The good, the bad and the ugly


Liezl Berry shares a young accountant's experience of working with three different types of CFO.

Liezl Berry, a millennial CA who has moved around from job to job, reveals the three types of CFO she has encountered. Do you recognise yourself in any of them?

As a millennial CA I have had the privilege of changing jobs often without being labelled volatile. Working with many CFOs, I have concluded that there are three types of CFOs in this world: the good (even great!), the bad and the ugly.

The good CFO
The Good CFO, let’s call her Blondie, is one that can build strong teams and develop successors. She has a holistic understanding of the financial workings of the company and of the entire industry. She understands that the world cannot be understood without numbers, but that the world can also not be understood by numbers alone.

Blondie is rigorous. She knows that having the right people on her team will be her greatest asset. With her in charge, you know where you stand, and you don’t need to waste valuable time wondering what will happen next. You give your best, and you are not scared of making mistakes and confessing it as you know you will be allowed to make amends and improve. She brings out the best in her team and doesn’t waste time dealing with the wrong people.

Blondie is trustworthy, ethical and transparent. She trusts her best people to handle the opportunities while training the others by letting them deal with the problems. She doesn’t take credit for anyone else’s work and she doesn’t blame her team when things go wrong. She doesn’t micromanage, she doesn’t believe in the ‘ass in chair, let me see you’ notion of the obsessive CFOs. She gives you opportunity, freedom and a lot of responsibility.

The Bad CFO
The Bad CFO, let’s call her Angel Eyes, is the ruthless one that hacks and cuts in difficult times without any thoughtful consideration. Angel Eyes causes stress as you never really know if she is out to get you, fire you or ridicule you in the next finance meeting. She always gets the job done and works twenty-four seven, expecting the same of her “lazy” finance team. Everyone in the team “works” longer hours with her in charge, yet productivity seems to stagnate. No-one knows who made that mistake on the journal passed or why the reconciliation on the share-based payments account disappeared. Things are tense and you feel your pants getting tighter as you reach for another wine gum to chew the stress away.

Angel Eyes is the most important person in her own life and in the company. She doesn’t like anyone to be smarter than her. She is not able to deal with the conflict in her team and will not be available to talk about issues. She continuously displays an image of flawlessness that is more intimidating than inspiring. Negative gossip seems to spread like wildfire with her in charge and trust is a thing of the past.

The Ugly CFO
The Ugly CFO, who we will call Rat, is the scariest type of all. He is inconsistent and changes his mind at a whim. He is dishonest, unethical and secretive, but extremely smart and ambitious. He will make you do journals that you don’t understand and when you question him, he will act as if you are stupid for not understanding his brilliance. (It is often the case that you will not understand his brilliance as you might have to be a criminal to understand the things this type of CFO gets up to and gets away with.)

The Rat has confidence, charisma and a hug to share. He has favourites (normally the ones that do not question) and they get promoted. He will tell you straight out that you should leave if you can’t handle the heat in the finance department. The CEO loves him, the women love him, some fear him and the rest try to leave as soon as possible. He seems to have it all – and you might even start questioning your own skills, knowledge, career and life choices. Later, the Rat will be the one you read about in the paper or the one who got that not-so-golden-handshake and you think, “I knew it!”

Which will you be?
The finance world and especially the world where CFO’s find themselves is a wonderful place, where you can make a difference, inspire greatness, build an empire and leave a legacy. It can also be a place where you destroy everything. Let all your actions, even though they are not those of a king, be, in their own sphere, worthy of one. Be sublime in your deeds, lofty in your thoughts and remember, if you can’t be good, be careful.

Related articles

Three CFOs’ guide to managing boardroom expectations

Productivity SA CFO Okuhle Sidumane, Sappi Southern Africa CFO Pramy Moodley and BMI Coverland FD Tammy Narain explain how effective expectation management helps them ensure every engagement with their board is a success.