3 CFOs explain how the role has evolved and what it takes to succeed

April 21, 2023, 11:08 AM UTC
Group of business people having a business meeting
Shannon Fagan for Getty Images

Good morning,

It’s no secret that the role of the CFO has been evolving.

From technology transformation to a focus on ESG reporting, many organizations are expanding the purview of CFOs. This is in addition to managing costs and profitability, investing in growth and talent, and holding people accountable. CFOs are key to driving strategies in their companies.

I recently had three separate conversations with the CFOs of Citigroup, Nanotronics, and Marriott International. I asked them about how the role is evolving and a pinnacle part of the job. Here’s what they shared.

Mark Mason, CFO at Citigroup:

“What I love about the CFO role, in many ways, is the partner role that it plays with the business. And I’ve been fortunate that every CEO that I have partnered with has viewed the role as a partner, from former Citigroup CEO Mike Corbat to current CEO Jane Fraser, but also when I was a segment CFO. There are some cycles where companies have focused on, ‘I want a controller type.’ There are other parts of the cycle where they focused on, ‘I want someone who is more of a strategic type.’ And other parts of the cycle, yet still, where ‘I want someone who is adept in financial management,’ different from a controller or accounting policy type.”

“When I think about those three types, I like to think of myself as a well-rounded CFO. I’ve held strategy roles. I’ve held finance roles. I’ve held CEO roles. And I think having done all of those things, makes me a more effective CFO, and a more credible CFO with my business partners because I understand how the business works. As the CFO role continues to evolve, understanding the processes that exist in a business, or exist in a function, end to end, I think is really important.”

Alice Globus, CFO at Nanotronics, a science technology company:

“At Nanotronics, we’re dealing with some of the most cutting-edge technology. When considering launching a new product or expanding into a new vertical, my educational background provides me with a better understanding of the potential ROI for ourselves and our customers. By speaking with customers and our R&D teams, I gain insight into their challenges, and I think I have a better understanding of how I can help facilitate them to do their job better.”

“I think the role of a CFO has changed pretty drastically over the past decade, and I believe it has changed even more over the past five years. You’re no longer looking at just your P&L and balance sheet and making decisions. They must also consider how cultural and technological influences can impact the financial decisions they make. If decisions hinder the company’s ability to improve its products, increase sales, and achieve other indicators of success, they’re actually doing a disservice.”

Leeny Oberg, EVP and CFO at Marriott International:

“The CFO role at Marriott has always been one that has been very much connected to the business overall. My predecessor was Carl Berquist. And his predecessor was Arne Sorenson, who’s our former CFO and then CEO. He was a lawyer before he became CFO. And he was a fabulous CFO, in terms of really looking at the entire business, not just a certain aspect of it. So, I’ve been fortunate in that regard. The role has always been considered kind of a broad financial partner, in addition to being absolutely responsible for the controls and processes and the financial reporting, particularly of a public company.”

“I kind of knew that as soon as I got to Marriott, it was going to be great to be working in a department where the CFO had that broad perspective on for helping with the strategy of the company. And marrying up this concept of the business strategies and the capital that it takes to make those strategies successful in the long term. Technology is another area of importance. The reality is that technology has only been accelerating in terms of the pace of change, which is something that the company has really needed to step up to the plate for.”


Have a good weekend. See you on Monday.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

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Big deal

A report by S&P Global Market Intelligence found that short sellers are turning away from consumer staple stocks as well as keeping bets against consumer discretionary near their 2022 highs. This signifies that "investors are turning to defensive stocks as interest rates rise and the odds of a recession remain elevated," according to the report. At the end of March, short interest in consumer discretionary stocks was at 5.8%, near its 6% average in 2022. Meanwhile, short interest in the consumer staples sector was at 3.4%, well below the average of 5.6% throughout 2022. 

Courtesy of S&P Global Market Intelligence

Going deeper

Here are a few Fortune weekend reads:

Tesla’s coming crash: As 7 analysts lower their price targets, one predicts the stock is heading to $28 by Shawn Tully

The Western housing market recession hit so hard and fast that a Fortune 500 firm that was riding high at $34 per share has crashed to $1 by Lance Lambert

No matter how much we hate it, email refuses to die. A.I. might resuscitate the 50-year-old technology and make it smarter by Trey Williams

Healthspan may be more integral to your well-being than lifespan. Here is how to lengthen it by Alexa Mikhail

Leaderboard

Here's a list of some notable moves this week:

Julianna Balicka was named EVP and CFO of Bancorp, Inc. (Nasdaq: HOPE), the holding company of Bank of Hope. David P. Malone, who stepped in as interim chief financial officer on Jan. 6, has agreed to stay on through April 30 to assist in the transition process. Balicka, age 45, most recently served as SVP, director of investor relations and corporate finance at East West Bank. Before that, Balicka was with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods as managing director of equity research. 

Kelly Dilts was promoted to EVP and CFO at Dollar General Corporation (NYSE: DG), effective May 1. John Garratt, the current president and CFO, will retain his role as president until his planned retirement on June 2. Since joining Dollar General in July 2019, Dilts has served as SVP of finance. Dilts has 30 years of experience in retail financial and strategic planning, operational finance, and controllership. Before joining Dollar General, she served as EVP and CFO at Francesca’s Holdings Corporation. 

Ari Fischel was named CFO at At-Bay, an insurance provider for the digital age. Fischel brings more than 20 years of experience. He was most recently CFO of Capital-Rx, a health-tech company. Before Capital-Rx, Fischel served as VP of finance and accounting for Oscar Health. Prior to Oscar, Fischel served in senior finance and leadership roles for The Nielsen Company and General Electric.

Brad Lakhia was named EVP and CFO at KAR Auction Services, Inc. DBA KAR Global (NYSE: KAR), an operator of digital marketplaces for wholesale used vehicles. Lakhia brings more than 25 years of experience. Most recently, he served as VP of finance, Americas for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Before Goodyear, Lakhia held leadership roles with Andeavor (formerly Tesoro and now part of Marathon Petroleum Corporation), overseeing business planning and analysis as well as treasury and credit.

Carl Mellander, CFO at Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC), will step down at the end of the first quarter of 2024. Mellander has been with Ericsson for over 25 years and CFO for seven years. A recruitment process will be initiated to appoint a successor. "If there was ever a good time for me to move on to new career adventures, I feel that this moment is it, and I am excited about what the future might bring," Mellander said in a statement.

Jake Petkovich, EVP of finance and CFO and treasurer at Patrick Industries, Inc. (Nasdaq: PATK) will step down in May to accept a senior leadership position with another company. Petkovich has served as CFO of Patrick since November 2020. Matthew Filer will serve as interim CFO effective upon Petkovich's departure. Filer joined the company in November 2022 as SVP of finance.

Jesus Portillo was named CFO at Mondee Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: MOND), a technology-driven, next-generation marketplace, effective immediately. Portillo brings more than 20 years of experience. He held senior finance roles within WPP PLC (NYSE: WPP), for 18 years, including CFO of multiple subsidiaries across the United States, Latin America, and Europe. Before his appointment to the CFO role at Mondee, Portillo held the position of global CFO at ThriveDX Digital Skills Training. 

Overheard

"It's certainly going to have some implications on the employment of financial analyst landscape. The question is, do I want to pay analysts? Or can I just put textual information in a model?”

—Alejandro Lopez-Lira, a finance professor at the University of Florida, told CNBC that large language models like ChatGPT may be useful when forecasting stock prices.

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