“The magazine was founded on the insight that the chief financial officer and financial executives in general were going to play a more important role in the corporation,” said Julia Homer, the magazine’s founding editor.
Homer is something of a rarity in business publishing for several reasons. Among the two most prominent are her long tenure and her gender. In a recent interview with Media Business, she reflected on her two decades at the helm of CFO.
Over the past 20 years, she has seen CFO emerge as an increasingly powerful and influential publication, mirroring the rise of finance’s role within corporations. CFO is the No. 1-ranked publication for C-level coverage and audience composition among business and information technology magazines, according to IntelliQuest.
CFO, which has a rate base of 450,000, has also become much more than a single magazine. Its brand extensions include CFO.com and several print publications: CFO IT, CFO Human Capital, CFO Banking & Finance, CFO Europe, CFO Asia and CFO China.
Part of the reason for the magazine’s strength is the editorial direction supplied for two decades by Homer. She played a key role in the redesign, which includes a new front of the book, renamed “Topline.” The section features “By the Numbers,” a page featuring original research from CFO; “View from,” which provides a global perspective on finance from the editors of CFO Europe and CFO Asia; and “On the Record,” an interview with a prominent executive.
Homer is especially excited about the “View from” segment. “It reflects the fact that we are a global magazine and our readers increasingly have become interested in global issues,” she said. “This will be a column written by our sister publications, CFO Asia and CFO Europe, about what’s going on in their region of the world.”
Looking back on the growth of the CFO’s influence, Homer said that several events marked the financial executive’s rise in power. She pointed to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.’s pioneering of the leveraged buyout in the 1980s as a central development.
In recent years, the scandals at Enron and elsewhere have served to make the CFO position only stronger in the wake of Sarbanes-Oxley’s introduction, Homer said. “Boards [of a corporation] feel so much pressure to be financially well informed, so you’re finding them having much more contact with the CFO than ever before,” she explained.
Looking back, Homer said the Economist Group’s purchase of the 4 year-old CFO in 1989 was a key milestone for the publication. The buyer, she said, provided much more than simple investment dollars. “Our editorial values and theirs both emphasized the quality and independence of editorial,” she said.
Homer points to several highlights in CFO’s coverage over the years: a report on fraud at Cendant, a look at troubles at SAP in the early 1990s, and a report that explored how to fix the relationship between auditing firms and corporations.
As in any career expanding across two decades, there were some lowlights as well. For instance, the magazine named Enron’s Andrew Fastow as a recipient of its CFO Excellence Award in 1999 for “capital structure management.”
Homer said journalists at CFO sensed that something was not fully right at the company but were frustrated in their efforts to wind their way through data provided by Enron to the Securities and Exchange Commission. “We had some of the instincts that something was wrong, but we lacked the ability to find out whether it was really wrong or not,” Homer said.
She also pointed out that more rigorous disclosure laws, which her magazine vigorously advocated, have helped ensure that such fraud will be more difficult to conceal in the future.
Homer also she doesn’t believe that being a woman in her job has hurt her. In fact, she acknowledged it may have helped in one key way. “[In interviews], you’re perceived as less threatening, so people might not feel that they need to be so guarded,” she said.