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The Career Path Of Corporate Financial Analyst

The Career Path Of Corporate Financial Analyst

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I am a corporate financial officer (CFO) with a midsized manufacturing company. I’ve been with this company for nearly ten years, but I held the same position with a professional association for several years before moving to the manufacturing side of the same industry.

The work I do consists of three distinct components, involving controller, treasury, and economic strategy responsibilities. The controller aspect consists mostly of reporting the company’s financial standing, essentially reporting the past.

As CFO, I am the one who ultimately is responsible for the company’s financial statements. The treasury aspect of my position focuses on the present and includes investing the company’s cash in ways most advantageous for the company and its stakeholders, as well as determining what our capital structure will be and then maintaining it. Capital structure is the balance between cash, debt, equity and internal financing, and that has to be managed well to return the greatest stakeholder benefit.

Finally, as CFO I also am responsible for establishing economic forecasting and strategy for the future, as they apply to my company’s business.

There is one common misunderstanding about my type of responsibilities, which is the image of the “fat cat” businesses that is so common today. Since no one knows the future, we have to plan well for it. My colleagues and I strive to give our companies’ employees reasonable assurance of continued employment, not only because they count on their jobs to sustain them, but also because their employers also count on them to do what needs to be done. More than at any other time in memory, financial officers must be extremely cautious in their decisions and actions in today’s business environment.

The work can be stressful, but on a one–to–ten scale for job satisfaction, I’m very nearly at a nine level. My job certainly would be easier with less economic uncertainty, but it still is gratifying. My work does indeed move my heart, particularly when I see it in light of my company’s stakeholders, especially employees. Balancing risk and stability always is a challenge.

Career Path Of Corporate Financial Analyst

I got started in this field by gaining a business degree and a license as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), and then going to work in the financial reporting area of my current position. That led to work in optimizing capital structure, which in turn needs information that comes through economic forecasting and trend analysis. With solid work history in all three of the areas that a CFO must manage, I was prepared to take on the CFO role.

If there’s anything I could change, I would be more open to the new challenges that arose in the early years. Too often, I saw them as burdens at the time, yet meeting those challenges well was what propelled me to the CFO position I hold today.

There have been many things that I’ve learned the hard way! Likely, the most important of those lessons has been to surround myself with highly competent people and then get out of their way. By nature and by training, accountants sometimes are too detail-oriented. That is a necessary trait, but it is also necessary to know when it is appropriate to reign in that characteristic.

The single most important thing I’ve learned outside of school about the working world is that everything is done by individuals, each of whom is unique. Processes are important – particularly in financial reporting – but people comprise the most important factor of any process. Managers must remember that any workforce, department or team is made up of individuals, all with their own personalities and with their own stories.

The key is to lead groups to a desire to pursue a common goal. One of the things that has been a great source of personal pride in my job is that I was able to make a solid business case for keeping my present company’s manufacturing efforts within the United States, rather than using offshore contract manufacturers. The numbers never would have worked without the dedication of the company’s employees, though. Again, the “numbers” got all the attention, but it was the company’s employees that made them work.

One of the ongoing challenges in my position is the pressure to go offshore with most or all of the company’s manufacturing. As our domestic efforts progress and our great employees continue to demonstrate that they are indeed competitive with the lower labor costs of employees in other countries, the argument becomes easier. It never goes away, however. Keeping our manufacturing domestic is a conscious and ongoing effort.

The job is stressful in many respects, particularly in identifying emerging trends and trying to forecast and plan for the economic future. In companies large enough to maintain dedicated CFOs, the CFO position is one of the highest-paid in the company. The CFO of a midsized company earns a salary well into the six figure range, so there are no negative financial issues that affect family or personal financial goals.

It can be difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance, however. It is crucial for senior management personnel to strike that balance and maintain it, but it does require conscious effort. I have three weeks’ vacation time each year. I take all of that time, but only in one-week intervals. It can be difficult to turn off the cell phone and to stay out of email during those weeks, but my family provides strong motivation.

The job is stressful at times, but it always is rewarding. Overall, I am quite happy with the CFO position I currently hold and have no plans to do anything else. Challenges arising from the clash of business needs and the needs of stakeholders can be expected to intensify in the future. Successful navigation of those challenges can produce beneficial outcomes for all stakeholder groups, and delivers immense personal satisfaction.

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Corporate financial officer job image from Shutterstock

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