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Modern finance leaders should read more than the balance sheets to build success. Here are the 10 best books for aspiring CFOs.
The best books for aspiring CFOs present an invaluable opportunity to learn new perspectives and strategies. In fact, reading is a recognized hallmark of success among business leaders, with some of the most successful executives and CEOs reading an average of four to five books a month.
The role of a modern finance leader is multifaceted, going well beyond the numbers, and is integral to a company’s sustainable growth and long-term success. CFOs today need to be strategic and nimble, and ready to respond to an ever-evolving business environment.
Keeping on top of the latest trends and resources in finance, business and leadership can provide you with the knowledge and tools you need to grow both professionally and personally, and to adapt to changing economic and market conditions. For this reason, we’ve curated a list of 10 informative and inspiring must-read books for aspiring finance leaders that offer a reflection on personal and career development, and provide fresh perspectives on pressing social issues.
By Christopher Mims
“In Arriving Today, Christopher Mims goes deep, far and wide to uncover how a single product, from creation to delivery, weaves its way from a factory on the other side of the world to our doorstep. He analyzes the evolving technologies and management strategies necessary to keep the product moving to fulfill consumers’ demand for ‘arriving today’ gratification. Mims reveals a world where the only thing moving faster than goods in an Amazon warehouse is the rate at which an entire industry is being gutted and rebuilt by innovation and mass shifts in human labor practices. He goes behind the scenes to uncover the paradoxes in this shift — into the world’s busiest port, the cabin of an 18-wheeler and Amazon’s automated warehouses — to explore how the promise of ‘arriving today’ is fulfilled through a balletic dance between humans and machines.”
What caught our attention:
Mims is a journalist who writes about technology for The Wall Street Journal and has a degree in neuroscience and behavioral biology. This book offers a detailed exploration of how and why the supply chain is changing and how digital transformation will continue to impact it in the future.
by Glenn Hopper
“Glenn Hopper uses a unique blend of financial leadership and technical expertise to help businesses of all sizes optimize and modernize. Not a software engineer? Neither is Glenn Hopper, but his story shows how any finance leader can embrace the tech innovations shaping our world to revolutionize finance operations. Accounting has come a long way since the time of the abacus, computer punch cards or even the paper ledger. Modern finance leaders have the ability and tools to build a team that harnesses the power of business intelligence to make their jobs easier. Leaders who aren’t aware of these opportunities are simply going to be outpaced by competitors willing to adapt to the 21st century and beyond.”
Hopper is a chief financial officer with two decades of experience leading finance operations for private equity-backed companies. He combines financial leadership and technical expertise to optimize operations and promote innovation and modernization within companies. “Deep Finance” is worth a read if you want to understand how to leverage emerging technology to increase organizational efficiencies and more.
By Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
“Since the original publication of Nudge more than a decade ago, the title has entered the vocabulary of businesspeople, policy makers, engaged citizens and consumers everywhere. The book has given rise to more than 400 ‘nudge units’ in governments around the world and countless groups of behavioral scientists in every part of the economy. It has taught us how to use thoughtful ‘choice architecture’ — a concept the authors invented — to help us make better decisions for ourselves, our families and our society.
Now, the authors have rewritten the book from cover to cover, making use of their experiences in and out of government over the past dozen years as well as an explosion of new research in numerous academic disciplines.”
“Nudge” has sold over 2 million copies since its original publication. The book is co-written by two authors with a wealth of experience in their respective fields; Thaler is a Nobel Prize-winning economist, and Sunstein is a legal scholar. This captivating book simplifies behavioral economic concepts and helps you understand how subtle “nudges” can be used to help people make better decisions at the individual, national and global levels.
By Vinay Couto, John Plansky and Deniz Caglar
“Fit for Growth is a unique approach to business transformation that explicitly connects growth strategy with cost management and organization restructuring. Drawing on 70-plus years of strategy consulting experience and in-depth research, the experts at PwC’s Strategy& lay out a winning framework that helps CEOs and senior executives transform their organizations for sustainable, profitable growth. This approach gives structure to strategy while promoting lasting change.
Examples from Strategy&’s hundreds of clients illustrate successful transformation on the ground and illuminate how senior and middle managers are able to take ownership and even thrive during difficult periods of transition. Throughout the Fit for Growth process, the focus is on maintaining consistent high-value performance while enabling fundamental change.”
The authors of “Fit for Growth,” Couto, Plansky and Caglar, have a combined 70 years of business strategy consulting experience across a broad range of industries and are all principals at the professional services firm PwC. This book offers helpful insights into how you can grow your company’s influence and profits by focusing on strengths, eliminating unnecessary resources, restructuring business models and finding the right places to cut costs. You can learn how to align costs with your business strategy to grow and outperform the competition.
By Ben Horowitz
“Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, offers essential advice on building and running a startup — practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems business school doesn’t cover, based on his popular ben’s blog.
While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in and supervising technology companies. A lifelong rap fanatic, he amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs, telling it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in.”
Horowitz is the co-founder of the venture capital fund Andreessen Horowitz. He previously founded and ran the technology company Opsware, and later sold it to Hewlett-Packard in 2007 for $1.6 billion. This book provides an inside perspective on some of the most challenging aspects of being an entrepreneur and explores what it takes to be an exceptional leader and build a successful business.
By Suzy Taherian and Janice Berthold
“One of the biggest challenges for a new CFO is often there’s not a job description. It’s usually something vague like ‘Make the CEO look good and help the company succeed.’ How do you do that, exactly? This book is unlike any other of its kind. We’ve cut to the chase and shared with the CFO what they need to do and how to do it.
It’s said CFOs hold one of the loneliest positions in the executive suite. This is by design because the CFO is the counterbalance in an organization. They are the police and steward of the organization, so the role pits them against others. Often there isn’t a lot of time to be successful. CFOs must make significant changes and impact in the first 90 days, which means you must hit the ground running.
Where can CFOs go for support and actionable insights? That’s where this book comes in. This book helps CFOs get alignment and build relationships with key stakeholders. In this way, they are seen as a guiding force for transformation.”
Berthold has over 30 years of commercial insurance experience and holds multiple professional designations, including CPCU, PWCA and CFC. Her co-writer, Taherian, is an experienced CFO and adjunct professor of international business at the University of California, Davis. This book is a guide for aspiring CFOs that will help you hit the ground running. It examines how you can create alignment and build lasting relationships with key stakeholders and become a force for transformation in your organization.
By Paul Polman and Andrew Winston
“The ex-Unilever CEO who increased his shareholders’ returns by 300% while ensuring the company ranked #1 in the world for sustainability for eleven years running has, for the first time, revealed how to do it. Teaming up with Andrew Winston, one of the world’s most authoritative voices on corporate sustainability, Paul Polman shows business leaders how to take on humanity’s greatest and most urgent challenges — climate change and inequality — and build a thriving business as a result.
In this candid and straight-talking handbook, Polman and Winston reveal the secrets of Unilever’s success and pull back the curtain on some of the world’s most powerful c-suites. Net Positive boldly argues that the companies of the future will profit by fixing the world’s problems, not creating them.”
Polman is the former CEO of Unilever and co-developer of UN Global Goals to accelerate action by business. He has been described by the Financial Times as “a standout CEO of the past decade.” The other author of “Net Positive,” Winston, is one of the world’s most widely read writers and leading thinkers on sustainable business. Their book outlines a strategy and framework designed to help business leaders like you build “net positive companies” that profit by contributing more to the world than they use or take.
By Rhodes Perry
“Belonging at Work empowers business leaders, change agents, visionaries and those on their way to joining them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to build inclusive organizations. The personal stories, case studies and practical strategies featured in the book offer everything you need to cultivate workplace cultures where all of your stakeholders can show up authentically and feel valued and respected for their contributions. Rhodes Perry’s visionary book serves as a blueprint for the future of work. His message inspires leaders at all levels within the organization to join the #BelongingMovement focused on positively impacting workplace cultures around the globe.”
An award-winning social entrepreneur, Perry is a sought-after speaker, podcast host and LGBTQ thought leader. His work as a diversity, equity and inclusion expert has been featured in media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press and The Huffington Post. His book, “Belonging At Work,” provides simple actions you can take to make employees feel comfortable and capable on the job. It also navigates how your business can build long-lasting relevancy and thrive by cultivating a sense of belonging that extends beyond employees to your markets and customers.
By Richard Koch
“The 80/20 principle is one of the great secrets of highly effective people and organizations. Did you know, for example, that 20% of customers account for 80% of revenues? That 20% of our time accounts for 80% of the work we accomplish? The 80/20 Principle shows how we can achieve much more with much less effort, time and resources, simply by identifying and focusing our efforts on the 20% that really counts. Although the 80/20 principle has long influenced today’s business world, author Richard Koch reveals how the principle works and shows how we can use it in a systematic and practical way to vastly increase our effectiveness, and improve our careers and our companies.”
Koch is the author of 18 critically acclaimed books and is a former entrepreneur who has made over $300 million from starting businesses and investing in early-stage venture capital. Since its publication, this book has sold over a million copies and been translated into 35 different languages. The 80/20 principle was introduced a long time ago by the Italian philosopher and economist Vilfredo Pareto, but it only came to be common practice because of this book. Ultimately, this book can be described as a manifesto for working smart, not hard. Koch summarizes: “A minority of causes, inputs or effort usually leads to a majority of the results, outputs or rewards.”
By Annie Duke
“Annie Duke, a former World Series of Poker champion turned consultant, draws on examples from business, sports, politics and (of course) poker to share tools anyone can use to embrace uncertainty and make better decisions. For most people, it’s difficult to say ‘I’m not sure’ in a world that values and, even, rewards the appearance of certainty. But professional poker players are comfortable with the fact that great decisions don’t always lead to great outcomes, and bad decisions don’t always lead to bad outcomes.”
Duke is a former professional poker player and public speaker on cognitive-behavioral decision science and decision education. This book explores the behavioral science behind decision-making and helps readers learn to be better decision-makers in an uncertain and challenging world. She helps disentangle the role of luck and skill in determining outcomes, so you can ultimately make better business moves.
This article originally published June 2021, and was updated January 2023.
In this article:
When banks pull back sharply, it can have serious consequences for small and midsize businesses.
The bank failure underlined working capital’s value — especially when you can’t easily access it.
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