“Driver” CFOs may be in the Driver’s Seat
By Greg Dickinson
Increasing business complexity over the last decade has driven dramatic changes in CFOs’ roles and responsibilities. These shifts have had a marked impact on both the personality types of people now in CFO roles, and also in the way CFOs partner with CEOs.
The working styles of both CFOs and CEOs show concentration around particular personality types, and some CEO/CFO personality pairings are likely to be more complementary, and possibly more durable, than others.
In a recent Deloitte CFO Signals survey, we asked ninety-one large company CFOs to choose from among four choices that best described their dominant working style. Half of the financial executives surveyed considered themselves “Drivers,” which reflected a style that was analytical, logical, experimental, determined, decisive, direct, tough-minded, competitive, and pragmatic. Some 30 percent of the CFOs surveyed self-identified as “Guardians,” which meant they considered themselves concrete, process/detail oriented, meticulous, traditional, calm, socially connected, loyal, and conscientious. The remaining 20 percent of CFOs surveyed were evenly split between “Pioneers” or “Integrators.”
Those same CFOs saw their CEOs somewhat differently, with one-third of CFOs characterizing their CEOs as “Drivers” and another one-third as “Pioneers” (the least common CFO style). “Pioneers” are defined as adventurous, creative, interested in new experiences, high energy, spontaneous, optimistic, and adaptable.
The actual distribution of personality types in our data is summarized in the table below.
How the CFO and CEO styles are paired within large companies may tell us something about which styles are most complementary and most durable over time. While the high prevalence of “Driver” CFOs and both “Driver” and “Pioneer” CEOs had a large impact on the observed pairings, Deloitte’s analysis noted a few pairing patterns that did not match expectations if the pairing were to be random. For example, while the prevalence of “Driver” CFOs and CEOs would be expected to result in common Driver/Driver pairings (which it did), the rate of this pairing was only 70 percent of what would be expected based on mathematical probabilities. Moreover, the Pioneer CEO/Driver CFO pairings were 20 percent more common than expected, and the Driver CEO/Guardian CFO pairings were 25 percent more likely than expected. And two pairings didn’t occur at all. The expected pairings based on random assignment are summarized in the table below.
The data suggests under prevailing business conditions having a Driver in the relationship is important. Nearly three-fourths of all observed CEO/CFO pairings involved at least one Driver – an interesting finding given that only 42% of these executives are Drivers. It may be that Drivers are the most versatile when it comes to amicable pairings – pairing relatively well with all styles including their own or Drivers are just essential to drive execution as part of the CEO-CFO pairing. In contrast, “Guardian” CFOs appeared to pair more frequently than expected with “Driver” CEOs, but less than expected with other Guardians. And, “Integrator” CFOs were twice as likely as expected to be paired with “Driver” CEOs, and they rarely paired with other types.
Overall, it appears that “Driver” CFOs may be in the proverbial driver’s seat. Their above-average flexibility in pairing with CEO types may give them more career opportunities, better CEO working relationships, and better ability to absorb CEO changes. It may help them reach and succeed in future CEO roles as well.
Response from an Industry Leader
Director at Deloitte
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Effective CEO-CFO relationships provide a key foundation for CFOs to be happy in their job and successfully execute initiatives. Having led over thirty CFO transition labs, it is clear that personality matters. CFO transition lab activities help CFOs to be aware of their own dominant personality traits and the traits of key stakeholders. We help the CFO think through how to adapt key communications so they are effective with their stakeholders - CEO and otherwise. Guardian CEO/Driver CFO or Pioneer CEO/Guardian CFO often creates the most challenging pairings – but awareness and adaptation of communications can go a long way to mutual understanding and successful relationships.
 Deloitte’s CFO Transition Lab workshops help select client CFOs frame their priorities, assess their organization, navigate key relationships and frame a 180 day work plan to successfully “take the reins” in a new CFO role.
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