4 tips to get you from CFO to COO

finance team

I recently sat down for a casual chat with a friend who is now a COO, and as we talked I realized I was being given a playbook on how CA, CMA and CGA professionals like you can transition from finance to operations. During our lengthy conversation we talked about the beginning of his career all the way to the present day, and he spent some time outlining how his own work-life had taken different turns as he continually reinvented himself.   Read the  insights into making the leap from CFO to COO and get better equipped to make a career move.

 1.  Do it from within your own company – it is a hell of a lot easier
In your organization you should already have some credibility and if you don’t, then you can start creating  some.  Your own company is already invested in you and (most) people there will want to see you succeed.  Having previous credibility in your job as an accountant can go a long way when you make mistakes, or if you need to ask for help when you get into new territory. It is almost impossible to change functional responsibility at the same time you are changing companies – it is a rare person that will take that risk on you.

Having previous credibility in your job as an accountant can go a long way when you make mistakes…

2.  If you are in a CFO job, expand the nature of that job.
Go to trade shows, go to sales meetings and sponsor some accounts as an account manager.  A key part of a COO / President / GM role is working with customers – often helping with sales, but certainly having the credibility and experience to meet with customers. Nobody is going to stop you from broadening your scope, as everyone wants their CFO to be their business partner and have a keen understanding of their challenges.

…everyone wants their CFO to be their business partner and have a keen understanding of their challenges.

The goal is to understand the business beyond the numbers and for people to have faith in the judgment that you bring to the table.  When people see you in a broader light they will feel comfortable with you changing positions in the future.  If you only work as an accountant, do the numbers at the end of the month and don’t stretch yourself,  then you won’t have the right internal brand.

3.  As a CFO, make sure that you solve some operational business problems. 
Start solving operational issues early in your career and get involved in projects.  Example:  Your company is opening a daycare facility and you can be the involved as part of a broader team.  Get involved as the finance contact but try negotiating contracts and work with the vendor to ensure proper service delivery.

If you have a chance, immerse youself in the sales process alongside the team.  Watch how your organization pitches and wins business and look for opportunities to help them execute more effectively.

Watch how your organization pitches and wins business and look for opportunities to help them execute more effectively.

4.  Take Risks: The thing to remember after you land in your new operations position.
Take calculated risks in the COO position and don’t revert to being the finance guy that traditionally advises why you shouldn’t do something.  You are driving the business in a different way when you are in a general management role than when you are in finance.   In a way, you have to re-program yourself because the view from ops is about enabling growth around every corner.

In a way, you have to re-program yourself because the view from ops is about enabling growth around every corner.

Moment of Clarity:   I think that anyone who commits to those 4 steps will find an easier time transitioning to operations and succeeding in the new position.  Remember to keep taking on challenges that increase your scope.  You will find that others start to notice your abilities and connect with you as a problem solver.