Bridging Finance And Human Resources: Insights From The Crossroads Of A CFO And A Chief People Officer

Ankura Consulting Group LLC


Ankura Consulting Group, LLC is an independent global expert services and advisory firm that delivers end-to-end solutions to help clients at critical inflection points related to conflict, crisis, performance, risk, strategy, and transformation. Ankura consists of more than 1,800 professionals and has served 3,000+ clients across 55 countries. Collaborative lateral thinking, hard-earned experience, and multidisciplinary capabilities drive results and Ankura is unrivalled in its ability to assist clients to Protect, Create, and Recover Value. For more information, please visit,
This article is part of a collaboration inside The Culture Lab @ Ankura where experts from different fields come together to tell a more impactful story about business outcomes.
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This article is part of a collaboration inside The Culture Lab @ Ankura where experts from different fields come together to tell a more impactful story about business outcomes.

Meet Elliot Fuhr, Global Head of the Ankura Office of the CFO® practice, and Michael Martin, Chief People Officer at Ankura. This session takes us deep into their mindsets and points of view about leadership and unique approaches to problem-solving. Their functions, famous for approaching business problems from different perspectives and points of view, have more common ground than we thought. It is a common belief that Chief People Officers (CPOs) would benefit from a foundational understanding of finance, just as Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) would gain from an appreciation of human resources principles.

Join us as we examine the surprising similarities and differences between these two critical business functions and reflect on the common characteristics driving these two professionals to top leadership positions in their fields.


The key insights derived from this interview highlight that the hallmark of genuine and effective leadership is not merely the effort exerted but stems from an insatiable curiosity and boundless enthusiasm for their responsibilities. Successful leaders exhibit a meticulous balance of these qualities with rigorous discipline and determined prioritization. They also possess a profound understanding of the wider implications of their actions, guiding their approach to every challenge. This intrinsic understanding is not optional; it is ingrained in their very essence. Join me for a deep dive into the revelations from our conversation.

Question #1: What drove you to pursue this career?

Michael (CPO):

As cliché as it sounds, I was initially drawn to the human capital field out of curiosity and fascination with human behavior in the workplace. My university studies in Industrial Psychology were directly informed by my experiences as a young man working for a family business and finding myself during the course of my days in conversations with both warehouse workers and the leadership teams, noting the similarities and differences about what seemed important to those people while at work.

Elliot (CFO):

My journey into the world of finance was fueled by a blend of curiosity, analytical prowess, and a desire to shape organizational destinies. From my early days studying engineering, I was captivated by the intricate dance of numbers, market dynamics, and strategic decision-making. The allure of financial stewardship, coupled with the opportunity to influence an organization's trajectory pushed me toward the finance path. Why not be an advisor to the Chief Financial Officer? Finding a great challenge to solve and working with teams seeking a balance of risk, controls, precision, and accuracy is core to my strengths, and helping troubleshoot the needs of the finance officers seemed like a perfect fit.

Key Takeaway:

It is interesting yet not surprising that both leaders included "curiosity" in their first sentences and the passion for learning drives authentic professional growth. They both are interested in solving problems and shaping policies to drive performance. As a Chief People Officer, Michael focuses intently on human psychology and understanding the employee dynamic at all levels to drive success. Our CFO, Elliot, is focused on "risk, controls, precision, and accuracy" to also drive success.

Question #2: What gets you up every morning to tackle this type of work?

Michael (CPO):

I would love to say that every morning the desire to align HR priorities and outcomes with business strategy drives me out of bed. This is true, but so is the need to keep the trains running as the station's primary conductor - - which on any given day includes a combination of resolving issues with stakeholders, ensuring compliance in an ever-changing legislative landscape, mitigating risk for the firm, developing capabilities at scale for the HR team while trying to inspire performance at every touchpoint the team has with our colleagues.

What this means for me is that I am responding to a constant need to govern, prioritize, and lead. Getting that right means I am mitigating and inspiring at just the right levels.

Elliot (CFO)

As a CFO, the key sources of motivation for me can be best described in three core categories: Purpose, Challenge, and Impact.

  1. Purpose: My "purpose" stems from knowing that our work can help set a transformation direction for an organization. Each financial strategy, and each risk assessment, contributes to the grand narrative of success. Whether it is steering a startup toward its initial public offering (IPO) or recalibrating a legacy corporation for digital transformation, the purpose is palpable. It is about creating value, safeguarding stakeholders, and leaving a lasting legacy. We call it leaving "footprints in the sand."
  2. Challenge: The CFO's office is not a serene oasis; it is a cockpit. The gauges flicker—liquidity ratios, debt covenants, and revenue forecasts. The turbulence of market volatility, regulatory shifts, and geopolitical tremors keeps us alert. It is the thrill of navigating through uncertainty, recalibrating strategies mid-flight, and ensuring a smooth landing for the organization.
  3. Impact: The CFO's landscape is not static; it is a living mural. When we optimize working capital, we empower teams to innovate. When we structure financing deals, we enable expansion. The impact is not just financial; it is human. It is about employees who thrive, investors who trust, and communities that benefit.

Key Takeaway:

In summary, it is important to note that when it comes to the topic of key motivators, we quickly lose the stereotype of both functions. The CPO is not singularly focused on making sure everyone is happy and following the rules. Rather, it is very much about driving performance through policy and practice. This "work" is stereotypically delegated to the Chief Operating Officer (COO) or CFO. Michael transcends that belief – not overstepping boundaries but tying his work to financial outcomes.

This CFO is not just staring at spreadsheets all day and night (although there is a bit of that). While Elliot discusses the traditional financial roles he plays, he puts it in the context of "employees who thrive, investors who trust, and communities that benefit." Instead, he ties his work back to traditionally CPO-focused results.

Question #3: What are the key challenges you face every day?

Michael (CPO)

Prioritization. It is relentless and needs to be. It is also rewarding – balancing firefighting with positioning my team members to demonstrate their capabilities to make an impact and drive outcomes for our colleagues, clients, and the Firm.

Elliot (CFO)

If we execute on the following five areas, we win big. The challenge is that someone in the organization thinks each one of these areas is the most important. We must prioritize and reprioritize constantly. The art of being agile and still pushing for the outcome is never dull. It never ends and the turbulence of that change is a natural part of this job. On the mechanic's list for inspection are:

  • Risk Management
  • Capital Allocation
  • Regulatory Risks
  • Stakeholder Alignment
  • Strategic Alignment

Key Takeaway:

Michael and Elliot are both obsessed with prioritizing due to limited time and unlimited agenda items. Their ability to say, "no" and deprioritize items of less impact makes them most effective. Although Michael uses the term "firefighting" and Elliot says "turbulence," they both convey the sense that every day has components of "an emergency."

Question #4: When you plan for the coming year, what are the topics you think about and how do you think about success?

Michael (CPO)

There are many. Maintaining alignment with my stakeholders and the focus of their teams is top of mind. Keeping an ear to business conditions helps with this. AI is happening – finally – and I could not be happier. Culture is a priority, as it is for most leading consulting firms and organizations. I am always working on creating moments that matter to inspire performance (to borrow a phrase from my consulting days.) Our colleagues and clients deserve meaningful experiences every day with the Firm and I partner with our leaders to make sure that happens.

Elliot (CFO)

I have to balance a range of topics including appetite for risk, corporate strategy, level of individual leadership commitment, and impacts on talent and culture. I do a lot of scenario planning, meaning I play three-dimensional chess games with scenarios—economic downturns, supply chain disruptions, and geopolitical shocks. Part of my job is to understand the level of potential return and the level of risk based on how we spend our money.

Key Takeaway:

Our leaders are not formulating their success equation in a vacuum. They are looking at the broader impact of initiatives and decisions to formulate a plan that impacts the broader organization. It is not about Human Resources winning or Finance winning. It is about the entire enterprise.

Question #5: If you could think about your most successful accomplishment in this role, what would it be?

Michael (CPO)

Just shy of my first anniversary, I am proud of the connections that I have made with my leaders, teams, and colleagues while picking a few big bets that will move the needle. As a high-growth firm, these big bets were focused on ensuring our HR infrastructure would scale while providing a consistent and positive employee experience.

Elliot (CFO)

My defining moment and my most proud moment was about bringing two organizations together, each with its legacy, culture, and financial ecosystem, into one harmonious entity. The stakes were high—their combined destiny hinged on cooperative integration, not just the merger of systems and processes. We had to win the hearts of all stakeholders before we could engage their minds. It was a careful and delicate dance with all the peaks and valleys of a Hollywood blockbuster. There were celebrations, there were moments to mourn failures. In the end, when the dust settled, the integrated organization stood tall—a hybrid of proud legacies, a symphony of strengths, and a joint admiration for each other. In the end, a hard-fought turf battle resulted in a lasting victory for all.

Key Takeaway:

It is always fun to see the swapping of stereotypes. Here, our CPO celebrates placing bets and executing a plan while our CFO celebrates the merger of two financial and cultural entities into one collaborating success.

Question #6: What measurements do you use to gauge success?

Michael (CPO)

Our scorecard is evolving, but at a high level we look at operational and service delivery metrics, talent insights (prescriptive and predictive), and the intangibles - always striving to measure and quantify whether HR is making an impact.

Elliot (CFO)

The classic financial metrics are where I start - revenue growth, profitability, and liquidity ratios. These metrics are like the barometer—they indicate the weather in the financial ecosystem. But they are not the whole forecast; they are just the clouds and sun. We have to go deeper to truly collaborate across the organization and have a full understanding. This means a longer list of other metrics:

  1. Operational Efficiency: How smoothly do the gears turn? Success is when processes hum like a well-tuned engine. Whether it is reducing cycle times, optimizing working capital, or streamlining procurement, efficiency matters.
  2. Strategic Alignment: Success is not about hitting targets alone; it is about hitting the right targets. Are our financial strategies aligned with our business goals? Are we investing in areas that propel us forward?
  3. Stakeholder Satisfaction: Investors, employees, customers—they are the jury. Success is their applause. Are they confident in our financial stewardship? Do they believe in our long-term vision?
  4. Innovation Quotient: Success is not static; it is dynamic. How agile are we in adapting to change? Are we fostering innovation—whether it is adopting AI in forecasting or reimagining our revenue models?
  5. Sustainability Score: Beyond profits, success is about planetary health. Are our financial decisions sustainable? Are we leaving a legacy that future generations can build upon?

These measurements are not isolated; they are interconnected. Managing by metrics alone does not yield success, yet it surely helps.

Key Takeaway:

While Michael, our CPO, provides a more concise response, the underlying message from both is clear: one should not limit oneself to a narrow focus without considering broader perspectives. We need to have a broader view of enterprise-wide success and what that means for the institution as a whole. This means moving out of your comfort zone to gain a complete understanding of company functions and their impacts.

Question #7: What traditional tensions do you see, or have you experienced in your career working with the financial function?

Michael (CPO)

The notion that there are inherent tensions between HR and Finance is a dated concept. While there certainly have been a few stories that I share with HR colleagues over the day-to-day need to drive clarity on 'who is supposed to do what' for lifecycle processes spanning HR and Finance, these situations often arise from the natural tension that occurs when two teams, both with good intentions and different viewpoints, collaborate to find solutions for shared goals.

I have had many conversations with the leaders in my own finance function – and those in my client's finance functions – and while perspectives are different, the ultimate question we have in common is whether the workforce is productive and whether we are making the right choices to provide opportunities (and investments) for colleagues to ensure they are delivering the absolute best to our clients and stakeholders.

Elliot (CFO)

The CFO and HR—like tectonic plates—sometimes they collide. Here are the seismic tensions:

  1. Cost vs. Talent Investment: The CFO, with a keen eye on the balance sheet, often grapples with HR's advocacy for talent investment. HR champions employee well-being, development, and engagement. The tension arises when financial prudence clashes with the imperative to attract, retain, and nurture top talent. The CFO seeks cost containment; HR seeks talent empowerment. Bridging this gap requires nuanced conversations and a shared understanding of long-term value.
  2. Short-Term vs. Long-Term Perspectives: The CFO's horizon extends beyond quarterly reports, but HR's focus is often on immediate needs. Compensation decisions, for instance, can be a battleground. The CFO balances the need for competitive salaries with the long-term impact on profitability. HR, advocating for employee satisfaction, pushes for immediate raises. Striking the right equilibrium—rewarding employees while safeguarding financial health—is a delicate dance.
  3. Data-Driven vs. People-Centric Approaches: The CFO thrives on data analytics—the numbers that reveal trends, risks, and opportunities. HR, on the other hand, champions the human element—the emotions, aspirations, and well-being of employees. The tension lies in finding harmony among these seemingly divergent approaches. Can data inform better talent decisions without losing sight of the individual behind the spreadsheet? The answer lies in an integrated approach—people analytics that blends quantitative insights with qualitative empathy.
  4. Compliance vs. Flexibility: HR navigates labor laws, compliance frameworks, and diversity mandates. The CFO, while respecting these guardrails, also seeks agility. Tension emerges when rigid policies hinder adaptability. For instance, in remote work—HR may advocate for flexibility, while the CFO weighs cost implications. Balancing compliance with innovation requires HR and finance to co-create policies that foster stability and nimbleness.
  5. Investment in HR Technology: HR envisions seamless onboarding, robust performance management, and predictive analytics. The CFO, however, scrutinizes the budget for HR tech investments. The tension lies in demonstrating return on investment (ROI)—how does that shiny new HR software translate into improved employee engagement or streamlined processes? Aligning HR tech investments with strategic goals is the bridge across this chasm.

In navigating these tensions, the CFO and HR must recognize their symbiotic relationship. Finance fuels HR's initiatives, and HR nurtures the organization's most valuable asset—its people. When these departments operate in sync, the organization flourishes, creating a harmony where financial goals and human values align.

Key Takeaway:

Every organization is unique. In the most successful, the CPO and CFO work in partnership. Michael has historically sought after organizations with this dynamic. Elliot views this issue as critical and believes that the fundamental differences in mindset make actively pursuing collaboration essential.

Question 8: What is the secret to working well with people who often have a different mandate (Human Resources or Finance)?

Michael (CPO)

The secret to working well lies in having a mutual understanding of the overarching strategy, corresponding playbook, and relationships. As always, building and maintaining productive – and authentic - working relationships generally accelerates anyone's ability to adeptly navigate the whitewater when it appears.

Elliot (CPO)

The bridge is not built overnight; it is a scaffold of conversations, joint projects, and mutual respect. When HR and Finance departments walk across it together, magic happens:

  1. Empathy: I step into HR's shoes. What keeps them awake at night? What are their pain points? When HR shares concerns about talent retention, I listen. When they advocate for mental health initiatives, I empathize. Empathy is not just a soft skill; it is the mortar that binds our bridge.
  2. Collaborative Learning: I attend HR workshops, and they attend finance seminars. We cross-pollinate knowledge. When I understand the nuances of employee engagement surveys, I can align financial incentives accordingly. When they grasp the intricacies of financial modeling, they can advocate for resource allocation.
  3. Joint Metrics: We create a dashboard—a cockpit where HR metrics and financial key performance indices (KPIs) coexist. It is not just about revenue growth; it is about employee satisfaction scores. It is not just about cost containment; it is about talent acquisition cost per hire. When we track these jointly, we see patterns—the ebb and flow of organizational health.
  4. Transparent Decision-Making: When we allocate budgets, it is not a clandestine affair. We demystify the process—explaining why certain initiatives get green lights while others wait. Transparency builds trust. When HR understands the financial constraints, they become partners in optimization.
  5. Shared Wins and Losses: When we celebrate a successful product launch, it is not just marketing's victory; it is ours. When we face a downturn, it is not just finance's challenge; it is HR's too. Shared wins amplify joy; shared losses dilute sorrow. We are in the same boat, rowing toward the same horizon.
  6. Conflict Resolution: Bridges sometimes sway in storms. When conflicts arise, overcompensation decisions for example—we do not build walls; we build dialogue. We sit across the table, armed with data and empathy. We seek win-win solutions. Sometimes it is a compromise; sometimes it is a creative workaround. But it is never a deadlock.
  7. Leadership Alignment: The CEO's vision is our North Star. When HR and Finance leaders align—whether in strategy sessions or over coffee—they set the tone. Their unity sends ripples through the organization. We are not two functions; we are one orchestra, playing different instruments but creating harmonious melodies.

So, the secret is not a mystical incantation; it is a daily practice—a dance of collaboration, where HR's pirouettes meet finance's foxtrots. As we sway, we build bridges that withstand storms, connect islands of expertise, and lead us to shared success.

Key Takeaway:

This is all about shared successes and relating to the challenges and goals of the other functions. If the goal is for Human Resources or Finance to win, success is limited. We need to do a better job defining success on broader, enterprise-wide terms.

Question 9: If you could have done any other career (and magically had the aptitude), what would it have been?

Michael (CPO)

There were a few competing interests before I chose a career in human capital. However, after I dipped my toe in an internal HR role at a Big Four consultancy, as a young professional curious about the human condition at work, I was hooked. Leveraging technology capabilities from various vendors along the way as a means to transform HR kept my inner geek motivated. Having the fortunate experience of working with many clients and colleagues who are way smarter than me has kept my high-learning mindset fulfilled. I have enjoyed internal and consulting roles throughout my career and will always straddle both.

Elliot (CFO)

Biologist, doctor, lawyer, or engineer! I think a biologist would be my favorite. I would traverse through lush forests and dive into the mysterious depths of oceans, unraveling the secrets of life. With a microscope as my companion, every cell and species would unveil a story, a discovery that bridges the gap between existence and understanding. Or I would just sit in a lab and look at Petri dishes. I am not sure.

Key Takeaway:

It looks like our leaders would have not strayed too far from the mindset of their current professions. Science and numbers for our CFO and all things about the human condition and emotion (music) for our CPO.

Question 10: Where do you see the CPO/CFO function headed in the next five years?

Michael (CPO)

Robots! I cannot wait. In all seriousness, AI is finally here on our doorstep and will be a dramatic game changer along with continued investment in innovative technologies that help us truly move the needle on efficiency and effectiveness while improving the overall employee experience. Successful HR leaders will understand and embrace tech more than ever and keep it as a top priority. AI technology will allow leaders to shift further into strategy from tactics as many administrative tasks are automated. Evolution is essential to our function.

That being said, human beings will always benefit greatly from working in an organizational culture that inspires performance while allowing people to learn from successes and failures along the way. This will continue to be top of mind over the next five years in my view. Achieving your desired culture does not happen without intentionality. Although HR does not exclusively own it, we have a unique position to shape the trajectory of essential elements of organizational culture. This includes fostering inspiring and authentic leadership, providing clear direction on strategy, vision, and purpose, promoting shared beliefs and values, offering consistent experiences, and ensuring that every individual in the organization has the chance to learn, develop, and be their best self.

Elliot (CFO)

In the next five years, the role of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is poised for significant transformation. Let us peer into the crystal ball and explore the dramatic shifts that await:

  1. Strategic Navigator Beyond Numbers: The CFO's traditional role as a financial steward will evolve. While financial acumen remains critical, the CFO will transcend spreadsheets. They will become strategic navigators—orchestrators of growth, risk management, and sustainability. The CFO will not merely report on financial health; they will shape it. Expect a shift from "What happened?" to "What should happen?"
  2. Data Alchemist: The CFO's desk will resemble a data refinery. Advanced analytics, AI, and machine learning will be their tools. They will mine insights from vast datasets—predicting market trends, optimizing supply chains, and identifying growth pockets. The CFO will not just interpret data; they will transmute it into actionable wisdom.
  3. Risk Whisperer: Risk management will not be a reactive exercise; it will be anticipatory. The CFO will wield scenario planning like a crystal ball—predicting supply chain disruptions, cyber threats, and geopolitical shocks. They will balance risk appetite with agility. Cybersecurity will not be an IT issue; it will be a CFO priority.
  4. Capital Allocation Revolution: The CFO's decisions on capital allocation will shift. Beyond traditional investments, they will fund innovation, research and development (R&D), and digital transformation. They will evaluate intangibles—brand value, intellectual property, and human capital. The CFO will not just allocate capital; they will allocate resilience.
  5. Tech Whisperer: The CFO will collaborate with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) like never before. Technology will not be an enigma; it will be their ally. Blockchain for transparent supply chains, AI for predictive finance, and cloud for agility—the CFO will speak this language fluently.
  6. Boardroom Diplomat: The CFO's seat at the boardroom table will expand. They will translate financial complexities into narratives that resonate with directors. Their influence will not be confined to numbers; it will extend to strategy, culture, and purpose. The CFO will not just report to the board; they will shape its vision.
  7. Agile Capital Markets Navigator: The CFO will tap into diverse capital markets—venture capital, private equity, green bonds, and special-purpose acquisition vehicles (SPACs). They will tailor financing structures to organizational needs. IPOs will not be the sole route; direct listings and SPACs will redefine the CFO's toolkit.
  8. Human Capital Alchemist: The CFO will recognize that talent is not just an expense; it is an asset. They will champion employee well-being, diversity, and upskilling. The CFO will not just manage payroll; they will nurture organizational DNA.
  9. Purpose-Driven Metrics: Financial metrics will not stand alone. The CFO will weave purpose into performance. Metrics like Return on Purpose (ROP) will gauge societal impact. Success will not be profit at any cost; it will be profit with purpose.

The CFO's metamorphosis will not be incremental; it will be seismic. Buckle up—the next five years will be a thrilling ascent to uncharted peaks.

Key Takeaway:

Our senior leaders are seeing an exponential shift in how we do business, collaborate, and innovate. AI is the cornerstone of a "seismic" shift in the world of work, and we need to be ready. As we gain access to unlimited information in a useful format to drive better decisions faster, we will also be unbridled from the administrative tasks currently holding us back. The equation for performance is happening now. Stay curious. Stay passionate. Get out of your lane and collaborate.

Final Thoughts:

Diverse mindsets and perspectives strengthen our organizations and teams, provided they collaborate effectively to solve problems and achieve outcomes that benefit the entire organization. Siloed organizations where functions are fighting for personal wins negatively impact the broader success of the enterprise. Although success is about skill and experience, it is also about building relationships and understanding the broader needs of the operation. When we have this broader understanding and these relationships, we make better decisions faster.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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