The CFO: Becoming a Strategic Partner

Program Overview

Today, financial rigor and strategic insight must be tightly linked, since strategic financial leadership is in high demand. Increasingly, CFOs are being called upon not only to drive cost efficiencies but also to identify profitable sources of revenue growth. They work closely with CEOs to creatively design future growth opportunities. Successful CFO leadership requires a deeper understanding of strategy, increased leadership skills, and an ability to effectively communicate financial acumen and knowledge to nonfinancial colleagues. In The CFO: Becoming a Strategic Partner, you will not only learn and adopt those critical skills, but also use them to elevate your leadership role.

Program Experience

Highlights and Key Outcomes

In The CFO: Becoming a Strategic Partner, you will:

  • Expand your leadership skills and increase your capacity as a trusted advisor
  • Develop more effective operational strategies for building value in and managing operational risk throughout your organization
  • Manage risk and uncertainty
  • Leverage a suite of tools to identify and drive profitable sources of revenue growth
  • Think creatively and design opportunities to position your company for the future

Experience & Impact

Increasingly, CFOs are expected to be more strategic decision makers in the business, as noted by the growing trend of promoting chief financial officers to the CEO role, which has occurred in recent years at companies like UPS, PepsiCo, and Siemens AG in recent years.

The program elevates the CFO role to one of a “value integrator,” a term coined by IBM in its Global CEO Study to describe the best-performing CFOs. These leaders excel at taking highly unstructured and somewhat ambiguous situations and putting structure around them by integrating information from numerous internal sources. You will enhance your ability to forecast, measure, and monitor business performance; manage risk; and generate predictive insights.

Wharton faculty apply their field-based research and the latest strategic insights to help you broaden your perspective on how to make your organization more competitive.

The program offers a strategic toolbox to help you be a better advisor to and decision maker for your company. Wharton creates a live lab where you and your peers, also seasoned CFOs, learn from real-life case examples and apply frameworks to different situations that go beyond the profit and loss statement — enabling you to drive strategic investments for the future. You will leave the program better equipped to handle internal and external pressures, including the growing role of activist shareholders.

In sum, this program enables you to focus more externally on the fast-paced changes that are redefining your business and be viewed as key member of the executive leadership team.

Session topics include:

  • Link Between Corporate Strategy and Value Creation
    • Driving Organic Growth
    • Measuring Performance
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creating and Sustaining Competitive Advantage
  • Strategy Audit and Connected Strategy
  • Managing Flexibility Using Real Options
  • Strategic Persuasion
  • Designing the Corporate Portfolio

Through highly interactive lectures, exercises, and case studies, both in the classroom and in smaller work groups, this deep dive into strategy will examine how CFOs have created competitive advantage in a global context.

Overall, you will learn how to:

  • Enhance your strategic thinking skills outside traditional areas such as accounting and finance
  • Bolster your leadership skills to better communicate with nonfinancial colleagues
  • Be a better decision maker who can assess disparate data from many areas of your company and help the CEO, board, and other leaders create a long-term path forward

Convince Your Supervisor

Here’s a justification letter you can edit and send to your supervisor to help you make the case for attending this Wharton program.

Who Should Attend

The CFO: Becoming a Strategic Partner is designed for senior financial executives responsible for developing and implementing strategy as part of their leadership roles. Participants may include chief financial officers, vice presidents, controllers, and other senior financial executives with strategic and financial responsibilities.

Participants in this program are a diverse group of finance leaders from varied industries, backgrounds, and geographies who share their biggest challenges with the class. Faculty tailor the program content to address these issues, so participants enjoy a learning experience that truly resonates with them and meets their learning needs.

Participants leave the program with an expanded peer network, plus specific tools and frameworks they can use to make a meaningful strategic impact within their companies or organizations.

Fluency in English, written and spoken, is required for participation in Wharton Executive Education programs unless otherwise indicated.


Participant Profile

Participants by Industry

The CFO participants by industry

Participants by Job Function

The CFO participants by job function

Participants by Region

The CFO participants by region


Plan your stay in Philadelphia

Plan Your Stay

This program is held at the Steinberg Conference Center located on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. Meals and accommodations are included in the program fees. Learn more about planning your stay at Wharton’s Philadelphia campus.


Group Enrollment

To further leverage the value and impact of this program, we encourage companies to send cross-functional teams of executives to Wharton. We offer group enrollment benefits to companies sending four or more participants.

FAQs

What is strategy?

Strategy is the intersection of your customers, your competition, and your company. It is a roadmap for where you want to compete as an organization and how you plan to win in that space.

How can I craft a strategy?

To craft a strategy, you need to start with an in-depth market analysis. Identify the customer segments that are available, which competitors are already in those spaces, and how you want to position your business in order to be successful.

How can I build a strategic plan?

A strategic plan converts your strategy into action, and includes both resource allocation and execution. It clarifies the investments you will make in order to execute on the strategy over a period of time.

How can I measure the performance of my business?

There are financial and nonfinancial performance metrics that can be linked together to provide a snapshot of overall performance. Financial performance measures include margin, return on capital, and capital productivity. Nonfinancial measures include data about employees, teams, and customers. Taken together, these metrics provide a view of your performance internally, externally, and from a shareholder’s perspective.

What are things a new CFO should know?

CFOs typically migrate from roles in accounting, bookkeeping, or treasury, so they need to be prepared to transition to a more strategic mindset. In addition to more expected responsibilities such as closing the books and performing internal audits, they must support and partner with the CEO in decision making, and work with the board by providing a financial perspective of the business. The role of CFO also includes identifying, engaging, and retaining talent — skills most of those new to the role have not yet developed.

New CFOs’ responsibilities also include engaging with business leaders such as the head of marketing or an international business unit — leaders over whom the CFO does not have direct authority. CFOs must also work with the board of directors, external partners, and other stakeholder groups that represent a range of perspectives. Bringing them to a consensus that meets the company’s goals without direct authority requires strong influence and persuasion skills.

What is the role of finance in strategy?

Strategy is about making resource allocation and execution decisions today that support the company’s goals and will impact the business in the long term. The finance team, led by the CFO, quantifies the investments in resources both today and in terms of their future impact.

How do I use options in strategy?

Because markets and customers change so quickly today, no strategic plan lasts for more than a few months. Companies instead look to make small bets that will give them the ability to compete in multiple scenarios, or options, tomorrow. From a financial perspective, the CFO needs to understand how to value those options using Real Options Analysis (ROA) or Real Options Valuation (ROV) techniques, which are very different from traditional capital allocation.

When should a company acquire another business?

A critical value driver for every company is its ability to grow. Often, they won’t have the tools, skills, or other capabilities needed to compete. Building them internally can be slow, so, although it is expensive, acquisition is sometimes the preferred method for getting necessary capabilities. Acquisitions are less about becoming a larger company and more about amassing the right tools, skills, and customers needed to compete successfully.

When should I divest a business?

Many companies hold on to poor performers for too long. Evaluating your portfolio should be a continuous process to find businesses that either lack momentum or are no longer a good fit. Finding a better owner in these situations makes sense, because the problems get worse over time.

How often should a company engage in strategic planning?

As markets move quickly, consumer purchasing behaviors change, and competitors build new capabilities, strategic planning must be a continuous process. Instead of developing a five-year plan, companies must stay true to their core — the way they differentiate and position themselves in the market — while developing smaller sets of strategic initiatives more frequently.

What are the levels of strategic planning?

There are two levels of strategic planning, both of which are important. The first is corporate strategy, which is done by the senior leadership team including the CFO. This strategy is about what the overall portfolio should look like and how individual business units are synergistic with one another and the overall strategy.

The second level is business unit strategy, which is more about positioning the business in terms of the competition and customers. The CFO is responsible for partnering with business units in creating their strategies because they might not have the necessary skills. They must make sure the business units articulate their strategy for positioning themselves and that their strategies are consistent with the corporate strategy.

What are business growth strategies?

The most powerful ways that large companies can grow are pivoting toward momentum and innovating. Markets are always shifting, and customers are always changing, which means some businesses fade while others have momentum. Companies must continuously scan for pockets of growth in their markets and reallocate resources to capture them.

Innovation means either creating markets that didn’t exist before, or providing better service in existing markets to capture share over time. One drawback to innovation is that a new product or customer experience can be easily imitated, but it remains a powerful avenue for growth.

How is growth defined and measured?

Growth is defined and measured differently depending on the company. The easiest place to start is with revenue, but in some industries revenue is too volatile, so another measure must be used. In general, measuring growth is about whether a company is getting bigger over time, capturing more markets and customers. For example, in oil and gas, because gas prices fluctuate, growth is driven (and measured) by the ability to explore and find oil.

What are the vitals of business profitability?

Profitability is based on price and cost: can you generate a price higher than your peers through better products and services? If you meet customer needs more effectively than your competition, you can charge a premium price and increase profitability.

Profitability is also dependent on productivity and utilization: how good are your employees at what they do, and do they have enough opportunities to do it often? Profitable companies are both productive and highly utilized.

What are key management metrics?

Different metrics are used for different parts of a business. In terms of customers, a key metric is retention rates. For internal employees and teams, metrics involve engagement, turnover, and productivity. Financial metrics include revenue growth and return on capital.

How do I build a world-class financial organization?

CFOs are responsible for hiring, engaging, and retaining a group of direct reports of up to 200 people or more, depending on the organization. They need to set the right culture that prioritizes efficient execution while avoiding problems such as fraud. But they also need to encourage curiosity in addition to closure. World-class CFOs develop a team of talented individuals who are enabled to grow professionally from bookkeepers to consultants. The bar is set high, but the resources are available for team members to reach it.

Faculty


David Wessels

David Wessels, PhDSee Faculty Bio

Academic Director

Adjunct Professor of Finance, The Wharton School


Emilie Feldman

Emilie Feldman, PhDSee Faculty Bio

Associate Professor of Management, The Wharton School

Research Interests: Corporate governance, corporate strategy, diversification, divestitures, firm scope, spinoffs


Itay Goldstein

Itay Goldstein, PhDSee Faculty Bio

Joel S. Ehrenkranz Family Professor; Professor of Finance; Professor of Economics; Coordinator of PhD Program, The Wharton School

Research Interests: Corporate finance, financial fragility and crises, financial markets


Nicolaj Siggelkow

Nicolaj Siggelkow, PhDSee Faculty Bio

David M. Knott Professor; Professor of Management; Co-Director, Mack Institute for Innovation Management, The Wharton School

Research Interests: Competitive strategy, firms as systems of interconnected choices

Testimonials


Since I work in the public/nonprofit sectors, there are few resources for professional development. As such, I was attracted to the opportunity to take advantage of Wharton’s Lifelong Learning benefit for Wharton alumni, in particular this CFO program, since it is so tailored to my work.

I thought the program was good, very well organized and well carried out. I had actually studied with David Wessels, who heads up the program, during my Wharton MBA. He’s a very good professor and I also enjoyed talking to him on the side. The course incorporated real-world information that went beyond just building a model. It provided knowledge that was really helpful for people actually responsible for the function or the organization, such as human resource considerations and how to create a well-run finance division. I thought it did a good job of that.

One of the best things was being able to meet CFOs from around the world in different industries. You find out that even though they might be doing banking in Nigeria as opposed to a nonprofit in California, you actually have similar concerns. Breaking out into teams and working through the cases together enabled opportunities to learn from each other. And I really appreciated the use of real case examples around what drives company growth, and how you make trade-offs.

When you're just running around day-to-day trying to keep an organization going, it's hard to step back and think about how to be strategic. So sometimes just literally taking the time to do it, like through this course, serves as a reminder that you should try to think strategically more often.

As a Wharton MBA, it was great to be back on campus. I think that encouraging Wharton alums to do these programs is a really nice gesture by the school. It ties you back and engages you with the university, and it’s good for people to have that opportunity to reconnect.”

Emily SchwarzAssistant Dean & Chief Financial Officer, UC Berkeley School of Public Health


The CFO: Becoming a Strategic Partner was fantastic — from the instructors, to the material, to all the folks participating from various walks of industry life and from many countries. I was completely wowed. The faculty was second to none. In addition to the excellent teaching and case studies, the professors had a great ability to encourage discussion. You felt that the instructors, as well as the class, were very approachable, and there was an open flow of communication, creativity, and exchange of ideas. That really made it more than just an instructional program. There were a lot of leaders from different industries offering insights that case studies don’t necessarily cover. It really completed my understanding.

After the course, I brought back to my own team at work the kind of out-of-the-box thinking and open style of discussion that we were trained in at Wharton. As a result, I and my team have more productive meetings, even when there’s a limited time frame.

After having the CFO program experience, I’d definitely go back to Wharton for other classes, and would also recommend Wharton to others. Some other Ivy League programs may be capturing theories, but Wharton has the skill of really putting the thought and the theory into practice."

Leonard ClappCFO, Chief Compliance Officer, NASW Risk Retention Group, NASW Insurance Company


As finance director at Tenneco, I oversee the financials for our sealing and gaskets product line. I have the full scope of responsibility for both the P&L and the balance sheet. I found the Wharton CFO course through my supervisor, who had taken it a few years earlier and strongly recommended it. I had been looking for something to help me approach finance in a more strategic way.

I thought the program was very good. The combination of lecture and group work allowed you to learn something and then go and immediately apply it. In some of the breakout sessions we talked about applying the lessons in our current positions or at our companies, which was helpful.

I particularly appreciated the section about strategic evaluations and considering different options. It combined traditional financial metrics with looking more at strategy: thinking about where you compete in different markets and how that influences your market share and ultimate financial success.

The faculty was very engaging and dynamic. They did a good job of making the course interactive. And networking with other participants is always a good thing. I found working with people from different cultures and backgrounds, in various industries, very valuable. It was also helpful to me that there were a couple of people from manufacturing as I was. Overall, I would highly recommend the course.”

Jennifer MossFinance Director, Tenneco

Date, Location, & Fees

May 11 – 15, 2020Philadelphia, PA$13,650

October 26 – 30, 2020Philadelphia, PA$13,650


Download the program schedule, including session details.

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Hotel Information

Fees for this program include accommodations and meals. Prices are subject to change.

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Contact Us

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