Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
While not in the exact same position as Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, the sentiment feels familiar for CFOs: top-level decision-makers often feel alone, both with their positions and their decisions.
When you’re at the top of your organization, whether in a startup or a Fortune 500 Company, you don’t have someone more knowledgeable or experienced than you guiding your path. Therefore, if you want to be the best Corporate Finance Officer you can be, you need to look externally. Luckily, some of the most powerful leaders, both within and without finance, have recorded their experiences and shared them for the world to see.
If you’re like me, you’ll want to get all of these on audiobook, so you can listen at (at least) 1.2x speed while outside on runs or bike rides.
These are the best CFO books to level you up as a finance leader in 2023. In addition to a reading list that covers the long-term financial trends CFOs have had to deal with, I’ve included some books that focus on organizational health and others that are designed to simply help you improve as a professional.
CFO Books for Being a Better Finance Leader
These books are explicitly focused on helping you find success in your role. You should be able to pick up any one of them and walk away with new tools and tactics for being a better CFO, ranging from budgeting and forecasting tips to finance team leadership and financial management strategies.
1. The 80/20 CFO: How to Make Strategic Transformations in Your Company
By Janice Berthold and Suzy Taherian
Leave the ambiguity to the FP&A team. Get a clear plan for your first 90 days as an 80/20 CFO with this no-nonsense read by Berthold and Taherian.
This book is all about action. If you’re a first-time financial leader, are about to become a CFO, or just want to redefine your role and command new respect, this is the book for you. Serving as a guide for making an immediate impact as a new CFO, The 80/20 CFO is about creating change, implementing precise strategies, and getting great work done in your position.
2. The Successful CFO
By Tony Tripido
Your parents taught you to walk; Tripido wants to teach you to run. This book contains a collection of definitions, case studies, and advice from a 40-year CFO & business veteran that was named CFO of the Year in 2014 by the Houston Business Journal.
While the landscape is always changing and an effective CFO has to change with it, Tripido shares ways of approaching the position and profession that are timeless.
3. 60 Minute CFO: Bridging the Gap Between Business Owner, Banker, and CPA
By David A. Duryee
For a CFO, this book is less about reading than it is about sharing it with others. If you find that you’re having trouble communicating with other executives in your organization about your job, this book could help them make dollars and cents of what you do.
Designed for those who are familiar with the world of business but unfamiliar with business finance, the 60 Minute CFO is a 1-hr crash course on the fundamentals of finanical management to help anyone, within the finance team or without, get up to speed.
4. Reinventing the CFO
By Jeremy Hope
An oldie but a goodie, and a bestseller for a reason.
Some executives still consider the CFO role to be largely focused on crunching numbers, rather than recognizing the strategic importance that the CFO has within an organization. This often results in mountains of menial taskwork (that could be handled by a first-year analyst) landing on your plate, when your efforts are best used elsewhere.
This 2006 book by Jeremy Hope outlines actionable insights to get yourself out of the weeds and focus more on the mission-critical tasks ahead of you.
PS: combining Hope’s lessons from 2006 with automation technology from 2023 makes this book 100x more impactful.
5. Fit for Growth: A Guide to Strategic Cost Cutting, Restructuring, and Renewal
By John Plansky, Vinay Couto, and Deniz Caglar
Businesses change, and it should always be for the better. This book on transformation, financial management, and sustainable success was designed to help you create outsized growth in your impact (and bottom line) while keeping your costs minimized.
The authors concentrate wisdom from the world of management consulting into this book, giving you a 288-page journey into an advanced business school that you don’t have to pay 6-figures for. Fit for Growth is designed to help readers with “maintaining consistent high-value performance while enabling fundamental change.”
6. Future Ready: How to Master Business Forecasting
By Steve Morlidge and Steve Player
No, forecasting is not expected to tell the future… but it is meant to hedge against the avoidable.
The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank was a reminder of the responsibility that both finance teams and risk management teams have for ensuring that their organization is effectively future-proofed. Future Ready was written in 2009, following the Financial Crisis, but its lessons seem to be just as important over a decade later.
This book teaches systems and strategies for creating forecasts, ensuring their accuracy, knowing when to return to them, and much more.
7. Women CFO Stories
By Nidhi Agarwal
Newsflash: many CFOs are women.
2022 saw a record number of female CFOs, according to the Crist Kolder 2022 Volatility Report, though they are still massively underrepresented in most news and media within this space. This collection of stories by Agarwal aims to help correct that issue by bringing greater representation to accomplished, game-changing female CFOs.
Being a Better Business Leader
Though not focused specifically on finance professionals, these business leadership books cover topics that all CFOs are going to be concerned with: organizational design, strategy, hygiene, and more.
8. The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was.”
– This book’s publishers, probably
I don’t think I need to point out how black swans have impacted us all professionally, as you likely read this from your home office, so I won’t get into that.
This book is designed to help you survive and thrive in a world that’s being constantly changed by black swan events (aka our world) and introduces tools that you’re going to need to do so.
9. The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
Clayton M. Christensen
Ironically, a classic on disruptive innovation, this book is a must-read for any professional in the modern business world. Cited by some of the world’s best-known thought leaders, such as Steve Jobs and Malcolm Gladwell, The Innovator’s Dilemma outlines the ways in which companies can fail without doing anything ‘wrong’ and how to… well… not do that.
This book was first gifted to me when I was 22 and I’ve been trying to follow its principles ever since. This is one of my personal must-read books for all financial professionals.
10. Risk: A User’s Guide
Stanley McChrystal and Anne Butrico
When we think of risk, we imagine business risk; however, author Stan McChrystal approaches risk from a life-or-death perspective, sharing lessons and experiences from his days as a military general in Afghanistan.
This book looks at how businesses and their leaders fail to mitigate risk by not considering it comprehensively. McChrystal offers ten dimensions of control that can be independently managed and used to improve preparedness and responsiveness when things don’t go exactly as planned.
11. What You Do is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture
By Ben Horowitz and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Ben Horowitz is a prolific venture capitalist who has a reputation for no-nonsense writing, delivering lessons critically and practically, with little regard for avoiding profanities.
In this book, Horowitz and Gates Jr. explore a topic that many organizations and leaders overlook: intentionally creating and sustaining a culture as systematically as you create and shape your business strategy.
12. Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart
By John O’Duinn
Your organization may have settled into a digital-first routine over the last few years, but are you sure it’s the best routine for you?
O’Duinn takes 28 years of experience working in, leading, and coaching globally distributed organizations and distills it down into 379 pages for you to learn from; he did the hard stuff, and now we just get to read about what not to do.
13. Beyond Digital: How Great Leaders Transform Their Organizations and Shape the Future
By Paul Leinwand and Mahadeva Matt Mani
Beyond Digital contains battle-tested lessons for taking the changes in our working world as opportunities to build better businesses.
Looking beyond the “need-to-do” elements of digital transformation, this book challenges leaders to reshape their organizations intentionally, instead of simply letting world conditions dictate what they do and who they are.
Books for Being a Better Professional
Even if you’re already the best CFO, tactically and strategically, there are likely myriad other areas for you to move from good to great as a professional.
The following authors’ advice and lessons to make sure you’re asking the right questions of yourself and the world around you, challenging assumptions, and coming out improved on the other side.
14. Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts
By Annie Duke
Who better to teach you about intelligent bets than a world-class poker champion?
Poker players, just like CFOs, make strategic decisions, anticipate the next move with probability-based hypotheses, and are continuously managing the risks associated with the unknown; this book teaches you how to navigate an ambiguous global business environment with a systematic mind and just the right dose of intuition.
After all, you can’t expect phenomenal results if you’re unwilling to take phenomenal risks.
By Jack Welch and Suzy Welch
Business mogul Jack Welch delivers a “no-B.S.” collection of actionable insights, thought leadership, and anecdotes in this book, which readers can employ to level themselves and their organizations up.
With 40 years’ tenure at General Electric and 20 years as the President and CEO of the organization, Welch describes, well, winning around the globe against brutal competition year after year.
By Ray Dahlio
How did one of the world’s most successful inventors and entrepreneurs achieve massive success in business and in life?
Through his principles.
This playbook is a decades-long recount of Dahlio’s long, tenured career through venture capital and the public markets, outlining the decision-making principles that built Bridgewater Associates into an “idea meritocracy” and one of the most profitable hedge funds of all time.
17. Thinking, Fast and Slow
By Daniel Kahneman
Kahneman is one of the most acclaimed behavioral psychologists and economists that the world has ever seen. This book looks at “thinking” in two parts: the fast, intuitive, and emotional part; and the slow, deliberate, and (more) logical part.
Rather than dismissing the fast, emotional side of the brain, Kahneman looks at how it can be properly harnessed and leveraged for success; after all, not all CFO decisions can be based on the data alone.
18. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
By James Clear
You wouldn’t accept “because that’s the way it’s always been” as a reason for continuing to use broken systems in your organization, so why would you accept it in your personal life?
This bestseller is all about auditing your life to remove what’s holding you back and replace it with intentionally-created habits that help you become the person that you want to be. Instead of goal-setting, Clear emphasizes system-building, which is an ongoing process rather than a “one and done” end goal.
19. Outliers: The Story of Success
By Malcolm Gladwell
What sets the world’s visionaries apart from the rest of the population? How does someone successfully lean into what others may reject them for?
Gladwell explores the idea that we pay too much attention to what successful people do and too little to where they’re from. Exploring topics that are as interesting as they are potentially controversial, this book will create deep questions for you to ask about yourself as a CFO, as a leader, and as an individual.
20. This is Not a Fashion Story: Taking Chances, Breaking Rules, and Being a Boss in the Big City
By Danielle Bernstein and Emily Siegel
This book is all about learning from a massively successful influencer in New York City.
Even if you rolled your eyes at the previous sentence, there are myriad things that a CFO can learn from an enterprising influencer-turned-tech entrepreneur, including knowing when to trust your instincts, when to take risks, and how to fight to get what you want. Above all, this book can teach you what it takes to survive and thrive in our current technological climate.
You’ll never have all the answers but, after reading the best books for CFOs in 2023, you’re going to have a lot more of them. If you want even more, subscribe to The CFO Club's newsletter to get expert answers, directly in your inbox.
I want to know what you found most useful, interesting, or profound from this list and I’d really love to hear how you’ve implemented these books’ learnings in your work, startup, or Fortune 500, to find success.
Know any game-changing books that I missed? Let me know what I missed and why it matters by getting in touch with one of The CFO Club’s social media accounts or commenting below.
Keep it in the black (and be sure to come back),