Seeking Leadership Diversity, More Companies Choose Female CFOs

October 15, 2015 – Egon Zehnder has placed Kathryn Mikells as chief financial officer of consumer goods company Diageo PLC. She replaces CFO Deirdre Mahlan who is leaving her position to return to the U.S. as Diageo’s head of North America.

“Ms. Mikells’ career trajectory over the last five years is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Scott A. Scanlon, founding chairman and CEO of Greenwich-Conn based Hunt Scanlon Media. “And in so many ways it points to the concentrated efforts major companies are making to extend their executive teams with diverse talent.”

Ms. Mikells was recruited from Xerox where she has served as CFO since 2013. Before that she was CFO at ADT for a year, and prior to that experience she served as CFO of NALCO for a year and as CFO of United Airlines from 2008 to 2010. Before joining United in 1994, she worked in the corporate finance group of General Electric Co.’s GE Capital unit.

“In a quick series of short skips, Ms. Mikells’ has attained something almost unheard of: five public company CFO chairs in five years,” said Mr. Scanlon.

“I am delighted that Kathryn will join our executive team. Diageo is focused on driving performance from our core and on improving productivity to drive out cost to invest in growth,” said Ivan Menezes, Diageo CEO. “Kathryn has the experience of working with teams to drive disciplined performance management which will contribute to the achievement of our performance ambition. We are starting to see the benefits of the changes we have put in place and I am confident we are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this growth sector.”

Egon Zehnder was retained by Diageo in July to lead the assignment. Diageo looked for external candidates to fill the role right from the beginning of the search assignment, a move not typical for the company. To some, it suggested possible inferior bench strength within the London-based conglomerate.

Diageo is the world’s leading premium drinks business with a wide collection of beverage alcohol brands across spirits, beer and wine. These brands include Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, J&B, Windsor and Buchanan’s whiskies, Smirnoff, Ciroc and Ketel One vodkas, Baileys, Captain Morgan, Tanqueray and Guinness.

2015 has been an important year for women rising to the rank of CFO. Recent research from search firm Crist | Kolder Associates shows that the number of female CFOs at major U.S. companies doubled in the past decade, from 45 to 90. The number  of CFOs who are women now stands at 13.3 percent, up from 7.8 percent in 2005.

The Crist | Kolder Volatility Report, a twice-a-year measure of executive movement among 672 large companies, shows that overall turnover rates for CFOs and CEOs decreased for the second consecutive year. Crist | Kolder attributes that to capital markets growing, for the most part, in the past several years. Data for the most recent report was tracked through August 1.

The increase in female CFOs is a reflection of companies seeking more diversity in their C-suite. And the number is expected to rise, said Scott Simmons, managing director at the Crist | Kolder. “There is a focus in public company America to make sure that the best and brightest are given opportunities to grow,” he said. “And of course for any company diversity always makes for the strongest executive team.”

Where might we see more gender bending progress in the CFO office? Keep your eye on the industrial, retail, energy, technology, financial services, and consumer sectors, said Mr. Simmons. “No matter the sector, there is today a strong bedrock of female talent in finance. We expect this to continue.”

Crist | Kolder, a specialist in recruiting CFO and financial officers, has recently landed a number of female CFOs for clients, including bringing Kraft Foods Group CFO Teri List-Stoll to DICK’S Sporting Goods; Carnival Cruise Line CFO Anne Bramman to Avery Dennison; and Plexus Corp. CFO Ginger Jones to Cooper Tire & Rubber Company.

“Interestingly, as the role of women CFOs grows at progressive-minded companies, so, too, are we seeing a more racially diverse CFO profile starting to emerge, said Mr. Scanlon.

Digging deeper into the Crist | Kolder survey statistics, Mr. Scanlon said he uncovered a solid increase in the total number of diverse CFOs.

As reported in the Volatility Report, 21 companies a decade ago had what is widely considered to be a diverse population of CFOs. Today, that number is 37. The Asian/Indian demographic group leads this list, at 21 CFOs, followed by African American (eight CFOs), and Hispanic/Latino (also eight CFOs).

According to research from Egon Zehnder, CFOs’ responsibilities “have grown exponentially more complex” in the last few years. Ensuring a steady flow of top-flight CFO talent has largely fallen to a host of search firm’s specializing in the function. Many CFO posts are filled externally, said recruiters involved in the process.

CFOs interviewed by Zehnder in one of the firm’s recent reports said there is “no single career track that fits all” when it comes to aspiring to a company’s top finance post. “Just the track of diversity itself.”

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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