The CFO Alliance Blog

CEO Succession: When Finance Chiefs are Often Made

According to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, there are currently two senior executives in the running to succeed IBM Corp.’s CEO Sam Palmisano, and neither of them is the company’s CFO.

While it may not be surprising that IBM’s finance chief isn’t among the company’s future CEO prospects (large-enterprise CFOs seldom are), it is rather odd that the reporters exploring developments behind IBM’s succession planning failed to look for clues inside the finance department. Or at least they didn't report any.

If past Fortune 100 succession plans are any guide, IBM’s CEO candidates are already likely scrutinizing potential executive team members, and no one executive is more critical to the future CEO’s team than the future CFO.

A case in point is General Electric Company. Back in December 1998, before Jeff Immelt, then the head of GE Medical Systems, was publicly identified as the successor to celebrated GE CEO Jack Welch, the company announced that Keith Sherin — the VP of finance for GE Medical Systems — would be joining Welch’s team as CFO. Sherin’s appointment as CFO was recognized by GE insiders as an early phase in the transition of GE power between Welch and Immelt.

Just what propels a CFO upward is something we’ve been discussing with our members lately, and it’s pretty clear that the bond between CEO and CFO remains as critical to the process in small to medium enterprises as it is in larger companies. However, I’d argue that CFOs of small to medium businesses are likely to have worn a few more hats before getting the nod from the CEO. Such was the case for Tracy Brassel, CFO of Metropolitan Meat, Seafood, & Poultry Co. I’ve included a short audio clip (above) from an upcoming podcast with Tracy that we’ll be posting on later this week.

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