Top 10 CFO Myths

Last Updated May 12, 2010 11:08 AM EDT

MoneyYou know them as bean counters, pencil neck, human calculators, fraudulent embezzlers, or tight control freaks with no sense of humor or sense of the business. When it comes to CFOs, stereotypes abound. Interestingly, I've known dozens of CFOs over the years, and the only thing I've found to be true about those stereotypes is that they're all myths.

Sure, most CFOs can calculate gross margin and earnings per share in their heads, but so can I, and I'm no finance geek.

This much is true. Behind every great CEO there's a great CFO. And, if you're a manager or executive with considerable expense or revenue responsibility, the CFO can make your life a breeze or a nightmare, although that depends mostly on you.

Top 10 CFO Myths

  1. They're fastidious bean counters. Of course they're good with numbers since they have to spout financials off the top of their heads all day long, but it's mostly big-picture stuff for critical decision-making, not endless facts and figures.
  2. They hate marketing. What CFOs actually hate is marketing with no metrics or relationship to revenue or the business. As a marketer, I've always enjoyed great relationships with my CFOs.
  3. They're control freaks. On the contrary, with ultimate responsibility for finance but little control over the spending, they actually have to be just the opposite or they'd go nuts.
  4. They're tight-wads. The business model, which sets the tone for much of what ends up on the income statement or the balance sheet, is usually determined by the CEO and approved by the board of directors. The CFO manages to the model but doesn't actually control what it is.
  5. They have no impact on the business itself. Many CFOs take point on mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, even strategic planning. All have a material, direct impact on the business. Plus they ask tough questions, which is all good.
  6. They often commit accounting fraud. You can always point to an Enron or a WorldCom, but these days, as stewards of corporate governance, CFOs have to be ethically bulletproof since they're usually the first to go to jail.
  7. They're in the CEOs back pocket. In dysfunctional organizations, that can be true, but they're just as likely to be at each other's throats. I've even known a few CFOs who went head to head with their boss and either stepped down or got the CEO canned.
  8. They have an easy job. CFOs are some of the hardest working executives I've known. They usually run incredibly lean organizations to set an example for the rest of the company.
  9. They have no management depth. Quite a few actually go on to become excellent presidents, COOs, or CEOs. Believe it or not, I've even known several in high-tech who went on to run companies. Go figure.
  10. They have no personality. They're as outgoing, fun-loving, and interesting as you and me. Their sense of humor can be a bit on the dry side, though. Not sure why that is.
The only caveat to this whole thing is that we're talking about CFOs and maybe some controllers who eventually go on to become CFOs, not other accounting types who, for all I know, may very well fit the stereotypes.

What's your experience with CFOs been like?

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