“Yet while he was universally admired throughout the company, and known as a truly wise person, most managers wanted as little to do with him as possible. They simply could not understand a word he was saying. He was dependent on the CEO to translate him.”1
It was with these words and others like them that I argued in an earlier post that Peter Drucker deliberately put a curse on finance leaders at large for most of the 20th century. While my assertion might seem a tad needy when it comes to evidence, I would like to introduce a few facts here about the historic CFO in question: Donaldson Brown, CFO (1921–1947), General Motors Corp.
Mr. Brown, it was once said, made money the old-fashioned way — he married it. That is to say, sometime after World War I, Brown married Greta DuPont, offspring of Delaware’s first family. Still, Brown had already made a name for himself inside the company bearing his wife’s name. He has long been credited with having designed DuPont’s financial controls, with their return on investment formula — an innovation he would later deploy inside General Motors. So it’s not a stretch to say that one of the founding architects of the corporate finance function got slammed by the person responsible for authoring the dominant business narrative of the 20th century.
I’ll admit that it may be unfair to state that Drucker’s dim view of Brown’s sense of narrative helped to cast a tongue-numbing curse on all finance leaders. However, I do think that Drucker’s assessment of Brown gave credence to the notion that finance leaders were somehow divorced from the business narrative — a belief that leadership-minded finance executives have been trying to erase for decades.
In a recent post titled How Did you Become a CFO?, I asserted that the quality of a finance leader’s professional narrative must be determined not by its chronological accuracy, but by how it facilitates connections with other professionals. Again: Stop worrying about numeric datelines and start identifying what stories can connect you with others — others outside your traditional realm.
Among the growing number of CFO Thought Leaders who have recently shared their professional narrative with us, we believe that Deborah Herrera, CFO, Schwan’s Consumer Brands, is certainly a standout. As we do with each of our guests, we asked CFO Herrera, “How did you become a CFO?” — which she answered by relating three wonderful career-related experiences. The screen cast above features just one of the three. Listen to Deborah Herrera’s entire podcast HERE.
If only Mr. Brown had delivered his professional narrative in as polished and as energetic a fashion, perhaps he would have stood a better chance of escaping Drucker’s mischievous pen.
1Peter Drucker, Adventures of a Bystander (Harper and Row, 1979)