Leadership

10 Must-Read Books for Forward-Thinking CFOs in 2021

June 23, 2021
The C2FO Team

It’s no secret that successful people read, a lot. Here are 10 books every aspiring financial leader should have on the shelf. 

Confirmed bibliophile Warren Buffett spends 80% of his day reading. In a 2017 interview for a Rolling Stone cover story, Elon Musk revealed that he was “raised by books.”

CFOs and other finance leaders may not have had much time to read for pleasure over the past eighteen months, as they cut costs, revamped revenue forecasts and helped their businesses navigate the coronavirus pandemic. However, it’s a proven fact that reading and acquiring new knowledge is the fastest route to personal growth. To paraphrase a famous quote from Mark Twain, “The person who does not read has no advantage over the person who cannot read.” 

Because of this, we’ve curated a list of inspiring and informative books for CFOs and aspiring finance executives that offer reflection on personal and career development, and provide fresh perspectives on pressing social issues. 

Below are 10 books that every finance leader should add to their bookshelf, along with key excerpts to give you an idea of their content. 

 

1. Fit for Growth: A Guide to Strategic Cost-Cutting, Restructuring, and Renewal

Vinay Couto, John Plansky and Deniz Caglar

“Fit for growth companies enjoy higher shareholder returns and sustained growth. Why? Because they put their money where their strategy is. Through constructive cutting, fit for growth companies connect their costs with their strategy so they can invest resources in what truly differentiates them from the competition. They cut costs at the right time, from the right spots, in the right way to stay lean, fit, and ready to pursue growth.”

2. The 80/20 CFO: How to Make Strategic Transformations in Your Company

Janice Berthold and Suzy Taherian

“It’s said CFOs hold one of the loneliest positions in the executive suite. This perception is by design because the CFO is the counterbalance; the police and steward of the organization, so the role naturally pits them against others in the organization.

“So where can CFOs go for support and actionable insights to overcome the challenges they will face? That’s where this book comes in. This book helps CFOs get alignment and build relationships with key stakeholders, so they’re seen as a guiding force for transformation.” 

3. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

 Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter

“The corporate world is filled with executives, men and women who have worked hard for years to reach the upper levels of management. They’re intelligent, skilled and even charismatic. But only a handful of them will ever reach the pinnacle — and as executive coach Marshall Goldsmith shows in this book, subtle nuances make all the difference. These are small “transactional flaws” performed by one person against another (as simple as not saying thank you enough), which lead to negative perceptions that can hold any executive back.”

4. Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work 

Sue Unerman, Kathryn Jacob and Mark Edwards 

“Following interviews at over 200 international businesses about the irrefutable business case for diversity at work, Sue Unerman, Kathryn Jacob and Mark Edwards have discovered one major problem that is holding back the move towards greater diversity: where are all the white men?

“The book sets out to understand why more men aren’t engaged with D&I initiatives in organizations—at one extreme they may be feeling actively hostile and threatened by the changing cultural landscape. Others may be unmotivated to change: they may see diversity as a good thing in the abstract but can’t see what’s in it for them. Many will be open-minded and supportive, while still feeling unsure about what to do.”

5. Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts

Annie Duke

“Annie Duke, a former World Series of Poker champion turned business 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.”

6. No Rules Rules: Netflix And The Culture Of Reinvention

Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

“Reed Hastings, Netflix co-founder and co-CEO, and Erin Meyer, bestselling author of The Culture Mapdive deep into the controversial ideologies at the heart of the Netflix psyche, which have generated results that are the envy of the business world. Drawing on hundreds of interviews with current and past Netflix employees from around the globe and never-before-told stories of trial and error from Hastings’s own career, No Rules Rules is the fascinating and untold account of the philosophy behind one of the world’s most innovative, imaginative, and successful companies.”

7. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Maverick thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb had an illustrious career on Wall Street before turning his focus to his black swan theory. Not all swans are white, and not all events, no matter what the experts think, are predictable. Taleb shows that black swans — like 9/11 or the astonishing success of Google — cannot be foreseen and have an immeasurable impact on the world.”

8. Finite and Infinite Games

James Carse

“Finite games are the familiar contests of everyday life; they are played in order to be won, which is when they end. But infinite games are more mysterious. Their objective is not winning but ensuring the continuation of play. The rules may change, the boundaries may change, even the participants may change — as long as the game is never allowed to come to an end.

“What are infinite games? How do they affect the ways we play our finite games? What are we doing when we play — finitely or infinitely? And how can infinite games affect the ways in which we live our lives? Finite games, he shows, may offer wealth and status, power and glory, but infinite games offer something far more subtle and far grander.”

9. Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events

Robert J. Shiller 

“In a world in which internet troll farms attempt to influence foreign elections, can we afford to ignore the power of viral stories to affect economies? Using a rich array of historical examples and data, Shiller argues that studying popular stories that affect individual and collective economic behavior — what he calls “narrative economics” — has the potential to vastly improve our ability to predict, prepare for, and lessen the damage of financial crises, recessions, depressions, and other major economic events.

“Spread through the public in the form of popular stories, ideas can go viral and move markets. Whether true or false, stories like these — transmitted by word of mouth, by the news media, and increasingly by social media — drive the economy by driving our decisions about how and where to invest, how much to spend and save, and more.

“The stories people tell affect economic outcomes. Narrative Economics explains how we can begin to take these stories seriously.” 

10. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner 

“Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? How much do parents really matter?

“These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He studies the riddles of everyday life — from cheating and crime to parenting and sports — and reaches conclusions that turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They set out to explore the inner workings of a crack gang, the truth about real estate agents, the secrets of the Ku Klux Klan, and much more.

“Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, they show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives — how people get what they want or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing.”

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