Peloton’s new CEO was a CFO. But that trajectory doesn’t always work out well

Barry McCarthy, former chief financial officer for Spotify and Netflix, has been appointed CEO for embattled fitness company Peloton.

But former CFOs have a spotty record of success when it comes to taking the corporate reins.

Former Peloton CEO John Foley stepped down on Monday amid slowing growth and investor backlash. McCarthy’s job is to reset the company after the huge customer demand for its at-home exercise equipment during the pandemic has now subsided.

Some believe McCarthy’s appointment is exactly what Peloton needs. “Peloton has crashed,” Robert Kelley, a management professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, told Fortune’s Sheryl Estrada on Tuesday. “The company’s stock has taken a downturn; they’re laying people off.” 

Kelley is convinced that McCarthy’s background in finance can be a major contributor “to helping right the ship.”

This wouldn’t be the first time McCarthy has switched between top roles at a major company. After his time as CFO with Netflix and before taking on that position with Spotify, he was briefly chief operating officer at Clinkle, a mobile payments startup that failed in 2016 after repeated employee and investor complaints over its performance and unrealized promises by the company’s CEO, Lucas Duplan. McCarthy worked at the company for six months from October 2013 to March 2014.

Peloton’s stock has fallen over 80% since its peak in January 2021. The challenge now is to get its finances back in order and assess how to keep its products relevant.

But former CFOs haven’t always met expectations after becoming CEOs. A study by leadership consulting firm SpencerStuart released in December found that CFOs-turned CEOs were the least likely to overperform in their new roles when compared to new executives with other backgrounds.

According to the study, the CFO role tends to require different characteristics than what’s expected from CEOs. Financial officers lean more conservative in how they manage money and assets, since their job requires them to keep the company’s finances stable and trouble free. 

CEOs, on the other hand, are expected to be more adventurous and comfortable with uncertainty, adapting swiftly to shifts in market dynamics.

An unidentified former CFO quoted in the study who went on to have a successful career as a CEO advised people with similar career paths to adopt a broader understanding of their organizations outside of finances, and to learn how to tolerate and operate with higher levels of risk and uncertainty. “It’s very easy to spend time in the CFO lane as a new CEO,” the respondent said, while stressing that CFOs-turned-CEOs “have to put [their] energy disproportionately in other places.” 

But a CEO focusing on finances while trying to figure out the company’s future identity may be exactly what Peloton’s board wants.

“We all agree that Barry is uniquely suited to lead Peloton into its next chapter and that this leadership transition will best position Peloton for sustainable growth, profitability, and long-term success,” Karen Boone, lead independent director at Peloton, said in a statement announcing McCarthy’s appointment.

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