What is the best career path to becoming a CFO?

I just want to get a sense of where people stand. Do most CFO's come over from the "Big 4" as auditors and transition to accounting? If not the "Big 4" do they at least have audit experience? Or are they career accountants working their way up the ladder? Please leave feedback. I am interested in people's chosen career paths.



Ben - There are several ways to become a CFO, but working for a large (not necessarily Big 4, gives you the insight to the kinds of issues that CFOs face; at an earlier stage in your career than working for a company in an accounting or even finance role. You need to see accounting, treasury, budgeting and analysis, risk management, SEC and systems to become a controller these days, and from there you can learn about capital raising, corporate strategy and management skills. It will take 15-20 years to accomplish. Good luck.


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Good question with no easy answer. Todays CFO is a business partner to the CEO. A focused auditor or accountant for that matter will not make the cut. The best advise I can give is to reach out to operations and strategy teams whenever possible at all points in your career.
I started my career as a cost accountant and moved up to a business line controller in preparation to my CFO role. I took calculated risks and positioned myself to take advantage of opportunities when presented.


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I never worked for any Accounting firm. I started in manufacturing as a cost accountant, working my way up the ladder. Becoming a CPA and Certified Management Accountant (CMA) helped. I also never turned down an opportunity for a new job, even if I felt I wasn't ready for that next step. I worked at corporate headquarters, in the filed, and also overseas. Moving to a small family owned business and then into the non-profit area gave me a well rounded experience for what I do today.

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Ben, in my opinion the route depends on a number of factors such as the size of the company (early stage, middle market, Fortune 500 or Fortune 50), the industry (growing, stable, consolidating), revenue driven by organic growth and/or acquisitions, high margin or low margin business, global or domestic orientation, business partner to CEO or policeman role, public or private, etc. In today's regulatory environment, a CPA is table stakes and a Big 4 credential adds credibility. My path was through the finance versus the accounting side.
  • Ted Clarkson, Chief Financial Officer at Hudson Pacific Capital Partners LLC,

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