Bragging rights: Ranking athletic conferences by CFOs

By Eddie Huffman

For overall performance by a college athletics conference, the Pac-12 has a strong case as the best in the U.S. The conference, which includes Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA, has bested all other NCAA conferences for national championships 15 of the past 16 years, according to the Pac-12 website.

When it comes to producing CFOs for the nation’s leading companies, however, the Pac-12 comes in fourth. The champ? The Big Ten, which has a 15-year winning streak in the CFO competition, according to the latest Volatility Report from Crist|Kolder Associates.

“The Big Ten is still carrying the load, without a doubt,” said Josh Crist, a Crist|Kolder managing director. “It’s all about curriculum in established accounting programs within schools like Illinois and Indiana that churn out quality talent both into industry and into public accounting. Those individuals are leading the way in terms of becoming large public company CFOs.”

The report looked at where the sitting CFOs for the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies earned their undergraduate degrees. Indiana and Illinois were the Big Ten leaders with 12 apiece.

Overall, the Big Ten trained 75 of the 648 CFOs with known educational backgrounds, according to the report. Foreign schools produced 48 current CFOs, while the Atlantic Coast Conference produced 47 and the Ivy League produced 42. The sports powerhouse Pac-12 educated 38, finishing ahead of the Big East (32), Southeastern Conference (30), Big 12 (30), Mid-American Conference (23), and Patriot League (23).

Companies with overseas operations help account for the large number of CFOs educated abroad, Crist said. Universities in Canada produced the most foreign-educated CFOs with 15, followed by schools in the U.K. (11) and India (7).

“Oftentimes these companies are bringing people from their international operations over to be the CFO of the American parent, and it’s rounding those folks out and giving them exposure to the United States,” he said.

Leading individual colleges in the report were the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, with 14, and the University of Notre Dame, an ACC school, with 13, just ahead of Midwest neighbors Illinois and Indiana. Notre Dame’s conference change in 2013 boosted the ACC’s CFO ranking while diminishing the Big East’s. Stanford University, a member of the Pac-12, rounded out the Top 5 schools with 11.

Crist|Kolder Associates, an executive search firm, produces the Volatility Report twice a year. Interns mine data about the movement of senior executives, Crist said. The conference data about CFOs is only a small part of the whole, taking up one page in a 51-page report.

“We spend 70 percent of our time doing CFO searches,” he said. “Because we’re doing that, our target audience is falling within those two buckets: The S&P 500 and Fortune 500. It’s relevant to their careers.”

Eddie Huffman is a freelance writer based in Greensboro, N.C.

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