It began as just a small, informal group of Boston area CFOs exchanging ideas over coffee and now, 10 years later, The CFO Leadership Council has emerged as a nationally renowned organization, serving the professional development and networking needs of financial executives across the country.
Here’s what founder Jack McCullough says about his visions and goals for the group, both today and in the next decade ahead:
What inspired you to form The CFO Leadership Council?
Working as a CFO for various venture-backed start ups through the years gave me the chance to see first-hand the main issues and concerns that many business leaders face on a daily basis. For networking purposes, I joined a national organization for financial executives and I must admit that it was very discouraging to discover that the only available programs for CFOs and controllers were much too focused on the needs of executives in large, big name companies. I also thought that the “educational programs” were thinly veiled infomercials, and there was not much peer networking. It seemed everyone in the room was there to sell me something. So, I guess it was my frustration with the limited scope of available programs that inspired me to form a separate group – one that was specially tailored to CFOs. After all, networking and ongoing education are essential for everyone in a leadership role.
How is The CFO Leadership Council different from other similar professional organizations?
As we always emphasize to our members, our programs are designed by CFOs, for CFOs, and typically focus on the people side of the business. Some of our most popular programs include Building High Performance Teams, The CEO/CFO Relationship, Working Effectively With Boards, and Leading A Multi-Generational Workforce. We regularly have workshops on negotiations and communications, and have had all day conferences, focusing exclusively on leadership.
Describe how The CFO Leadership Council has directly helped its members.
We have created a forum for the members to help each other. The CFOs are each other’s greatest resources, whether it is from the live meetings, or through our online communities. There is an amazing amount of knowledge around us, and we freely share with each other. We have a members-only online community, too, in which they can ask their peers for assistance in any challenges that they are facing. It’s a great one-of-a kind resource for them.
What are the particular skills or talents most essential for a CFO today?
The CFO role continues to evolve rapidly. Until relatively recently, the best accountant was generally promoted to CFO. However, that’s no longer the case. While financial and accounting skills remain paramount, the most successful CFOs are more heavily focused on company strategy and they serve as partners to their CEOs. There is also a greater emphasis on people skills. You cannot be a successful CFO if you are not a good leader and communicator.
Can you share any funny stories about your group?
My response to that question: We have a story for everything! Ten years ago, at our first official meeting, the program was cut short by an announcement that everyone was parked illegally and needed to move their cars immediately or they would be towed. Ok, so maybe that’s not funny. But, it’s embarrassing! And, if that wasn’t humiliating enough, I humbly asked attendees to contribute a few dollars to a donation jar for food and coffee during our first several meetings. Not my style, but you do what is necessary to make everything work at the time. Ok, again, maybe not so funny, but it sure was embarrassing when somebody actually took the jar and walked off with about sixty dollars! And, of course, nothing quite compares to our 2013 chapter kick off in New York when I was wincing in pain with a passing kidney stone and, then, left early to go to the emergency room. Well, at least everyone else was able to enjoy an evening of networking, socializing, and cocktails while I was being pumped with fluids on a hospital gurney.
So, maybe it’s more about the humbling situations that create the humorous stories. Regardless, I think that I can certainly say that there’s never a dull moment at The CFO Leadership Council!
Of what are you most proud as a result of The CFO Leadership Council?
Truthfully, it is difficult to choose just one thing. Looking back, though, I am always amazed every year by the support that we receive for our annual charity event, Boston CFO Social For A Cause. Providing support to The Wounded Warrior Project, Birthday Wishes, Cradles to Crayons, The Make-A-Wish Foundation, and, one of my personal favorites, Autism Speaks, really gave our group a chance to stand out. As the father of two sons who struggle daily with autism, I know now more than ever that helping others to achieve a better quality of life is one of the greatest ways to give and, as we band together as a group, I realize that we all have the ability to make a difference.
Who have been some of your favorite speakers over the years?
In the past few years, we have had some captivating speakers from the FBI, as well as some fantastic CFOs, who have shared their own success stories and inspired us with ideas – Julie Bradley, the CFO of TripAdvisor, and Brad Dickerson, of Under Armour, in particular stand out. We were also honored to have General Darryl Williams, who was in command of the U.S. Army Warrior Transition, and General L. Scott Rice, who was one of the heroes of the Boston Marathon bombings. Clearly two of the most inspirational speakers that I have ever heard!
You had a great first decade. Where do you see the group ten years from now?
I am aiming high, so I think that we will be international. Of course, there are still many more great American cities to explore, but, next, I would like to tap into the Canadian market, as there are plenty of growth opportunities in Toronto and Vancouver. And, in the not so distant future, I can see us in Buenos Aries, Hong Kong, and London. Then, after that, who knows where? With today’s technological advances, I could certainly envision us in every major city around the globe.
Who should join The CFO Leadership Council?
Membership is open to all senior financial executives, regardless of their company size and industry, so, I would not discourage anyone from joining. However, because first-time CFOs typically don’t have a strong peer network and have the greatest need to develop new skills, those individuals, especially, are the ones who should join our group. But, our membership benefits extend to everyone looking to expand their horizons. Come one, come all, as I like to say!
What can we expect this year?
There’s so much ahead for all of us! We are very excited about the launching of four new chapters this fall: Austin, Dallas, Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and South Florida. These additions will bring us to 16 chapters and give us a chance to reach out to our peers even further.