Senior Vice President Vs. CFO

A CFO is a number cruncher but with solid business leadership experience.

A CFO is a number cruncher but with solid business leadership experience.

Companies can assign any title to an employee position they want; you may run across a manager of happiness at one company and the more traditional manager of human resources at another. Some company leaders have banished job titles, opting instead to give the same moniker to everyone. Senior vice president and CFO -- chief financial officer -- titles are traditional ones. A major difference between the two is that you can find a senior vice president position in many different business areas, but a CFO is always in finance and has the keys to the corporate safe.

A VP Can Pick Her Career Passion

Organizations can place a senior vice president position in any department: operations, human resources, marketing and sales are a few examples. This versatility gives you entree into an executive management position regardless of your career choice -- if you majored in public relations or communications, you can work your way up to senior vice president of communications, while your business major friend can aspire to be a senior vice president of operations. There is no educational requirement to being a senior VP -- just plenty of experience and a history of success.

Senior Level, Senior Responsibilities

As a senior vice president you’re taking on responsibility for an entire department. That means if you have goals to reach and you don’t, there’s no one to take the fall for you: you’re responsible, you can’t excuse the failure away and you could lose your job, depending on how critical each goal is to the success of the entire organization. You’ll also set a lot of those goals yourself, so being realistic is important. You’ll be an important member of the executive management team and may be grouped in with what is called the C-suite -- executives traditionally denoted with “Chief” in their titles, but not always. You’ll contribute to the direction of the entire organization and then set your department’s individual strategies for getting there. You may report to directly to the CEO or to another senior executive. A senior vice president of finance, for example, could realistically report to the CFO. Overall, at this level you are focused more on the big picture of management and less on the daily activities that you would expect to do fresh out of college.

Financial and Business Guru

The CFO is a key member of the C-suite and of the entire organization. This isn’t just a glorified accounting job, even though that may be where and how you get your start. CFOs understand -- or have to predict -- how every move the organization makes will impact it financially. An example is opening a branch office or another store. You will have responsibility for everything from the accounting department, to wooing and reporting to investors. That means keeping up with tax requirements, and if your company is a publicly traded one, knowing all applicable investor relations laws.

Right-Hand Woman

If being a CFO is your career goal, expect to be consulted often on key business matters. It may feel like you and the CEO are joined at the hip in running the company. In fact, for a young company seeking investments or bank loans, the name on that CFO nameplate is important -- lenders and investors will look at the depth and extent of her experience as they consider the financial risks and rewards of handing over their money. Be prepared to have at least have a bachelor’s degree, backed up by years of experience. It helps if you are a certified public accountant or have an MBA.

 

About the Author

Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.

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