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4 tips to set your sights on the C-suite

CPAs share their experience and expertise on how to navigate your way to the role of CFO

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Creative business people having meeting in office “People listen when CFOs speak…when you speak on other issues, they hear what you have to say because of the perspective that you bring,” said Arun Thangaraj, assistant deputy minister and CFO, Global Affairs Canada (Getty Images/Compassionate Eye Foundation/John Wildgoose)

Your journey to the C-suite may not be straight but you can make it your own by taking risks, heeding advice and seizing opportunity, say experts.

Three executives—Fred Burke, FCPA, executive consultant with Allied Track Services; Darlene Dasent, CPA, vice-president and CFO, University Health Network and Arun Thangaraj, CPA, assistant deputy minister and CFO, Global Affairs Canada—laid down the groundwork for aspiring executives during the session, Visualizing Your Career Path to the C-Suite, at CPA Canada’s The ONE Conference in Montreal on Tuesday. Reflecting on their personal journeys, here are four tips outlined to help you carve your own unique path.

1) FIND YOUR VALUE

Seek and pursue positions where you can add value to the company, hone your strengths and showcase your ability to innovate, they say. Chances are the road to the C-suite won’t be direct, so don’t shy away from roles that are outside your comfort zone, in a new industry, or where you lack experience. Remember your backbone—accounting skills—and their translatability across industries.

“My journey was not a vertical one,” said Dasent. “It was vertical, lateral, with a little interesting dip to learn something new, and another vertical climb. I always say to people, you have to find roles where you actually learn and do something that is completely out of your scope.”

2) PURSUE PASSION OVER COMPENSATION

Though paycheques are a motivating factor, it’s the passion you have for your role and organization that should drive and sustain you, agree Dasent and Thangaraj.

“It’s important to find a job that is actually meaningful to you and that you actually find benefit in,” said Dasent. “Compensation is one part but when people look back at the driving [force behind] their role it’s satisfaction.”

“Compensation is important, but it becomes part of the package when your work is valuable,” added Thangaraj.

If dollars are top of mind, don’t be shortsighted, added Burke, who took a pay cut for a challenging opportunity that ended up being financially lucrative down the line.

“I learned not to chase the money. Not to chase the base salary,” said Burke. “For me it was always pay me the buck, but if I deliver, you are going to pay me this bonus. That was always my deal.”

3) HEED ADVICE FROM SUPERIORS

Don’t fall victim to “hindsight.” Advice that comes your way from mentors, superiors, or colleagues should be applied, they agree. Seek mentors who guide, offer opportunities and encourage you to assume aspects of the CFO role.

“You want to get to the point where you say [to the CFO], ‘Now I am doing everything, what are you doing,’” joked Burke.

Don’t be shy to speak up about your career intentions, and where you see yourself down the line. And ask for more responsibility, added Dasent.

“Make your ambitions actually known,” she said. “While you are pondering your broader career path, there are some techniques you can do to enhance and increase your learning even if you are not [yet] the [CFO] doing the presenting.”

4) FIND YOUR OWN VOICE

With experience comes confidence as an executive, and it’s no different in the role as a CFO. CFOs not only guide the business but help shape its story, they say. With this, it’s important to establish a voice in the organization, said Thangaraj.

“It’s really about how do you find your voice around the table that will add value to the business,” he said. “People listen when CFOs speak…when you speak on other issues, they hear what you have to say because of the perspective that you bring. You see the whole organization all the way across.”

Becoming an individual your employees trust, relate and look up to is another important aspect of the role, added Burke.

“You don’t want to sit behind your laptop, you want to be known as the CFO that walks the floor,” he said. “You have to be that individual. You have to find the time.”

BE IN THE KNOW WITH CPA CANADA

The ONE National Conference was held Sept. 23 and 24 in Montreal. To stay up-to-date on other events browse the listings for upcoming conferences, symposiums and forums.