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It’s not just about numbers – strategic planning and people skills add up for CFOs


CFOs are no longer hired purely for their abilities with numbers and analytics, with strong strategic planning and people skills equally as important says recruiting experts Hays in Malaysia.

According to a survey of 145 CFOs, conducted for the recruiter’s ‘DNA of a CFO’ report, strategic planning, people management and commercial acumen are three important skills for any successful CFO.

“Compared to 15 to 20 years ago, people skills and general management capabilities are a much bigger part of the selection process,” says Christine Wright, Managing Director of Hays in Asia. “CFOs are certainly no longer hired purely for their abilities with numbers and analytics – although of course this has to be an underlying technical strength – but added to the classic skills mix is an increasing requirement for a whole range of different competencies.”

According to the Hays survey, 58% of CFOs say strategic planning is the most important skill for a CFO to have. People management took second place (52%), reflecting the CFO’s role as a leader, influencer and negotiator. Commercial acumen ranked third with 42% of the vote.

“The importance placed on strategic planning and commercial acumen can perhaps explain why so many CFOs go on to become MDs or CEOs, or take a calculated risk to set up their own business ventures,” says Christine.

“It also explains why many CFOs take on roles outside finance on their way to the top finance job. A general management position can certainly give an up-and-coming CFO a more strategic mindset and understanding of how other departments operate – which can put you in a stronger position when you do become CFO. It’s important for a CFO to stay close to the business, and commercial awareness is essential if you want to be a successful business partner,” she said.

“Meanwhile the importance of people skills is understandable when you consider that CFOs manage large teams and also need to know how to present numbers to non-financial people in easily digestible pieces.”

The Hays survey also showed that 20% of CFOs believe that the sales function is the single most important discipline for them to partner with. This is followed by operations (16%) and marketing/
communications (6%). IT (4%), legal/compliance (4%) and HR (3%) all trail some way behind the strategic importance put on working hand-in-hand with sales and operations.

But 47% of CFOs indicated that it is important for the finance department to partner with all of these departments.


145 finance professionals were surveyed face to face over November 2014 and January 2015. The majority held the position of CFO, while a small percentage indicated their current job title was Finance Director, Group, Divisional or Regional Finance Director, Director of Finance, Head of Finance or GM of Finance.

Respondents were based across Singapore (25%), Hong Kong (12%), Malaysia (10%), China (28%) and Japan (25%). 55 per cent work in commercial or industry organisations. These CFOs were asked about their educational background, qualifications, international experience, responsibilities, challenges and personal aspirations. In addition we held in-depth interviews with CFOs across Asia whose profiles appear in the report. Please visit

Hays is located in Kuala Lumpur at Suite 4 & 5, Level 23, Menara 3, Petronas, Kuala Lumpur City Centre. Phone +60 3 2786 8600 or email

Hays, the world’s leading recruiting experts in qualified, professional and skilled people.

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For further information please contact Lucy Sharp, Regional Head of Marketing at Hays, on +61 2 8226 9885 or



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