Fast Forward To The Past – Guidance For Your Younger Financial Self

Advice from Stuart Pasternak, Toronto Regional Director, CFO Leadership Council

Stuart Pasternak, Toronto Regional Director, The CFO Leadership Council

As a financial executive, we have been on a long journey and gained many insights.  If you could turn back time and share our knowledge with your younger self, would you have made the same choices? Would you take the same paths? Is hindsight 20/20?

The past month I surveyed over 1,000 CFO’s across North America and asked them to answer one simple question. “As a financial executive, what would you do now that you wish you did when you first started?”

 “As a financial executive, what would you do now
that you wish you did when you first started?”
~ Stuart Pasternak, Toronto Regional Director, CFOLC

So, in the interest of all the future CFO’s, I have summarized the top themes as follows:

  1. Communicate, network and build relationship – Communication is not just words, but what we say and how we say it. Don’t just talk, listen closely to what others are saying.  Network with your peers, C-suites, and collaborate with other professionals. This will help you gain exposure to new ideas and build those relations that will help you get your next position(s).
  2. Define your “executive presence” – how we engage, inspire, align and move people to act. When you interact with others, focus on your composure, connections, charisma, credibility, clarity, conciseness, and appearance.
  3. Learn, learn, learn – it’s great to spend time learning the technical stuff, but get out of your office and learn the business. Take in as much knowledge as you can and be open to constructive criticism. Put it all together and start thinking like a general manager and not an accountant.
  4. Update your resume regularly, especially after every major accomplishment – follow the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) principle. This is a live document and should be the basis of your brag book, ready to deploy at any time.
  5. Maintain a work-life. Find time for yourself to avoid burnout.  Get a hobby.
  6. Focus on analyzing data and telling the story behind the numbers – not just digging into the details and presenting the numbers.
  7. Think proactively not historically. We are not financial historians anymore, but financial fortune tellers, so we need to be able to guide the organization forward.
  8. Get a mentor/coach. A mentor/coach will help you define your career goals and objective and develop a path to achieve them. Secondly, a mentor/coach can teach you new ways of thinking and help you develop new skills that will allow you to each your goals – creating the career you want.
  9. Develop a career plan focusing on 3-4-year intervals – your career is a long journey made up of many short sprints. The average tenure of a CFO is only three
  10. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Maintain your strengths and work on turning your weakness into strengths.
  11. Build a strong team around you – your success is not based upon your accomplishments but the accomplishments of your team.

“Eventually, everything boils down to hard work” – Peter Drucker

Starting your journey to becoming a CFO requires focus, discipline, and handwork.  “Eventually, everything boils down to hard work” – Peter Drucker

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The CFO Leadership Council offers both live & online programs that feature expert panels and interactive sessions that drive meaningful conversation and leadership development among our membership. Our collection of leadership development resources similar to this article contain pragmatic insights and advice sourced directly from our members and industry experts.  Recordings of CFOLC webcasts are made available to our current CFOLC Premium & Virtual members. CPEs are now offered for our webcasts to current CFOLC members only.  To learn about our membership and connecting with our growing CFOLC community, visit

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