How to build my personal brand to become CFO:
  1. Cultivate social relationships
  2. Attend networking events
  3. Build relationships with recruiters
  4. Learn from the market
  5. Embrace reading and education
The Australian Financial Review reports that some of the most overused words in Australian LinkedIn profiles are experienced, specialise, passionate, skilled, leadership, motivated, expert, strategic, successful and creative. In an ever-expanding marketplace, it takes more than just words to sell yourself. Australian executives face the unique challenge of getting noticed amongst a cohort of typically exceptional, high-performing talent. For aspiring C-Suite leaders, particularly CFOs, a personal branding strategy is central to differentiating value and guaranteeing visibility.  As outlined in Robert Half’s inaugural session of the Aspiring CFOs Series, personal branding is a critical step in the trajectory towards becoming a successful and impactful CFO.  This new series curated by Robert Half seeks to inspire the next generation of CFOs across Australia, acknowledging that the role is built on more than numbers and spreadsheets. It aims to equip finance professionals with the tools and guidance to navigate the challenges and opportunities of the digital age and its impact of rising to the top financial seat. As the first session explored, personal brand surpasses more than reputation and first impressions. It demands careful consideration of how you want others to see you, and, how you can align your intentions with your outward actions.  Panellists Denise Fourie (CFO, Satellite Office) and Tim Howard (CFO, SiteMinder), shared valuable insights into how personal brand shaped their decorated finance careers.  When it comes to personal brand, both are experts. Denise is a key member of the Satellite Office’s Global Executive Team, backed by 13 years of experience as CFO for companies including Seafolly P/L, AutoZone South Africa, and Nando’s South Africa. Tim carries more than 20 years of commercial and corporate finance experience in global technology companies including Apple, and most recently, SiteMinder, the world's leading open hotel commerce platform. As a senior finance professional, you have likely wondered, “How to build my personal brand and how do I make it different from everyone else's? Read on to hear the key expert takeaways from current CFOs to elevate your personal brand. Related: How to become a CFO – 7 steps to guide your career path
There are countless ways to explain the concept of personal branding for CFOs. Tim distilled it perfectly when he posed the question, “What are you famous for?”  In 2024, CFOs are seen as strategic partners, change agents, and architects of sustainable growth. For aspiring CFOs, personal branding is the vehicle by which they can define and promote their unique identity and value proposition.   While experience and qualifications are important, personal branding shines a light on the non-technical skills that can ultimately set you apart as a trusted leader, communicator, and critical thinker. It’s a way to leverage your strengths, experiences, and values to engineer a compelling narrative that reinforces your credibility in driving organisational success.  When it comes to how to build your personal brand at work, contributing to your professional community is key. Be clear on the reputation you’d like to market for yourself and adapt your decisions and behaviours accordingly. Help people connect both emotionally and intellectually to the image you hope to portray as you progress through your finance career. Don’t be fooled into thinking your brand cannot evolve. As Tim says, “The secret sauce is that you can stand out for different things at different stages in your career, which is the beauty of developing a well-rounded personal brand. It will grow with you.”    Building a brand on authentic leadership While we all have different ways of demonstrating leadership skills, Denise says, “Approach building a personal brand based on cultivating social relationships and authenticity.” Denise credits visible leadership to driving strategic vision and meaningful relationships. She says, “Being the first one in and last one out is important in demonstrating your commitment to leading a successful team. Visible leadership is all about being across what the team is managing on a day-to-day basis, and how you can be there to support them.”  Empathy is the second vital component for Denise. She believes there is growing value in empathetic leadership to foster trust and collaboration, explaining that you must truly listen to and know your colleagues. “For example, you remember that their 9-year-old has an award ceremony at school which is why they left early today. This approach goes a long way in supporting the individual’s personal journey, which is essential in retaining strong team members and building a supportive corporate culture,” she says.  Denise says, “When it comes to building my personal brand, I don’t focus on impressing the CEO, or the board. I always advise aspiring CFOs to focus on their teams – you are only as good as them. Finding the right balance between satisfying your own responsibilities while taking the time to check in on others is key.”   Learning the power of patience, and playing the long game  Tim is a big believer that building a great personal brand (and great companies) takes time.  This patient, long-term approach is not something that’s always come easy. When reflecting on his early finance days, Tim shared that his thoughts were centred around career progression rather than growth and development opportunities.  With the help of his mentor during his time at Apple, Tim learnt to reframe his job to see the value in it. This has influenced the advice he gives to aspiring CFOs today – “Say to yourself, the next five years of my career, I’m just going to throw myself into learning as much as I can.”  Tim has sound advice for anyone questioning, “how to build my personal brand”. He says, “It’s not about ticking the boxes as fast as possible. Backing up your brand with developing skills and business knowledge is essential in reinforcing why you can progress through the ranks.”  From the lens of a CFO, Tim reminds us that it is not about “selling more units”, but how you can identify and create more opportunities to increase company performance. He says, “If you are too quick to jump and say, I know the answer, you’re going to miss a learning opportunity. Going slow is worth it.”    The evolution of personal branding  Our personal brands are always evolving, so too, are the ways we market them in the digital age.  As the Australian Financial Review reports, “LinkedIn remains the favourite social media tool for people who are developing their careers, since most first contacts are in cyberspace rather than face-to-face.” With over 15 million Australian LinkedIn profiles, online presence is essential in expanding your network, forging connections and amplifying your voice.  Building your personal brand demands a balance between modern and traditional methods.  Below are the top CFO tips shared in Robert Half’s Aspiring CFOs Series:   1. Cultivate strong relationships  The importance of cultivating strong, meaningful relationships with colleagues, industry peers, and potential mentors cannot be understated.  During the latest Aspiring CFOs Series session, Robert Half panellists, Garth Whalley (Executive Search Managing Director) and John O’Leary (Director), explained how strong relationships are central to building your brand.  Gareth summed it up by saying, “Actions speak louder than words. Deliver on promises. Build trust and rapport. Show capability and professionalism.”    2. Attend networking events There is great value in attending industry events and conferences to grow your connections and establish yourself as a thought leader within the finance industry.  As Tim explained, “Building your brand by networking broadly and staying up to date with courses and education means you can cultivate a brand you can put into practice.”  While it can be easy to skip a networking event, it’s hard to replicate the kind of connections that can be forged – you never know who you might come across!   3. Build relationships with recruiters Consider recruiters valuable allies in your career journey. Even if you aren’t looking for a job, networking with recruiters can be a proactive way to understand the market and potential opportunities, while helping them learn about your goals and your unique value.  As John O’Leary discussed, cultivating relationships with recruiters is an essential part of your personal branding and your CFO progression. “When a company wants to hire a Chief Financial Officer, the role of a recruiter is pivotal in ensuring that the company identifies and secures the right candidate for this critical executive position. From understanding the company’s needs, creating the talent profile, sourcing candidates, assessing, and interviewing them, doing background checks, and negotiating offers, recruiters are the piece of the puzzle that helps connect top talent to a business,” says John.  As John explained, recruiters also rely on external references for the candidate they are considering. “Personal brand, inadvertently, is an element people will revert to when talking about others. They will often mention their strengths, their achievements, and their differentiating factors through which their personal brand can shine.”  Knowing how to build your personal brand at work is key to a glowing review.   4. Learn from the market It’s been said that complacency breeds failure. For aspiring CFOs, curiosity is what fuels success.  An appetite for growth and development is essential to understanding the broader business landscape, including your company's industry, market trends, competitors, and strategic objectives. Ongoing awareness of such factors will ultimately help to sharpen your personal brand and maximise your workplace contributions.  As Tim encouraged, “Take your learnings about the market and put them into action.” Following his time at Apple, Tim invested his time in the fields of data, tech, AI, finance transformation, and automation, which were all emerging topics at the time. This helped to evolve his personal brand and his capacity to contribute to future CFO roles.  Also, be realistic when it comes to experience. Looking at the top 200 ASX-listed CFOs (slide below), there are a variety of finance backgrounds from which they spent most of their career to reach the top seat. 
Almost half came from a financial control background with one-fifth coming from a commercial finance/FP&A background. There was a notable 12% coming from a PE/Corporate and Finance/M&A background.  Know where to invest your time, and when to pivot towards a better CFO career path. Related: Are finance skills at the top of chief executive requirements?   5. Embrace reading and education Personal development is integral to evolving your personal brand.  Feed your curiosity by staying abreast of emerging trends, technologies, and best practices in finance and business. Invest in education programs such as certifications, workshops, and executive education programs (perhaps an MBA) to expand your consciousness and your ways of working.   Don’t be fooled into thinking that paid courses are the only way to evolve your skills and knowledge. Investing time in reading industry publications can be a constructive way to boost your skill set to remain agile and adaptable in an ever-evolving market. Remember, innovative thinking can really set you apart from other aspiring CFOs.    Company values and personal brand “I know how to build my personal brand – now, how do I decide where I want to take it?” When you find yourself at this point, it’s important to consider how aligning your personal brand with a company’s values can strengthen your image as a leader who embodies the wider mission.  Denise recognises that “ultimately, the luckiest ones of us know how to look for where we belong.” She believes that her personal brand and values have influenced the companies she chooses to work for. In Denise’s experience, she has always joined companies that align with her personal branding and values. She says, “It’s all about being in the right seat in the right culture, with the right dynamics and aligned with your own values.” In her experience, joining value-centric companies such as Nando’s, helped her to find a space that resonated with her while shaping and reinforcing her own values.   Tim believes that his unique value stems from the wider cultural values of his former organisations. It’s why he believes he is “well known for seeing what is possible”. During his time at Apple, Tim says, “(I) learned the willingness to reimagine how things could be done.” He believes it helped him bring energy into situations where people were saying “it couldn’t be done”, making him realise that perhaps it just wasn’t being done in the right way by the right people.  Building your personal brand at work is often inevitable. Tim is an advocate for leveraging company values to shape personal brand. Backed by his unique experiences with big brands, Tim is now a dynamic CFO who challenges his team to “think outside the remits of their immediate frameworks or areas of responsibility.”  Related: Are globetrotters best suited for the chief executive role? There is much an aspiring CFO needs to master to rise to the top of an executive talent pool. Make no mistake, a solid personal branding strategy is pivotal to sharpening your competitive edge. Stuck on how to build your personal brand at work? Start by identifying your strengths and crafting a compelling personal narrative that’s sure to get you noticed, and hopefully get you hired.    This is a brief excerpt from our 90 minute webinar with two leading CFOs. Contact your local Robert Half office if you’d like to work with us or attend our events.  Stay tuned for our next session of the Aspiring CFO Series where we deliver more essential advice for financial visionaries.