Outside Controllers Rarely Promoted to CFO

New research reveals that less than 5 percent of chief financial officers hired from outside their company were controllers.

The survey by executive search firm Korn Ferry International shows that the number of Fortune 500 CFOs hired from outside of their new companies totals 190. Of that number, 58 percent were chosen from within the ranks of existing corporate or divisional CFOs, with just 4 percent of controllers chosen.

The survey of external CFO hires also included the following results:

  • 17 percent of big company finance chiefs were CFOs and general managers immediately before being named to the CFO slot

  • 9 percent of CFOs were senior financial generalists

  • 3 percent of CFOs were treasurers

  • 4 percent were involved in strategy and corporate development

  • 5 percent came from "other" disciplines

The numbers were dramatically different for 310 big companies that promoted insiders to the CFO spot. Thirty-three percent of the insiders were controllers, demonstrating strong succession planning in those companies.

Among the insiders promoted at Fortune 500 companies, the study revealed that:

  • 19 percent were former treasurers

  • 14 percent were one-time senior financial generalists

  • CEOs, and general managers, and divisional CFOs, each accounted for 10 percent of the promotions

  • 8 percent of the CFOs were promoted after heading up strategy and corporate development roles

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