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Finance Chiefs See Talent Development Among Top Concerns

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Companies such as Prudential Financial see value in employees who have work experiences in a variety of roles.


Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg News

Finance leaders across industries consider the cultivation of talent a leading priority that is crucial to the success of any company, according to a new survey and comments executives made during a panel discussion Thursday in New York.

A survey of 393 chief financial officers and other finance executives found that “the changing roles of human resources, leadership and development and recruiting” landed among the top priorities requiring attention over the next 12 months, according to consulting firm Protiviti Inc.

Respondents to the survey released this week indicated that developing an organization’s bench, recruiting and retaining talent, navigating change, and embracing new technologies ranked among top concerns. Survey participants also listed working effectively with outside parties, mentoring, communication and networking skills, or “soft skills,” as priorities.

“Finance leaders face a war for talent in bringing in the expertise and experience to fill valuable roles in the finance organization,” the Protiviti report said. “This includes finding individuals with skill sets in data analytics as well as financial and strategic analysis.”

The report supports themes found in other recent surveys of finance executives. The findings were echoed Thursday during a CFO panel discussion held by the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of New York.

Attracting and retaining top talent—those who not only have strong finance skills but can think strategically—in the tight labor market has proven particularly difficult. “It’s just wildly competitive,” Howard Hochhauser, the CFO of Ancestry.com LLC, said during the discussion.

Executives touted the benefits of rotating promising hires through a diversity of roles throughout an organization, not just within the finance function, to stoke engagement and build leadership for the future.

“I have had finance guys go into sales and do rotations there,” said Karen McLoughlin, CFO of Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., which she says makes an effort to give employees a range of experiences.

Prudential Financial Inc. CFO Robert Falzon said experience in a variety of roles is critical. “If I look at the leadership team going around the CFO position today, there’s not a single individual who sits at that table who do not have an experience outside of our company and/or outside of finance,” he said.

The speakers also said that junior hires—perhaps more accustomed to hopping between jobs—were less tolerant of grunt work and more expectant of mentoring and career guidance.

Companies need to pay attention to that, said Tracey Travis, CFO of Estée Lauder Cos.

“When you are in a large organization, the makeup for your leadership team is critically important because they are an extension of the messaging that you want to do and the performance that you want to drive as CFO,” Ms. Travis said. “So I’ve been very much focused on talent development in my team.”

Write to Ezequiel Minaya at ezequiel.minaya@wsj.com

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