A desire for a more strategic finance chief, coupled with a shift in demographics, caused the Fortune 500 to change CFOs a total of 440 times in the past five years, according to a new study by Crist Partners, an executive recruiting firm headquartered in Chicago. In 1999, more than 120 CFO jobs are expected to turn over.
"The most important issue is that the function is changing," says Crist Partners president Peter Crist. "Companies are changing their structure. Many don't have a COO anymore. The CEO and CFO are working together as a unit. The disciplines needed for success are changing. Today, companies are looking for people with M&A experience, the ability to think strategically. A lot of this is contributing to companies saying they need different skill sets in the chair." In addition, Crist points to the increasing number of older, retiring CFOs and the surge in new companies in the past five years. Many of these companies pick the top financial talent from Fortune 500 companies, he adds. One prominent example: Amazon.com plucking Warren Jenson from Delta Airlines in September.
"The Fortune 500's bench is being wiped out," Crist says. "All these pre-IPO companies are looking for CFOs, and they always want someone that has taken a company public." Another interesting trend that the survey uncovered, says Crist, is the increasing number of CFOs that have been promoted into the CEO or COO slot. For example, Coca-Cola Enterprises CFO John R. Alm, who stepped up to co-COO this year.