CFOs: Balancing Business Results with Integrity

by Erin McCune on August 3, 2008

in Careers, Finance, Management interviews Ben Heineman, author of High Performance with High Integrity:

According to

Ben Heineman got an eyeful of the C-suite during his 18 years as general counsel for General Electric Co. until his retirement in 2005. A book by Heineman published in June, High Performance with High Integrity, argues that a chief financial officer can and should act as guardian and protector of the company's integrity without abandoning his role as business partner to the CEO. In an interview with, Heineman, 64 and a one-time Assistant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under Jimmy Carter, took some swipes at impatient CEOs, sycophant CFOs, anti-whistleblower cultures, and the SEC.

Excerpt from the interview at

If a CFO does have to quit because he can't support a decision the CEO makes, is his career irreparably tainted?

Not necessarily. Sometimes the CEO might not want to have a fight about it, and sometimes you can work your way out of it.

There are three scenarios: 1) Good board, good CEO: It's rare that the CEO in that situation will do something completely improper, forcing a resignation. 2) Good board, bad CEO: Here you have a possibility of at least going to the board and saying, "It's broken, I can't work with the CEO anymore and he can't work with me, let's just have a reasonable ending and I keep my reputation intact and get some of the financial benefits I've earned." That can work. 3) Bad CEO/bad board: You're screwed.

CFOs ought to do due diligence on the CEO before they accept these jobs, and look very carefully at whether the CEO believes in the partner/guardian model. You'll never know for sure, but a lot of people just take the job with the fancy company, lots of money, stock options, restricted stock units, the company car and the rest of it, but there's nothing worse than being in a situation with a bad board and a bad CEO, because then you get out with your reputation harmed.

Heineman interview
Buy the book at

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