Path to the CFO suite: for CFO aspirants, it's not enough to have strong professional networks, a well-crafted resume and promotions related to experience. They must also convince hiring managers they will fit smoothly into the company's culture and structure.

Author:Vallario, Cynthia Waller

A job description for a chief financial officer position typically begins something like this: "The CFO provides primary day-to-day operational support to the organization and assumes a strategic role in the overall management of the organization and its financial objectives. The CFO is a key member of the management team, reports directly to the president/CEO and is responsible for all aspects of the organization's accounting and finance functions."

CFOs might also think it useful to possess X-ray vision and the ability to expand the 24-hour day. Businesses today require financial executives with personal leadership traits and well-rounded technical skills beyond traditional accounting and finance credentials. One more thing individuals who want to occupy the CFO chair must have is unquestioned integrity and candor and know how to be a good listener.

There will always be more than one way to negotiate the finance executive ladder, and a look at the career paths of four successful finance chiefs reveals they share certain experiences, traits and skills and have all used important career-building strategies to become key leaders in their organizations.

Katie Scherping, CFO, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc.

Katie Scherping is the finance chief at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc., a chain of 400 casual dining restaurants headquartered in a Denver suburb. She grew up in Aurora, III., and her decision to take several accounting courses while in high school became the foundation of her future career. Finding she had a real interest in and aptitude for accounting, Scherping landed her first job out of college as an auditor with Arthur Andersen in Denver. She earned her CPA designation while at Andersen, specializing in the oil and gas industry.

Approximately 20 years ago, Scherping worked at a security alarm monitoring company where she navigated its finance team through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy to emerge as a publicly traded company on the American Stock Exchange. Then in 1999, while working as treasurer and director of finance for Tanning Technology Corp., an IT consulting firm, she guided Tanning through an initial public offering and listing on Nasdaq.

Shortly afterwards, Scherping was named CFO of Tanning, which was subsequently sold to a private equity buyer a year later. In 2005, she was named to the top finance spot at Red Robin, a result of using an executive recruiter along with her well-established business network in Denver.

"The experiences of guiding one company through a bankruptcy...

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