Turning Finance Managers into Strategic Business Partners

The Challenge

Chief financial officers (CFOs) must master more than cash flow and revenue models; they must be strategic partners in the business.

Research indicates that there is a growing gap between the importance of core finance responsibilities and broader strategic questions affect a company’s long-term success. When surveyed, CFOs frequently say CFOs say their finance organizations are not effective in the areas of strategy, information integration, and risk and opportunity management.

In today's finance matrix organizations, managers report to a local business unit leader and a corporate CFO — a structure that can create distrust with their primary client. 

“In this post–Sarbanes-Oxley world, it continues to be important to provide high-quality, transparent information on what has happened in the past. But, at the same time, CFOs and other finance leaders feel they’re being pulled more and more to work with business unit leaders to find growth opportunities.”

“Often, finance people are not playing the right role in those conversations that they should be playing. They need to think more strategically and to be proactive as trusted advisors to the business.”

The Goals

The Wharton School offers a comprehensive five-day Executive Education program, The CFO: Becoming a Strategic Partner, that can be customized for an organization. The program is designed to elevate finance leaders' business acumen, strategic thinking, and communications skills.

Wharton has delivered a customized version of the program to major oil and gas, consumer goods, manufacturing, and aerospace and defense firms, including Schlumberger. During the past three years, more than 100 Schlumberger finance managers have completed the program, gaining:

  • Financial tools and techniques to enhance their financial acumen
  • Enhanced understanding of underlying business drivers
  • Frameworks and tools to enhance decision making
  • Insights to elevate themselves into more effective strategic business partners

The CFO Solution

During the program, managers explored their roles as business advisors during strategic decisions. Participants gained critical skills to help them drive their business forward, including:

  • New ways to use financial tools to help non-finance colleagues see if a strategy or investment will succeed.
  • Frameworks that expand participants' strategic thinking skills and make them proactive, rather than reactive, advisors.
  • Techniques to simplify the technical jargon of finance and communicate financial insights to non-financial leaders with greater impact.

“Wharton’s CFO works very well because we have a team of faculty that excels in all three of these areas. These faculty help functional managers think more strategically, communicate even technical concepts more clearly, and know finance and the key determinants that will make an investment or other strategy successful.”

The Impact

From the team-building exercise to the course content to the sessions that focused on influence and persuasion,  finance managers from Paris-based Schlumberger, the world's leading oilfield services provider, are using program learnings to influence company leaders on the financial implications of key decisions.

Participants already report the program's positive impact, which has enabled them to:

  • Move from being cost reduction oriented to being growth oriented.
  • Use valuation tools in new ways to assess the performance of the business, especially during the bidding process.
  • Realize how the organizational structure of the business can affect the way people behave.
  • Adapt their communication skills to more effectively influence and persuade others inside and outside the organization.

Would you like to learn more?

To find out how Wharton Executive Education can help your company achieve its own customized solution, please contact Alyssa Greco, Associate Director, Client Relations — Custom Programs, +1.215.746.8093 or customprograms@wharton.upenn.edu.