yahooI get asked about industry experience a lot by CEOs, CFOs, and Investors. My answer always stimulates a passionate discussion.

Two recent, high-profile CFO appointments shed light on the issue.

Ken Goldman (63) was hired by Yahoo! and Marissa Mayer (38) to help resurrect this great entity. What is Yahoo! anyway? Simply put, it’s a digital media company, but it has trouble explaining that in an elevator pitch. I suppose it’s many things, and it’s sitting on a big pile of cash! How does Ken fit in from an industry experience perspective? Ken started his career in semiconductors (Cypress), moved to software (Seibel), then to the famed @Home, then back to security software (Fortinet). You could make a case that @Home and Yahoo! have some similarities, but on the surface, it doesn’t seem like a natural transition or fit for Ken.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (29) hired David Ebersman (42) from Genentech to be his CFO. Despite what Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote about David after the “debacle” of Facebook’s IPO (NY Times, Sept 3, 2012), I would hold him up to be one of the best CFOs in the Valley. It’s not immediately clear that Genentech has much in common with Facebook either.

Why two major internet players went “outside” their industries to hire CFOs

The decision has more to do with the character and quality of the CFOs than what was on the spec. Marissa and Mark probably asked everyone they knew who is the best CFO in the Valley. The same names kept coming up and they went out and got them. In the case of Yahoo!, they paid a pretty penny too.

So you think your company is the next Facebook or Yahoo! — after all, your investors just valued your company at $B+. (Even though you may or may not have revenue). Who should you try to attract to be your CFO: the person with the best industry experience on their resume, or the perceived best CFO?

Adding up the numbers in the CFO search

In executive search, the starting point should be clear. The spec is written with clear goals in mind that are derived from careful listening to the CEO and BOD. This spec will generally include the desired industry experience. But at the end of the day, the spec may be less important if you are able to attract the very best athlete. This goes to the heart of the matter of masterful recruiting, and why sometimes one plus one might not equal two. Call me, Dave Arnold, to discuss this further at: 408-205-7373.

Another essential trait for a CFO? Integrity. Be sure to read my post Search for Job Integrity in a CFO Search.