In the 1980s, Autodesk won over architects and engineers with its computer-aided design (CAD) software that could render complex, photorealistic models in a fraction of a second—a feat unheard of at the time. It was the early days of the computer age, and Autodesk’s revolutionary software struck a chord. Within a few years, sales topped $100 million.
More than three decades after its launch, Autodesk still gives creatives the tools to make anything they can dream up. But that requires the company to keep up with industry changes and broader technology trends—and to rethink the skills it looks for in employees.
“Given that the environment at Autodesk is constantly changing, we look for people who can adapt to new situations and are energized by change,” says CFO R. Scott Herren, who is responsible for Autodesk’s global finance, information technology, and procurement organizations. “It’s not for everyone, but it certainly keeps things exciting.”
More than mere number jugglers
One big change—and one that directly affects Autodesk’s finance team—is the company’s shift to a subscription-based model. As a result, Herren seeks out well-rounded candidates with experiences and backgrounds that go beyond finance.
And he isn’t alone. As the finance department’s role evolves, CFOs are increasingly expected to help steer company strategy beyond core financial responsibilities. Those responsibilities—and the constantly changing realities of modern business—have given rise to new types of ideal candidates, including what finance industry consultant Bryan Proctor calls “superstar No. 2s.”
These senior execs, Proctor tells The Wall Street Journal, must be change makers (or at least open to change), and have great leadership skills to ensure that the finance department fulfills its expanded role.
Soft skills 101
Herren also emphasizes soft skills, such as relationship management and verbal and written communication. In a department like finance where it’s easy to categorize employees as number crunchers, Herren says that effective communication is essential if the finance team is to exert its influence.
“It used to be that a degree in finance or accounting was enough to get you in the door, but that’s no longer the case,” he says. “You may be a top performer in school, but if your colleagues or customers find you difficult to work with, it diminishes your credibility, which hurts the overall team and slows down progress.”
It’s advice that new grads should consider. A recent Robert Half Finance & Accounting survey found that more than half (54 percent) of surveyed CFOs consider technical and soft skills to be equally important for non-management roles.
Culture drives performance
For now, it seems, candidates are obliging Herren’s desire to draw from a diverse talent pool. He says he has seen an increase in applicants who don’t hold finance or accounting degrees.
Bringing in candidates with diverse skillsets not only helps to sustain Autodesk’s culture of inclusion and innovation, Herren says, but it also helps that culture to flourish—which, in turn, has helped drive growth. In its third quarter financial results, Autodesk announced $1.9 billion in recurring revenue from its subscription business, a 24 percent year-over-year increase.
“Not only is a good cultural fit critical for us, it’s critical for the applicants as well. They do their research to ensure that they’re selecting a company with values that align with theirs and that they can be proud to say they work for.”