Must-Read Books All Finance Leaders Should Have on Their Shelves

Baha Makarem
Baha' Makarem

, FP&A Manager, Abacum

13 min read · Published: September 27, 2023

blog 05 must read books

🎯 Introduction

When stepping into leadership roles, FP&A professionals move away from crunching numbers in Excel, financial modeling, and managing the monthly budgeting process. Instead, they are tasked with helping organizations navigate turbulent times, refine strategic metrics, and optimize business performance. Because of this shift, they must be able to stay ahead of the curve, acquire new knowledge independently, and apply their learnings in specific situations.

Over the last decade, major developments in the financial services industry have changed how businesses in this sector operate. Technological advancements, globalization, and regulatory updates require FP&A teams to run the business in new ways. In the same way these changes are pushing leaders to adapt, they are also impacting the way financial analysts conduct more hands-on tasks.

To lead their organizations through this transformational period, bringing everyone along on a cohesive journey, finance professionals throughout the industry need to be proactive in their approach.

Staying up-to-date on the latest financial reporting methods, implementing more advanced tools than Microsoft Excel, and achieving higher levels of forecasting accuracy are no longer competitive advantages – they are baseline requirements for leaders.

Luckily, there are numerous resources available that can provide financial professionals in leadership roles with valuable insights into the landscape of the corporate finance field today.

Continue reading to learn about the top Finance and FP&A book recommendations from our favorite authors that every leader should have in their collection.

1. Financial Planning & Analysis and Performance Management (Wiley Finance)

financial planning and analysis and performance management book

Author: Jack Alexander

Price (Amazon US): $40 for Handcover

Great For: Leaders without mentors to lean on can turn to Jack Alexander instead; he provides fantastic insight into the realities of leading an organization, making it feel a bit less lonely at the top.

If boosting the effectiveness of your organization is a priority for you – which, it is for all financial professionals – then this Wiley Finance book by Jack Alexander is an extremely helpful practical guide. Its coverage spans from budgeting and forecasting to benchmarking, performance management, and financial communication.

Jack has years in your seat; he’s seen the changing demands placed on CFOs and FP&A teams as a whole, and his insights will help make those changes a bit more manageable. If your FP&A function needs a new approach to operating in today’s financial environment, look no further. This book will teach you how to utilize cutting-edge analytical tools and revamp how financial statements are used to reach new levels of business success.

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

the 80 20 cfo how to make strategic transformations in your company book

Author: Suzy Taherian and Janice Berthold

Price (Amazon US): $9.99 for Paperback

Great For: Transformational thought leaders who are hitting roadblocks when it comes to getting organization-wide buy-in of new processes and technologies in finance.

If you’re new to leading FP&A processes and shaping performance management strategies, get your hands on a copy of this book. In it, the pair breaks down how to dive into CFO roles or other leadership positions and take action quickly while still ensuring that your teams have rock-solid trust in where you’re taking the organization.

As the CFO, it’s critical that you build long-lasting strategic relationships with key business partners – both internally and externally – and this offers a helpful starting point. It’s not filled with corporate jargon and theoretical takes; it’s action-packed and provides insights that you can employ starting today.

3. The New CFO Financial Leadership Manual

the new cfo financial leadership manual book

Author: Steven M. Bragg

Price (Amazon US): $101 for Handcover

Great For: Someone who is ready to master leading large, strategic business initiatives and revamp how detailed processes are managed within their organization.

A must-read for any CFO looking to master the fundamentals of leadership and play a strategic role in their organization.

From tried-and-true proactive strategies to management best practices, Bragg gives a fantastic overview of how to increase efficiency, minimize risk, and keep a business competitive. It contains current information on the CFO’s relationship with multiple entities, control flowcharts for key accounting cycles, and a timeless, detailed list of the critical tasks every CFO should complete upon starting the role to succeed.

4. Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It

secrets of sand hill road venture capital and how to get it book

Author: Scott Kupor

Price (Amazon US): $20.83 for Paperback

Great For: Startup entrepreneurs or business leaders seeking funding can use this to understand VC requirements, make the right investments, and pitch their business.

This is a comprehensive guide to understanding what makes VCs tick, from the history of the industry to their investment strategies. It includes background on the people behind the scenes who fund startups and how they evaluate them, as well as insights into why some startups succeed while others fail.

It also illustrates how to properly pitch your business and gives helpful examples of what NOT to do. Even experienced founders can flounder in investor meetings, but with the information in this book, you won’t fall into that trap.

Because it’s full of financial information that can turn your fundraising efforts into a successful business, this book has been used by top Silicon Valley venture capitalists to become some of the world’s wealthiest people.

5. Principles: Life and Work

principles life and work book

Author: Ray Dalio

Price (Amazon US): $24.83 for Handcover

Great For: Those finance executives who want to understand how interconnected the function is, what it means to make better business decisions, and the ways radical transparency can impact an organization.

As a successful investor and entrepreneur, Dalio shares some of his most profound business insights in his book, Principles. It is a concise guide on how to build world-class organizations, covering topics ranging from leadership and strategy to operations and culture.

He explains the best approaches for making decisions, solving issues, and forming effective teams through radical transparency. This book also takes a unique approach by explaining how all aspects of life, including management, economics, and investing, can be standardized into rules and comprehended like machines.

6. Amp it Up

amp it up book

Author: Frank Slootman

Price (Amazon US): $24.17 for Handcover

Great For: When your team is losing motivation and turning to you for guidance, tap into the teachings in “Amp it Up” and you’ll boost productivity in no time.

By reading Frank Slootman’s book “Amp it Up”, you can discover how to take action to increase organizational effectiveness. Slootman argues in his book that most leaders can develop and implement strategies to boost productivity and drive results across the business without making costly changes to their talent, structure, or core business model. This can be accomplished by continuously focusing on making conflicting decisions that break the status quo and eliminate mediocrity.

The secret sauce? Bringing people together around what is actually essential and executing it every day with a sense of urgency and determination.

7. Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine

profit first transform your business from a cash eating monster to a money making machine book

Author: Mike Michalowicz

Price (Amazon US): $19.58 for Handcover

Great For: Leaders who are looking for long-term strategies for a healthy, scalable business that can withstand any challenge thrown its way.

Profit first is the game-changing roadmap for business leaders seeking sustainable profitability.

By taking profits first, Finance professionals are usually forced to think smarter and be more innovative. Which, at the end of the day, means being able to focus on eliminating unnecessary spending in favor of financial health.

With dozens of case studies and practical advice, Michalowicz shares his proven system for running a company efficiently. He explains how to make profit a habit, cut costs, and transform companies from cash-eating monsters into profitable cash cows to ultimately meet long-term growth goals.

8. The Financial Controller and CFO’s Toolkit: Lean Practices to Transform Your Finance Team

the financial controller and cfos toolkit lean practices to transform your finance team book

Author: David Parmenter

Price (Amazon US): $34.99 for Handcover

Great For: CFOs and finance leaders who are aiming to change how their organization thinks about and conducts many long-standing financial processes.

If you’re stepping into the CFO role at a small business or mid-size enterprise, this will serve as a handbook and a toolkit, illuminating your path to success. Implementing lean finance processes, getting rid of inefficiencies, getting the right people in the right roles, and strategically using effective KPIs can build a new foundation for your finance department.

Opt out of monthly close processes that take multiple weeks, implement quarterly rolling forecasts, and cut your annual planning time down to two weeks with guidance from this book. Cash flow management, monthly consolidation processes, and effective performance dashboards have never been explained in a more practical way. It may not feel possible now, but with the right resources, the core of your business will change right before your eyes.

9. High Output Management

high output management book

Author: Andrew S. Grove

Price (Amazon US): $33.24 for Paperback

Great For: Underperforming teams are usually a result of poor management; if you’re ready to enable your team’s success, or simply avoid the pitfalls of chaotic collaboration, this is the read for you.

High Output Management is a legendary management book that offers invaluable insight into creating a successful organization and aiding executives in managing real-life business challenges.

This management manifesto is intended for CEOs, founders, sales managers, accountants, consultants, and even teachers. It offers tactical advice for building and motivating highly productive teams by establishing processes, focusing on the critical indicators of output, and setting expectations to reshape the way we operate.

10. Create Value as a Finance Business Partner: Transforming the Finance Function into a Profit Centre

create value as a finance business partner transforming the finance function into a profit centre book

Author: Bo Foged, Anders Liu-Lindberg, Henriett K.B. Fynsk, and Andrew Codd

Price (Amazon US): $58.75 for Paperback

Great For: Leaders who see the potential impact their finance teams can have but aren’t sure how to reposition the function from number crunchers to strategic business partners.

This in-depth manual explains how to turn your company from a cost center to a profit center. By acquiring a complete understanding of your business and implementing value-creating, collaborative strategies you will be able to serve as a pivotal business partner for your organization.

The authors present a set of frameworks for assessing a company’s financial performance and revolutionizing the Strategic Finance function through automation and digitalization. As a result, you will be able to adopt a business partner mindset by applying the key findings from this book.

BONUS (2023 Recommendations by Paul Barnhurst)

During a virtual event hosted by the leadership team at Abacum – CFO Days 2023 – we engaged some of the most brilliant thought leaders in FP&A to share their perspectives with our staff, other CFOs, and business leaders in the financial services industry.

Paul Barnhurst, who is well-known as “The FP&A Guy,” came to share his thoughts on how to turn data into a story that the audience can engage with, connect to, and use to make decisions.

As Paul taught the audience how to illustrate messages with data, he referenced some of the books that shaped his knowledge foundation.

Anyone who works in FP&A needs to know how to transform the channels of data and apply the insights in the workplace. In short, they need to master FP&A storytelling.

Here are the books to get started doing just that:

1. Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative and Visuals

effective data storytelling how to drive change with data narrative and visuals book

Author: Brent Dykes

Price (Amazon US): $31.93 for Handcover

Great For: FP&A experts who want to level up in how they understand data, transmit data insights, and make decisions based on complex data findings.

In his guidebook, Brent Dykes breaks down the theory and practice of engaging audiences using data. He paints a picture by creating a Venn Diagram that has three focus areas: narrative, visuals, and data. He explains that data and narrative are used to explain; data and visuals are used to enlighten; and narrative and visuals are used to engage. When all three work together, change happens.

2. Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals

storytelling with data a data visualization guide for business professionals book

Author: Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

Price (Amazon US): $31.81 for Paperback

Great For: Written for professionals who are ready to bring their data visualization capabilities into the 21st century, this book hones in on perfecting data-driven visuals.

Knaflic is an ex-Googler and data podcaster; she has spent her career breaking down everything she thought she knew about data visualizations and rebuilding those ideas to be more effective and impactful. Now, in her book, she shares years of learning with all of us. This one focuses less on the storytelling itself and does a deep dive into effective visualizations. 

3. Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten

show me the numbers designing tables and graphs to enlighten book

Author: Stephen Few

Price (Amazon US): $23.11 for Handcover

Great For: Anyone who hasn’t been trained to design tables and graphs for effective communication – hint hint, it’s all of us!

Paul refers to Stephen Few as one of the “fathers of data visualization,” and hints that any of his books are great reads. This one in particular reminds readers of all the times they’ve been bored out of their minds when looking at complex data sets and associated visuals. Then, he picks those situations apart and tells you exactly how to take your next data presentation from ‘yawn’ to ‘yes’!

Putting Theory into Practice

Books are a great resource for finance leaders, but reading is certainly not the only way to become a better manager or CFO. By taking everything that you learn from books and bringing new concepts to life in the real world, you can cement the authors’ messages and understand how certain components of leadership play out in the workplace.

A great place to start applying these learnings in new settings is at international finance conferences. You’ll get to meet people who are in similar situations, bounce ideas off other leaders, and listen to some of the most successful leaders that have come before you. To find a conference that fits what you’re looking for, check out our list of finance conferences that are coming up!

To get the recognition you deserve for up-leveling your skill set, consider signing up for an FP&A certification of some sort. There are plenty of courses – virtual and in-person – that can boost your resume and give you tools to succeed in your endeavors.

When you couple new mediums of learning with the tried and true results of reading, you’ll become a finance leader that everyone has dreamed of working with.

Pair Your Learning with the Right Financial Tool

Learning by doing is the best way to approach business in today’s dynamic environment. Whether you are a seasoned Finance leader, an investor, or just getting started within the Finance industry, one thing is certain: more precise projections are required in volatile times. Because of this, there is no better moment than now to start investing in financial planning and analysis software to help in strategic decision-making.

That is why, at Abacum, we created an FP&A solution to assist Finance professionals in becoming heroes in their organizations through greater insights and faster execution. Plan, forecast, analyze, and optimize your finances with our agile and collaborative tool designed to make smarter decisions faster.

Request a demo today to learn how our product can help you put all of your knowledge into practice.

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