If chief financial officers were feeling overlooked, the last few months should have cured most of any desire to make the front pages. First, there was Andrew Fastow, fingered by many as the mastermind behind Enron Corp.'s downfall for his off-balance-sheet creativity.

Following the implosion of Enron, many CFOs at companies like Cisco Systems Inc., Tyco International Ltd. and even General Electric Co. have had to scramble to put out information–and, in Tyco's case, to line up bank credit–to reassure investors that the companies are as sound as their books make them appear to be. And most recently, Nortel Network Corp.'s CFO, Terry Hungle, resigned after the company reported that he sold Nortel shares just ahead of an announcement of a worse-than-expected quarterly loss.

There's no question that it has been a difficult time to be a CFO-particularly an honest one. And yet, one of the clearest messages to emerge from the recent wave of scandal is how central the CFO is to the strategic life of a corporation and how critical it is for a company to have one who can withstand the scrutiny of the markets and media. "The really good CFO seems to be one who very self-assuredly masters all the aspects of a company," says Michael Useem, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

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