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CFO and finance function: what matters in value creation

Laura Zoni (Faculty of Business and Law, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Piacenza, Italy and SDA Bocconi School of Management, Milan, Italy)
Federico Pippo (SDA Bocconi, School of Management, Milan, Italy)

Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change

ISSN: 1832-5912

Article publication date: 5 June 2017




According to the chief financial officer (CFO) of IBM Global Survey (2010), only few integrated finance organizations (IFOs) and only some CFOs’ role (Value Integrators) allow companies to generate value so as to outperform their peers. The purpose of this study is to gather additional insights on how the CFOs and finance organizations effectively promote value creation in for-profit organizations.


The authors’ study has been developed through the methodology of case studies. The method, despite its intrinsic limitations, offers a much deeper understanding of the organizational context within which value creation takes place. The authors’ analysis is based on nine selected case studies of Italian industrial companies, selected to assure comparability with the IBM sample. All companies outperform their peers.


The authors observed that not only IFOs and value integrator CFOs support the value generation process. The authors’ sample suggests a variety of other relevant and likely alternatives for value creation deriving from both finance functions (FFs) and the roles of CFOs. Their findings indicate that FFs adopt three distinct patterns to add value for the shareholders. The first option involves the FF taking the lead in setting a common language across functions, management processes, management and stakeholders. The second value creation pattern is when the FF establishes a strong and relevant support to business. The third option implies that the FF acts as an advisor assuring independent compliance. The authors also concluded that regardless of the CFO’s roles, influential CFOs are older, with a deep functional company and industry experience. They also observe that some of this influence derives from “proximity” to shareholders, as all the more influential CFOs sit on the Board, enjoying a closer relationship with the shareholders.

Research limitations/implications

This study was based on clinical cases, the findings can be generalized reliably only for the population studied here. More research is needed for further tests and explorations of these findings, especially in the area of CFO incentives and governance mechanisms.

Practical implications

This study supports modern advice given to organizations in terms of the array of available alternatives to promote value creation with patterns and processes within the domain of the finance organization and CFO’s personal characteristics.

Social implications

The paper contributes to untangle some gender issues, as the authors found that more influential CFOs are male. The authors have also contributed to explain some dynamics of the “labor” market development for finance professionals: the authors observed that the promotion for most influential CFOs comes through the ranks of a specific company, and this questions if a market really exits for such professionals in Italy, and more generally in Europe.


These results provide some useful support of prior findings and some modifications and extensions that further the authors’ understanding in this area of importance both to researchers and practitioners.



The authors acknowledge the contributions of all the CFOs of companies participating in the Research, the participants of the CFOs Agorà, SDA Bocconi School of Management, and the financial support of IBM Italy.


Zoni, L. and Pippo, F. (2017), "CFO and finance function: what matters in value creation", Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 216-238.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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