Why CFO Searches Will Be ‘Robust’ In 2023

Alyse Bodine, global managing partner, Heidrick & Struggles
© AdobeStock
Executive recruiter Alyse Bodine of Heidrick & Struggles says demand is strong and growing, especially for those with new skillsets.

Finance professionals are facing “immense pressures” heading into 2023. Skillset expectations have shifted, and a potential recession has increased scrutiny for cost cutting and restructuring. How do CFOs navigate such an environment, and will there be even more turnover?

Alyse Bodine, global managing partner of executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles’ financial officers practice, shares her insights on how CFOs and other finance professionals—and the organizations that employ them—can best tackle these challenges. Bodine is based in Philadelphia.

What does it take to be a successful CFO in 2023, and based on the CFO searches you lead, what are companies looking for from the top finance chair? How have expectations and priorities for CFOs been shifting? The traditional “bookkeeping” nature of the role has evolved into being more strategic and a conduit for transformation—but will companies still increasingly look for their CFOs to prioritize this area of business as budgets tighten?

As the CFO role has evolved over the years, the traditional accounting and finance toolkit has become merely table stakes. In an increasingly complex business environment coupled with the current economic headwinds, organizations are ever more seeking CFO talent with operational and strategic skillsets, as well as with proven experience relating to stakeholder management—including experience interfacing at the board level, investor relations and risk management. As well, organizations are seeking executives who are adept in the capital markets and can think creatively about funding sources, in addition to those skilled in capital allocation. 

Finance executives are being tasked with driving and creating value in different business areas, which has led to an increased demand for CFOs with a broader skillset. As budgets tighten, this skillset and perspective are ever more critical. In many instances, organizations seek CFOs who have a broader set of experience— including experience managing a P&L as a president of business and/or overseeing areas beyond the “traditional” finance mandate, such as operations. As finance transcends the entire business, CFOs are often positioned as a key strategic partner and co-pilot to the CEO and leadership team. 

Pressure is growing for CFOs as companies place greater scrutiny over cost cutting and restructuring to preserve capital. Do you expect we’ll see more turnover in this position from the stress of so much added weight on their shoulders?

At the onset of the pandemic, the unknown impacts and state of the economy led talent to remain in seat, yet only temporarily. As the economic picture took shape in the midst of the continuing pandemic and the markets began to rally, we experienced an increase in searches for executive financial officer functions, leading to record levels of business and a robust recruiting environment, which is still our experience today.

This year, we anticipate seeing turnover in finance leadership positions as a result of the macroeconomic environment, but it is also likely that company restructurings and/or a shifting focus to cost cutting may drive turnover, as well. Some CFOs thrive in these environments and will be called on to lead.

Our proprietary data shows 154 CFOs moved within the Fortune 1000 during 2022, which is slightly higher than what we saw in 2021, when 151 CFOs moved. One dynamic that we have seen as well is an increase in first time CFOs—43 percent of CFOs named last year were first-time CFOs.

Do you expect to see more companies leverage interim CFOs and finance experts to ease the pain of CFO turnover and the expanding CFO role? What are the considerations for companies looking to fill their top finance seat with an interim role?

I expect that we will see companies continue to leverage interim CFOs. Interims play a critical role in a leadership transition, while a permanent executive is identified. We frequently see organizations call upon an internal candidate to lead while a search for the permanent role ensues—and in many instances, these internal candidates are considered for the role on a permanent basis.

In other cases, organizations may choose to name an external executive as interim CFO in order to augment the existing team and provide leadership and continuity as the company works to select a permanent CFO—whether that individual is identified from inside or outside of the organization.

  • Get the StrategicCFO360 Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CFOs in every industry

    "*" indicates required fields

    Send me more information about the CFO Peer Network.
    A members-only peer network for CFOs. Members meet both online and in-person a few times a year.
    This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.