Robert Ryan, the CFO of Medtronic Inc., liked his work as an outside director for UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Brunswick Corp. He sat on the boards' compensation committees and got to discuss issues that were out of his purview as a CFO. But since the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the companies consider Ryan and his accounting expertise vital necessities and have wasted no time switching him to the place where they need him most–the audit committee. "Sarbanes really narrowed my opportunities," Ryan jokes.

The irony: For the past seven years when Ryan sat on the boards of companies other than his own, he was a rarity. Traditionally, outside directorships have been doled out to chief executives, chairmen and former CEOs. Forget about choosing CFOs; it was a stretch for even presidents to get invited into this elite stratum. CFOs were relegated to seats reserved for insiders on the board, if they made it onto the radar screen at all.

All that is about to change. Despite the notoriety of CFOs like Andy Fastow, Mark Swartz and Scott Sullivan, the sordid corporate events of the past year have actually worked to enhance the role of chief number cruncher and are cementing a revisionist image of the CFO as the final arbiter of financial correctness and gatekeeper for performance goals and expectations. Nowhere is the CFO's new status more apparent than in the erstwhile clubby atmosphere of corporate boardrooms, where regulation and investor litigation have made the job of outside director far more treacherous and demanding. Sarbanes-Oxley has made it a seller's market as boards frantically seek out CFOs with impeccable records to fill the designated financial expert spots on their audit committees. "There is clearly a correlation between CFOs getting placed on boards and the new Sarbanes-Oxley and New York Stock Exchange requirements," says Tom Schoewe, executive vice president and CFO at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., who has served on Centex Corp.'s board since October 2001. "But I think there is also a direct correlation with the increased stature of CFOs in the corporation. A CFO these days can look any board member or company CEO in the eye and ask tough questions, and my board at Centex can tell you I've done that!"

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