The First 90 Days of a New CFO

Contrary to the way many people in the recruitment industry work, the successful placement of a CFO does not stop once an offer of employment is accepted by the new CFO.

Actually, this is one of the most critical stages in the successful hire of a new CFO – Transition.

If you look at the timeline for any well planned project, one project stage does not begin at the point in time that another ends.

For a New CFO, Transition begins…

    • before you start on the 1st day.
    • before you sign your offer letter.

Transition begins when you are interviewing.

You need to know what you’re getting yourself into. The more you can learn about the company during the interview process, before you sign your offer and before you start, the better off you will be as you transition into your new CFO role in the first 90 days.

As part of our complete CFO Search service, we provide the new CFO with our Accelerated Transition Program. This program coaches the CFO to get them up and running smoothly and quickly. (We also deliver our Accelerated Transition Program to CFOs who were not placed by us).

The ‘bible’ for successful transitions is “The First 90 Days – Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels” by Michael Watkins. Published in 2003, this book is the guide that we use in all our New CFO Transitions. Watkins clearly describes the process to ensure the success of a new leader, including the CFO. Our CFOs appreciate the coaching we provide in conjunction with this important handbook.

I do not want to summarize the content of the book here as I really could not do it justice. However, here are some additional recommendations that CFOs should consider as they embark on their new CFO position.

1) The numbers. A New CFO should really understand the numbers before walking in on Day 1. You should have reviewed the Financial Statements of the company for the last 5 years, including the MD&A (if publicly listed). You should review the current budgets or forecasts and the business plan going forward. You should not be learning this information when you’re at your desk – there will be too much to do once you’re there.

2) Relationships within the company. Yes. I harp on relationships. That is because they are the most important factor for your success with your new employer. I can’t stress this enough. Know your CEO, Board, your fellow VPs and your team. I urge you to follow the guidance in “The First 90 Days” on how to make the most out of these relationships. Remember, you may be the numbers guy or gal, but you will only be able to accomplish and become a Successful CFO by working with and for the people at your new employer.

3) External Relationships. Bankers, Lawyers, Auditors, and of course Investors. You are the CFO. You represent the financial face of the company. They may not have hired you, but they will have to deal with you. Don’t forget, you need them to trust you.

4) Understand the business. You need to really and truly understand the inputs, process and outputs of the company. You need to be able to internalize why people buy your product or service and understand the company’s value proposition. The role of Finance is to support the business. You can only support it if you truly understand it.

5) Smile. It’s simple. No one likes a sourpuss.


  1. says

    Great Information. This is what makes you the CFO expert and your service so valuable. What if every CFO decides to make the first of next month an imaginary first day and treats the next 90 days as you recommend? Aren’t all these activities good for CFOs already in the seat?


    Ken Tudhope

  2. Anuraag Rai says

    I personally feel this book is true enabler – it creates huge awareness on Do’s & Dont’s – on social & cultural front , where normally most of the goof ups happens plus it also enhances one’s sensitivity towards Business & Organisation environment which for sure needs very careful & diligent handling in first 90 days .

    This book also offer intelligent suggestions on areas like , at what stage one must start fixing low hanging fruits & in finalizing organisation design for his/her domain ,for delivering performance and managing favorable perception .

    I have been providing this book to all the individuals taking over leadership role with lots of hope and results were pretty good .

    All the best ,

    Anuraag Rai

    • says


      The company you work for and the people you work with are very fortunate to have you.

      I’m pleased you have been using the book. Have you ever used it with finance executives?



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