HFMA 2020: path to chief executive role

by Seamus Ward

10 December 2020

More people should ‘tread the path’ from chief finance officer to chief executive, the HFMA annual conference heard this afternoon.

pres panel lA panel session involving four current chief executives who had previously been finance directors heard that finance staff have many of the skills needed to take chief executive positions.

Suzanne Tracey, chief executive of Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust and Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, said sometimes finance managers lacked confidence in their ability to do a job outside finance.

‘If you had said to me 10 years’ ago that by now I’d be chief executive of one, never mind two, trusts, I would have said you must be mad. There is a danger that we don’t think we can do these things. That’s why I’m proud to be a member and past president of the HFMA. It has encouraged and helped me develop, and given me confidence to take these next steps.’

Panel chair and current HFMA president Caroline Clarke added: ‘The road from CFO to CEO is one that more people should tread.’

Giving advice to budding chief executives in the finance community, Sue Jacques, chief executive of County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘Equip yourself. I took on an ops directing role as well as finance. That gave me a great stepping-stone. Immerse yourself in the detail and the way of working throughout your organisation and take every opportunity you have got.’

Dudley Integrated Health and Care NHS Trust chief executive Paul Assinder said the move from cost to value in finance provided a great starting point for a chief executive.

Looking to the future, Mr Assinder said lessons had to be learned from the past, and the NHS had to overcome the ‘fallacy of homogeneity’. ‘Treating people and families in different communities all the same, with the same needs has been hugely damaging.’

He added that collaboration with communities, local authorities and the voluntary sector, and between NHS bodies, during the Covid pandemic has been just as important as the work that has been done in acute trusts.

Pictured Caroline Clarke (left), with (clockwise from left) Suzanne Tracey, Sue Jacques and Paul Assinder