Assembling an A-Team in Finance: Three Approaches From the Trenches

Emmanuel Caprais, vice president of strategic and financial planning for US engineered-solutions company ITT, has spent the past five years reorienting and retraining his FP&A teams. It was, he recalled, an often “brutal” process. So on those rare moments when he had a chance to bring new people on board, he felt his margin for error was slim.

“It became clear that after all the hard work in improving my people, the few opportunities I had to bring in new blood—I couldn’t fail,” he said. “Failure wasn’t an option.”

“I need to understand if the person that I am interviewing has a consistent track record of being promoted within the same company, or while changing jobs”

So how can finance leaders identify, attract and hire the best talent?

Core Competencies

Caprais, who focuses on competencies over personality when hiring, seeks out his A-players. He has identified key characteristics of A-players, regardless of the role these people will play within the company, as well as three ITT core competencies that are laid out in a plus/minus score system.

“I need to understand if the person that I am interviewing has a consistent track record of being promoted within the same company, or while changing jobs,” Caprais said. “I will also look for indications that the person has managed multifunctional projects.”

“Finally, I try to gauge the candidate’s level of interest in the position and ITT, as well as if he/she is continuous improvement minded. It is important to figure out the immediate value the person is bringing to the table but also his/her potential for development and for becoming a great leader within ITT.”

Caprais believes that accountability is critical for any leader, and as a result he does a deep dive in interviews to understand how a candidate has demonstrated accountability in their previous roles by discussing specific events or situations.

“You can understand a lot on this subject if you ask the right questions and don’t let go until you are fully satisfied with the quality of the candidate’s answer,” he said. Caprais sees perseverance and focus as critical skills for his work and makes good use of these during the interview process.

The scoring on the ITT Core Competencies looks something like this:

Impeccable character

  • Be accountable, by leading with character and driving for results.
  • Be agile, by learning and adapting and navigating uncertainty.

Collective know-how

  • Be at your best, by finding ways to develop and improve and including and learning from others.
  • Be collaborative, by working towards a shared purpose and solving problems collectively.

Bold thinking

  • Be business-minded, by thinking critically and understanding business.
  • Be innovative, by finding new ways to win and looking for better ways to work.

Personality Testing

Other FP&A leaders prefer a more scientific approach. At Uline, a Wisconsin-based shipping supply company with an aggressive approach to growth, candidates undergo Myers-Briggs testing, said Carrie Kauck, Uline’s finance director. In recent years, the company has added other personality tests, including the DiSC Profile, and a bevy of competency tests, including time-management and perception.

“You have to do a lot in a short period of time,” Kauck said. “We look for both of those scores to be relatively high. If one’s low, the other has to be high.”

Still, Kauck admits that there is some subjectivity in her approach. She relies heavily on the Myers-Briggs scores, and prefers to hire extroverts. “The problem is, I’ve had such churn,” she said. “We have some people come in, we get them trained and then a call comes in.”

“I’m not looking at them from the standpoint of how good they are going to be as a financial analyst. I’m asking, ‘Well, what’s next for them? Are they future leaders?’”

Most of the churn is what Uline folks call “positive turnover”—someone leaving a department to go for a better job within the company. Over the past decade, only two people have left the company altogether from Kauck’s department, she said. That means she’s looking for people who’ll be receptive to the kinds of incentives Uline can offer, Kauck said.

“I’m not looking at them from the standpoint of how good they are going to be as a financial analyst,” she said. “I’m asking, ‘Well, what’s next for them? Are they future leaders?’”

Hybrid Approach

If Caprais is more artistic and Kauck more scientific, a mid-size energy supplier based in the US might offer a synthesis between the two.

We talked to their director of strategy and corporate development, who said he follows a top-grading approach. This requires grading a candidate on factors like their previous accomplishments, what they brought to the table at their last job, and low points in their careers.  

“If they pass this,” this energy executive said, “they come in and take an Excel exam, which shows me whether they have the financial and accounting chops. Conversation is more free-flowing after that and I like to see what questions they ask me. Good candidates should be interviewing you as much you them.”

About the Author

Bill Myers is Multimedia Content Manager, FP&A, at the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP). This article first appeared on AFP’s website as “How Can FP&A Assemble It’s a-Team?” Subscribe to FP&A in Focus, the monthly AFP e-newsletter of tips and trends that 28,000 finance professionals turn to. 

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