It’s frequently said that mentors are important for career advancement. How do you find the right mentor?
Some companies have [a mentorship program] in place, from induction all the way through promotion. But you can’t just sit there and expect it to happen. If you go into an organisation where it doesn’t exist and it’s a foreign concept, then you probably want to push hard to find a mentor. It can be driven by corporate culture or it can be individually driven.
I know one CFO in Hong Kong, a Hong Kong guy with good multinational background. It’s incredible the volume of CVs he has sent over to me over the last ten years of the people who have worked for him over the last 20 years. They still go to him for guidance. You keep this link with your people who joined you as graduates and now they are heads of companies, but they still seek your counsel. This isn’t company culture. This is him projecting that’s how he likes to do things, that’s how he develops his people.
But what do mentors like this Hong Kong CFO get out of this?
Human nature at its core, we love helping others and we love nurturing. So I think that that’s the satisfaction of seeing someone succeed. It’s like planting a seed and watching it turn into a beautiful flower and strong tree. Whether you’re a parent or whether you’re a good boss, seeing that talent, you nurture that talent, you’re responsible for them.
Unless this senior person sees you as competition.
But a lot of people say you would have done the ultimate job by working yourself out of a job. You have developed a CFO. You have tracked, developed and retained quality staff. This has nothing much to do with the books or running the business. It’s about people leadership. The war for talent is such an ongoing challenge.
So how would a would-be CFO attract the eye of a good mentor and keep the relationship going?
You have to [demonstrate] that you want to learn, that you want to grow. You have to show sincerity and integrity.
The one thing is integrity. So many people I interviewed [for placement in other companies] just decided to bite the bullet because they see that line blurring. The CFO is the spine of the organisation. If that spine is broken or damaged, then the whole company just can’t keep moving. Do not compromise on everything that you’ve stood for from your studies until now.
Most people I’ve seen come out with their private companies, working for an owner, I want to do this and I want to do that, and they think it’s allowable . . . The CFO ends up say, I’ve got to get out of here. I’m in a very compromised position, and I’m confused. They can’t divulge too much, but they say, I’ve really got to get out of here.
CPA VERSUS MBA
There’s always been debate as to whether a CFO should be a chartered accountant or have an MBA or both.
An MBA is generally a plus. But not always a must, no.
You might see a banker with an MBA – it all depends on what the job is. If it’s an externally focused CFO role where you’re fund-raising or doing an M&A or you’re about to list, that’s the kind of person you want. I’ve seen an energy banker coming into an energy company that’s doing an IPO. But they’re going to need a really strong controller under them who’s probably going to come from the Big Four [accounting firms].
You see people getting to CFO level who have come through more the financial planning and analysis and the management accounting group. A lot of those guys that have CIMA or CFA [qualifications], they basically came out of university and joined a multinational as an analyst or in financial planning. . . You talk to them about what they want to do, they want to be involved in the business. They love taking the results the financial reporting team has given them and actually making something out of it.