How does a school find the chief financial officer (CFO) it needs?

A first step is recognizing that CFOs (like presidents) are not one-size-fits-all. CFOs have different skill sets and temperaments, and the person who is right for one kind of school in one type of financial situation may not be right for another school.

Winston Ling, former CFO at Tyndale University College & Seminary in Toronto, assisted the school’s president, Brian Stiller, in saving the school from near bankruptcy. As Jay Blossom and Holly Miller noted in "Neither Yes Man nor Dr. No" (which appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of In Trust), Tyndale avoided bankruptcy because Ling and Stiller had the specific skills needed at this difficult time. But when Ling stepped down twelve years later, the board realized that his replacement would need a different set of skills.

“Winston came to Tyndale at a time that required a lot of quick and tough decisions,” said Randy Henderson, Ling’s successor. “That’s not my strength, and I’d have trouble in that kind of environment.”

Ling agreed. “I left the CFO job because I knew we needed someone to move the school forward. I don’t have the patience to accomplish that.”

Different skills for different situations – even at the same school. In the article, Ling and Henderson offered advice based on decades of experience as financial leaders in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Some of their conclusions:

  • CFOs do not need to be accountants, but they do need to be able to interpret financial data and ask the right questions.

  • Most schools will not find the best CFO candidate internally.

  • Screening committees should rule out “yes men” who agree with every idea the board brings to the table. But they should also rule out someone who says no to everything; a school’s CFO must not be allowed to stifle all new programs, missions, and innovations due to excessive caution.

Read the full article for much more about how boards can best approach this essential task of finding and working with the best CFO for their school.