More Executives Saying 'No Thanks' to CFO Job

Some executives who long dreamt of seeing the title 'Chief Financial Officer' on their business cards are starting to wonder why they ever wanted the job in the first place.

The CFO job, thanks to regulatory changes and a push for greater accountability in corporate America, has changed dramatically over the last few years. More scrutiny, more pressure, a huge workload and the stress that goes along with it are causing some professionals to leave the fancy title behind, the New York Times reported.

E. Peter McLean, a vice chairman at Spencer Stuart, the executive search firm, told the Times that 62 CFOs at Fortune 500 companies had left their jobs this year through mid-November; by year-end, he expects that number to reach nearly 70, a total that would mirror last year's. Over the last three years, more than 225 CFOs of the Fortune 500 companies have left.

Departures at smaller or privately held companies are harder to count, but McLean believes the pace of departures is just as swift. Some are not necessarily leaving CFO positions, just companies. Others are getting out altogether.

Thomas B. Sager, for example, achieved his dream of becoming a CFO only to discover that the job didn't suit him. "I got tired of spending years defending strategies I knew were flawed, of working with values that weren't my own, of being responsible to chief executives and boards that were under huge pressure to perform," he said.

Two years ago, he quit as the chief financial officer of Zoots, a national chain of dry cleaners, and bought Tri-Valley Sports, a small sporting goods business in Medway, Mass., near his home.

CFO magazine suggests Sager is far from alone. The magazine recently asked 227 finance executives how their work lives had changed in the last two years: 68 percent said the pressures had increased; 53 percent said they were working more; 63 percent thought that work-related stress was hurting their health. About 40 percent blamed regulatory rules and staff cuts for their unhappiness. But more than half said their superiors' reactions to the new rules was more upsetting than the rules themselves. They said chief executives were demanding more information for planning and budgeting and were asking them to review their strategic decisions at earlier stages.

"Every CFO has been pushed at times to take something that is clearly black and white and color it a shade of gray," said Kenneth S. Goldman, an investment banker and former CFO. "But when the chief executive is shot at, he uses the chief financial officer as a human shield. Being a CFO has become one of the riskiest jobs in America."

Timothy B. Page resigned as Perry Ellis International's CFO to take the same job at a large tank-truck operator, Quality Distribution Inc. He quickly acknowledges that he spends less time on “fun” parts of his job because he must devote more time preparing, reviewing and releasing financial statements. Still, "it hasn't risen to the level of ruining my day," he said.

"The way I see it, if you're going to use the public's money to finance your business, you don't get to make the rules.”

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