MIT Sloan Executive Education Blog

Leading through a crisis: The CFO’s moment

Hand holding a compass

Contributed by Diane Abbott, Assistant Director, Executive Programs

We haven’t seen an economic crisis like this since the Great Depression. There is no playbook for running a business in a global pandemic. That’s why it is critical for business leaders to have the skills and confidence to help their organizations overcome this daunting challenge. Some experts say that this may be “the CEO moment,” a time for bold decisions from the top and visionary leadership, but the role of the CFO is equally vital today—if not more!—particularly in small and medium-sized companies that have been hit the hardest by the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Organizations like the CFO Leadership Council understand the enormity of the challenges CFOs are facing today and their need to be supported, connected, and empowered to lead. This fall, MIT Sloan Executive Education is collaborating with the Council to offer financial leaders an educational and networking experience to ensure their businesses not only survive but thrive. Called CFO Week, the event will take place virtually November 9-17 with two complementary learning opportunities:the CFO Leadership Conference (November 11-13) and the MIT Sloan CFO Accelerator (November 9, 10, 16, and 17), a four-day advanced learning experience co-created by MIT Sloan Executive Education and the CFO Leadership Council.

Jack McCullough, President of the CFO Leadership Council, sees MIT Sloan as uniquely positioned to help good CFOs become great. “At the start of my career, if you were a really good accountant, you could probably succeed as a CFO,” he says. “Now, that’s just one of many things that CFOs are expected to have, the good knowledge of accounting and financial reporting. It’s really about the strategic thinking, the communication, the leadership, and the mastery of technology. And that’s basically MIT Sloan.” McCullough emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning for CFOs, especially the more experienced ones. “If you are not learning new stuff, there might be a CFO out there who might not have your years of experience and they lack the wisdom, but if they understand things like artificial intelligence and machine learning and blockchain and, more importantly, they understand how to implement that in your company, that’s a huge advantage! Employers are going to take that over the years of wisdom,” he cautions.

Court Chilton, Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Faculty Director for the CFO Accelerator, echoes McCullough’s perspective on the importance of continuing education, especially for the financial leaders of small and medium-sized enterprises. “CFOs are key people in their companies, yet they typically get very little professional development and they don’t have peers in their own organizations who share their issues,” he explains. “Add to that the current COVID situation and the need for learning becomes even more immediate. The CFO Accelerator will focus on the enterprise-level issues: communicating and managing in a crisis, driving innovation, rethink business models, leveraging opportunities in disruption, collaborating with boards, financing different business models and combinations, and managing and leading change.”

The CFO Leadership Conference is a well-established event, now in its 10th year, that draws hundreds of financial leaders from across North America to learn from industry luminaries and each other. This year’s event is designed around the theme of CFO Masterclass and will feature a roster of sought-after keynote speakers, including Jessica L. Holscott, Executive Vice President and CFO of Warner Media Entertainment, HBO, TNT, TBS & truTV and Direct-to-Consumer, Michener Chandlee, CFO of Fanatics, Roxi Wen, CFO of Mozilla, and John Rex, former CFO of Microsoft North America, and president of Rex Executive Leadership.

The MIT Sloan CFO Accelerator will be led by renowned MIT Sloan faculty and experts in leadership, management, and economics, and will include a variety of learning experiences. “MIT’s approach in the classroom is driven by rigorous research, a diverse set of learning methods, and highly interactive. Our goal is to help you apply insights, tools, and frameworks that extend your and your firm’s ability to create, capture, and deliver sustainable value,” Senior Associate Dean of MIT Sloan Executive Education Dr. Peter Hirst says on the event’s website. “MIT Sloan Executive Education is delighted to be collaborating a second time with the CFO Leadership Council to provide development opportunities within CFO Week.”

If you have participated in the MIT Sloan Accelerator last year, you already know the value of the experience. We encourage you to participate this year, as well, to build on your knowledge and expand it with the new, higher-level areas of focus: strategic, cross-enterprise issues such as disruption, innovation eco-systems, merger integration, and organizational change. Registration is now open for both, the conference and the Accelerator. We hope to see you there!

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