Notes from a headhunter's desk

Where next for the job-hungry CFO?

If the world economy is on a rollercoaster, what does it mean for a CFO on the move?

Sometimes it seems as if the world economy is on a rollercoaster. Plenty of ups and downs, a few big dippers - mostly in the Eurozone - and, until recently, a reasonably steady incline among the more developing markets.

Now however, China’s economy is cooling, as the likes of Burberry have found out to their cost, while in India GDP grew just 5.3 percent in the first quarter, the slowest for nine years.

Figures released in October showed China’s economy has slowed for a seventh quarter, as problems in Europe and the US impacted on demand for its products. On the plus side, there are indications that things may be starting to improve, with rises in industrial production and higher retailer sales driven by domestic consumption.

Meanwhile, growth in Brazil, thought of as another potential powerhouse, is predicted to be less than 2 percent this year, its weakest annual performance since 2009.

For the CFO on the move, it’s not just economic concerns which can make these destinations a less attractive option.

Doing business in developing countries can be very complex. Many are highly regulated in terms of inward investment and employment legislation and there’s a real feeling that although it might seem like a good opportunity, it’s not always as easy as it might first appear.

All of which begs the question, if you’re a CFO looking for the next big move in his or her career, should you seize the moment to make your mark in a developing economy which, even though it might be slowing, is at least still growing? Or do you play it safe and choose a more traditional base like London or New York, which are still seen as the powerhouses of the world economy?

Evidence from the “shop floor” shows it is these bastions of the financial markets which are standing up better than their developing market counterparts and it’s in London and New York where we’re seeing a steady increase in demand for top level finance executives.

The US may be struggling under piles of debt and the need to create more jobs but despite the gloomy headlines its economy grew at 2 percent - more than expected in the three months to September.

And no sooner had President Barack Obama been re-elected than our own Prime Minister David Cameron was calling on him to work together to “kick start the world economy” and saying he wants to see an EU-US trade deal.

Indeed, the UK received its own shot in the arm last month when preliminary GDP figures were released which showed the economy had emerged from recession with growth of 1 percent. Boosted by sales of Olympic tickets and with a 1.3 percent growth in the service sector reversing the recent downward trend, the news exceeded the expectations of economists.

Recently there has also been some light relief with slight improvements in the manufacturing and service sectors, and unemployment is reducing as the economy continues to create new jobs - albeit as productivity is falling.

Experience shows however that the City of London is still “the place to be” for enterprising and ambitious CFOs and it’s the more traditional sectors such as energy, oil, gas and mining, which are standing up well against the newcomers such as Facebook and Manchester United, whose stock market debuts have been less than outstanding.

If change is what you are after, then think carefully. As appealing as the “new frontiers” might be, is now really the time to take a risk with your career?
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Tags: barack obama, chief financial officer, china, david cameron, eurozone, gross domestic product, london, united states

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Mark Craddock specialises in CFO and senior finance appointments at Eton Bridge Partners and works with listed and private businesses within commerce and industry.

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