is the Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Mutual of America Financial Group.

Building a successful financial organization requires layers of expertise and focus—from managing effectively and leading with courage to communicating clearly and consistently.

But one of the most important and most challenging responsibilities for a CFO is building and maintaining a “learning” organization; this means building a team that has a comprehensive understanding of what they are doing and why they are doing it, and then leveraging that knowledge to produce higher levels of performance.

Technical Expertise

The business financial function is essential to a company’s success and requires a team with strong technical skills. But just as you would not want to have an individual with a Ph.D. in philosophy perform heart surgery on you, so, too, you would not want to build a financial team that does not have the requisite technical knowledge and ability to apply it.

A CFO must have experts in technical accounting, financial reporting, corporate tax, planning and analysis, business systems and intelligence. Without these core skills, there will not be adequate expertise to execute the basic blocking and tackling of finance.

However, to do its work effectively, this team must maintain ownership of its roles and core functions. As CFO of Mutual of America Financial Group, I frequently meet with my teams, walk through various processes and ask them, “Why?” “Why are you doing what you are doing?” “How do you know if this is the right approach, the right accounting or reporting?” Significant inertia is built into every process where the temptation is to do what was previously done. Technical expertise is insufficient and will not be accurately applied if it is not constantly tested for potential changes in the underlying business.


Business Insight

The focus for a CFO is never simply to accomplish the required regulatory, reporting, planning and other basic responsibilities of the job; the real opportunity is to create a learning organization whereby the CFO builds a team that fully understands the business and helps analyze, forecast and drive the business forward.

I like the saying, “Get behind the numbers.” In other words, don’t just go through the motions of financial analysis or testing; instead, take the time to learn and understand the business. Every event in a company has a financial impact—from sales and marketing to technology and human resources. The opportunity in a “learning” financial team is to root out exactly what is happening and why. Exhort your team to spend time with the business, ask questions and be persistent with those questions until they have a complete understanding of what is happening.

At Mutual of America, I’ve found that the product of this type of effort is a financial team that is more accurate in its reporting and analyses, and a business that receives more accurate, relevant and complete analysis and forecasting as a result. Critical decisions are built by teams that provide valuable reports and analyses that support effective decision making.

Leadership Wisdom And Discernment

A CFO should always be in the process of developing future leaders. Beyond the essential building blocks of technical expertise and business insight, leadership commands another type of knowledge—one that emerges from wisdom, discernment and integrity.

Over the years, I have found that most great leaders are great learners. A CFO needs leaders who make wise decisions, reflect discernment when dealing with conflict and are trusted by colleagues.

To grow these skills, a leader must find new ways of listening; this could mean reading and studying widely outside of business topics or intentionally pursuing mentors who passionately and intentionally invest in people. We must listen to and learn from others on our financial leadership journey. Virtually every significant financial leader I have met has had this kind of alternative passion and focus that brings balance and perspective to their lives and cultivates the quality of humility essential to leading.

Working alongside colleagues who are committed to learning will transform your organization. It will stretch and refresh your team and develop deeper, more thoughtful leaders. A CFO has the greatest privilege: to build and invest in people in a way that positively impacts their team’s members, individually and collectively, and leads to growing success throughout the company.

is an invitation-only organization for executives in successful accounting, financial planning and wealth management firms.