarily technical and commercial. …

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