CEO: When Your Brand New CFO Leaves

Dear CEO,

I noticed in the news that the CFO you hired with big fanfare only a couple of months ago has left. Your press release quoted your recently new and currently past Chief Financial Officer saying that he is returning to his previous employer because the role is too good of an opportunity to pass up.The CFO Revolving Doors

I have never been Chief Executive Officer of a publicly traded billion-dollar revenue company. I do imagine, however, that the conversation your new CFO had with you must have felt like a kick in the gut, among other places. I am sure that it was not a good day for you.

You know more than most that the past can never be changed. The question remains what can be learned from this ordeal.

While I was not involved in the drama that evolved both before, during or after this incident occurred, I have seen it happen too many times in my weekly coverage of CFO Moves across the US, Canada and the UK. Here are some pointers that you can give to other CEOs so that this does not happen to them.

1) Don’t fall in love with the wrong candidate. Technical, interpersonal, leadership, communication skills are all great. But to hire a great CFO to take you to the next level, you need to connect with motivation of the candidate.

2) Be honest with yourself. You may run a great company but your CFO to be is coming from an ever better environment, understand why they are saying yes. If you know you are runner-up, you may find yourself holding the bouquet at the alter.

3) It’s not just about money. Never, ever think that a CFO takes a role just because of the compensation package. Sure, CFOs are money motivated, but once basic needs are met, other needs are much more important.  (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the same for CFOs, except their basic needs are different than most).

4) Select your executive search partners carefully. I know that you understand the value of working with retained executive search for hiring your key leaders. Not all search firms are created equal, and not always should a search firm you have used in the past be the one you use for a critical search like your next CFO. One key differentiator you search firm needs to have is the ability to truly connect with the executive candidates. When looking for a Chief Financial Officer, a great retained search team has the ability to act as an advocate for the needs of the CFO candidate. The closer your recruiter can become a true partner to your CFO candidate, the better opportunity you will have for hiring a CFO where you will be his or her first choice.

If there is a cloud to this silver lining, it is that your recently retired CFO is available to cover until you hire again. I wish you all the best in hiring your next CFO. This time, I know you will make a better choice.

Wishing you continued success,



Lessons Learned from Target Canada: Strategy vs. Culture vs. Leadership Talent

The closing of Target in Canada within a couple of years of the iconic US retailer expanding its business in an attempt to become multi-national in an attempt to complete and grow against its main competitor (small company based out of Arkansas) is sad.Strategy Culture Leadership Talent @DergelCFO

Sad because over 17,000 people lost their jobs and need to start over.

Sad because the brand of a true ironic American company has taken a big bruising.

Sad because, if the expansion was executed correctly, it would have changed, and probably improved, the retail landscape for Canadian consumers, not to mention the impact it could have had internationally.

And most importantly, sad because it didn’t have to turn out this way.

I have waited to share my thoughts on this news so it could allow me to think about how to comment on this property, while taking in the commentary and opinions of others.

There are those that come out and blame the logistical failure that led to empty shelves.

A number of people pointed to pricing differences between the US and Canada that had Canadian consumers scratching their heads at the perception that Target Canada’s pricing was inconsistent and unfair.

Pundits point to the poorly chosen locations ‎that Target chose after the demise of Zellers in Canada, as well as the strategy of opening too many stores at once while not learning this new and culturally different market.

In the end, while these may be reasons (excuses) for a series of failures, the failures of execution stem from the failure of leadership. And this goes all the way to the top, and every leadership level on the way there.

Imagine the scene in the boardroom at Target a few years back. Imagine executive management making a very slick presentation to the Board as to the Who, What, Where, Why, When and How of expanding into Canada. Imagine that everyone was giddy with expectations of success, profits and accolades. The strategy was set. All was needed was the execution of the strategy.

When I picture the final approval at the table, my childhood memory is of Captain James T. Kirk saying those famous words “Make it So, Number One”.

Obviously, “making it so” is a lot easier said than done. Target’s Canadian adventure is one more highly publicized misadventure for MBA case studies of the near future.

Leadership Talent is where this fell apart. All the actions or inactions, reasons or excuses, come from the fact that the right people were not hired or promoted to make this grand scheme work.

I continue to see, time and time again, situations where companies do not bring on board the best possible leadership talent to execute. Execution not only means following the original strategic plan, but making sure that the plan continues to evolve as the situation evolves. The mistakes we know about, as well as the mistakes we will never hear about, all contributed to the demise of this $4 billion dollar adventure for Target shareholders.

I also continue to see, time and time again, choices being made in executive hiring that are emotional, personal and illogical. Vested interests lead to decisions being taken without proper assessment of the true needs compared to the knowledge, skills and abilities of the best candidates for these mission critical roles.

The bright side of the Target foray into Canada is the impact that Target culture has had on a generation of Canadian employees. I enjoyed reading and hearing about the warm, motivating, employee excellence and recognition culture that permeated the organization. ‎I believe that employers and employees across Canada will benefit from the introduction of these ideas into businesses across Canada for years to come.

But to paraphrase Peter Drucker:

Culture may eat strategy for breakfast, but Leadership talent ensures that there is food on the table. 

CFOs: Make 2015 the year you take your game to the next level

With 2015 approaching, many senior financial executives are thinking about what the new year will mean to their workload; deadlines, projects, bonuses (both to pay and to be received), staffing concerns and loads of other stresses. The thoughts are all about what needs to get done and what they are ultimately responsible for.

For the busy and stressed Chief Financial Officer with the weight of the world (or at least their company) on their shoulders, the approach of the holidays and the New Year should give you pause. Think about how to make things better.

There are 24 hours in a day, and, whether you plan for it or not, they will always be filled. As my CFOs told me when writing Guide to CFO Success, more than three-quarters of CFOs are putting in more than 110% of their effort into their role as senior financial executive in their organization.

CFOs are expected to accomplish more than just the day to day accounting and finance tasks. They are expected to be leaders. They need to lead their finance team, lead their colleagues at the executive table and lead the company as a whole. You need to remember that, as CFO, your input is needed to help the company make sound strategic and operational decisions.

As the noted in this 2014 study from American Express:

For eight out of ten respondents, the finance function is a strong, if not dominating, influence on strategic and operational decisions. (See Figure) The finance function is involved with strategic and operational decisions at nearly every company, and 80% of respondents say that the finance viewpoint is either an influential factor or the determining factor.

Amex 2014 study - Figure 7

The expectation is that, as leader of Finance, your opinion counts. What you have to say is influential within the company. Yet too many CFOs feel that they are getting stuck in the details.

How can a CFO get unstuck and take their game to the next level?

Formal training

As an experienced professional, you know you can benefit from continued education that makes a real difference to your career and your employer. Options that can benefit you while meeting your busy schedule can include:

  • An Executive MBA – This could be an excellent tool to move you beyond the technical you have relied upon to date. Many Executive MBA programs are tailored to the busy executive and should not impact your work schedule much.
  • CFO oriented Leadership Programs – An executive training program focused on taking a CFO to the next level might be ideal for the senior finance executive that either already has an MBA, or feels the need to build their career knowledge based with a group of similarly experienced individuals. Programs like the Queen’s CFO Leadership Beyond Finance Program, in partnership with FEI Canada, can be an ideal solution.
  • Online training – When you know what skills you need to improve on and which you need to learn for the first time, online courses can be an ideal solution. If your company has access to leadership and soft-skill courses, make sure that you take advantage of this opportunity. You could also look at service providers like Proformative Academy to give you a choice of options that will suit your training needs, as well as those of your finance team.

Peer Groups

Chief Financial Officers are positioned at the intersection of their finance team, their executive colleagues, and the CEO and the Board. Being at this junction in their organization can make it difficult for them to learn from and share with others. Many CFOs have told me that they feel lonely in their organization, and don’t have people to discuss their challenges with.

The solution to this loneliness can be being part of a group of CFO peers. I recently discussed C-Suite Peer Groups in a blog on BlueSteps. You can become part of an existing group, or create your own.

For 2015, I am creating CFO Peer Groups for a select group of CFOs across the USA and Canada. These selected Chief Financial Officers will commit to work together, learn, share and network with each other. I am excited to facilitate these groups in 2015. I expect that the participating CFOs will take their game up to the next level.

Executive Coaching

Each of the CFOs that I have worked with as their executive coach has been able to step up their game. Executive coaching for the CFO (or future CFO) can be very beneficial to the executive and the company they work for. It is my experience that, like athletes, CFOs perform better with a coach who is well suited for them.

As we approach 2015, it is time to take your game to the next level.

Whether you choose to take the formal approach to learning, get together with your peers to learn, share and network, or engage an executive coach, any step you take to improve yourself and your game is a good step.

What will you do to improve your game in 2015?


The C-Suite Relationship Map

I am fortunate to speak with hundreds of executives each year, in addition to those that I follow and track. Over the years, I have learned a lot about success, what works and what doesn’t, from these talented leaders.

One area that successful executives have in common is their ability to get the best out of their corporate relationships. No matter the discipline of the C-suite executive, their technical ability is just the base upon which they start having an impact on their organization. The CXO is not an island, but is integrated into an ecosystem that is mutually dependent. The success of any executive relies on others. Those who recognize, nurture and sustain successful corporate relationships are those that accomplish more.

My blogging and recent book, Guide to CFO Success, focuses on my primary audience, the CFO and the Office of Finance. Some of the content is CFO specific, but the guidance with respect to relationships applies across the executive suite. Guide to CFO Success spends a few chapters dealing with relationship management for the Chief Financial Officer. A key tool in this discussion is my CFO Relationship Map, a copy of which is visible below.

CFO Relationship Map - October 2014

While I created the Relationship Map for my discussion with my Finance audience, this Relationship Map is useful to all executives who wish to succeed in their own environment.

The Relationship Map is a graphical representation of the areas of corporate relationships. They include who you work for (at the top of the map), who you work with (internally, on the right of the map, and externally on the left), as well as those that support you (your team).

In the CFO Relationship Map, you’ll notice that the CFO reports to the CEO, Board and Investors, and works with the other executives of the company internally. The CFO has a number of important outside relationships, which can include bankers, lawyers, auditors and other advisors. And, as I say in my book, the CFO can only be as good as the team they have allows them to be.

Depending on your own situation, your personal Relationship Map will look different. However, like other executives, you have people you work for, work with internally as well as externally, and have people that support you.

To read the full article on the BlueSteps Executive Career Insider Blog at this link.

You can also map out your own relationships, using this blank Relationship Map or by creating your own.

Together, CFOs and CEOs Create A “Can Do” Culture

Guest Blog by Shane Berry, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Global Client Group, Global Corporate Payments, American Express Company

You can also read my related blog – CFOs should be more confident when dealing with their CEO


To anyone perpetuating the misconceptions that CFOs are accountants, bean counters or number crunchers – among many other outdated stereotypes – it’s time to put them to rest. To the CFO community, these are all but laughable characterizations, reminiscent of a time when CFOs only played an advisory role to the CEO.

Over the last 10 years, the quintessential CFO has been completely redefined. The modern CFO has become the CEO’s strategic partner, emerging as an action-oriented leader with the power and insights to make big decisions.

Countless CFOs have embraced this grab the bull by the horns mentality, resulting in a dynamic role where the CFO is taking action and forging initiatives that have historically been left to other executives, such as the COO or CEO.

Carol Tomé of Home Depot, for example, has championed a number of strategic initiatives since the early 2000s. She slowed new store openings from one every 48 hours to two per year in order to invest in technology, employees and operating efficiencies. Similarly, Mark Loughridge at IBM is credited with simplifying IBM’s message and developing a clear vision for the company to help investors and customers understand what IBM’s future would hold after selling its PC business. Last year, Starbucks CFO Troy Alstead took on additional responsibilities as group president of Global Business Services, expanding his role. In this new position, he assumed duties that include overseeing global financial, technology and supply chain operations.

Figure 8 - Amex report June 2014

Copyright © 2014 CFO Publishing LLC

As these power moves continue, the dynamic between the CEO and CFO is changing significantly. According to the seventh annual American Express/CFO Research Global Business & Spending Monitor, 92% of CEOs rely on CFOs to be either an influential or determining factor in operational decisions for the company.

Traditionally, CFOs would step in at a much later point in the decision-making process, acting as an ad hoc advisor. However, given the unique level of understanding CFOs have of the company, it makes sense that CEOs would tap CFOs as a key decision maker, or at least maintain a higher level of integration.

Since 2008, this relationship has really kicked into high gear. Still shaking off some of the post-recession paranoia, companies are hyper-aware of the need to balance costs in what is still considered an uncertain economic environment. So, in an effort to make every dollar count, CFOs are heading up strategy themselves, and are now weighing in very early on in the decision-making process.

In our research, we found that companies increasingly view CFOs as a catalyst that moves the business forward. When CEOs and CFOs come together, it promotes a “can do” culture within the company, as they are able to troubleshoot and align on the best course of action in real time. Looking to the future, CFOs will continue to work with CEOs more closely and stretch past their normal functional boundaries in order to add new value across the business.


I would like to thank Shane for his contribution to this blog.

You can view Shane’s LinkedIn Profile, or read Shane’s Bio here.

CFOs: IPOs are coming back. Are you ready?

Initial Public Offerings were hot commodities in the early and mid oh-oh’s. Most finance leadership reading this blog remember those days well, and some of you did very well financially because of it.

The recession that occurred towards the end of the last decade put a stop to that IPO train. Companies needing capital for growth had to look elsewhere, and many companies were unable to succeed because this driver of growth dried up.IPO (Initial Public Offering)

For the past few months I have been hearing the rumble of the oncoming IPO train. A number of CFOs I have spoken with in the past months have shared with me that they are being given the strategic responsibility to be ready for when the IPO market comes back. There is a feeling of cautious optimism that this catalyst for economic growth will soon be back.

How can a CFO prepare for the talent challenges to come?

One of the biggest challenges that an uptick in the IPO market will face is that there is a small pool of talented mid-level professionals with relevant and recent IPO experience. The amount of work needed to be IPO ready is significant. When the IPO dam breaks, many companies will be rushing to get their IPO done. If the talent challenges are not planned properly, companies will have to be more reliant on expensive external resources (think audit and law firm rates). Companies who properly plan for their talent needs in advance will be able to go public earlier, which could be very beneficial as well.

Another significant challenge to companies that are currently private is that the cost of being public is expensive. A CFO needs to ensure that they have the leadership and professionals on staff that can deliver the quantity and quality of timely and correct information necessary to be considered a well-run public company. CFOs bear the burden when their finance team is not able to deliver accordingly.

CFOs who have been mandated to prepare for an upcoming IPO by their board need to have a talent plan to ensure they can meet their needs for going public and staying public. This plan for talent acquisition, development and retention is necessary to balance the costs of going public and staying public.

This talent planning business will not be easy. But those that start planning now will be at an advantage.

CFOs, get ready. You could be in for a very bumpy ride on the IPO Express.

VIDEO: Webinar Presentation – CFO Succession: The Right Way to Grow your Company’s next CFO

On May 23, 2013 I presented this Webinar on Proformative.

To get more information on this presentation, please view this blog.

Links referred to in this presentation:

If you have any questions on CFO Succession, please complete the form below and I will be pleased to get back to you.

CFOs: When interviewing for your next role, make sure you have one of these

Yes, having a resume is important. So is a LinkedIn profile. I’ve blogged previously about whether a CFO needs a resume, or a LinkedIn Profile is enough.

But this is not what I’m recommending today.

I recently spoke with a CFO who is in process of interviewing for his next Chief Financial Officer role, and he was asked if he had Video of his presentations.

Yes, the CEO wanted to know how good a presenter he was, and wanted to see him in action.

Do you have videos of presentations you’ve made as CFO?

    • If you don’t, I recommend arranging to get your next presentations recorded.
    • If you do have video, and you think you could do a better job at presenting, consider getting presentation coaching.

Your next CFO role might depend on it.


If you’d like to get Samuel’s CFO Blog delivered to your email inbox when published, click on the “Sign Me Up!” button on the right of the blog page.

Podcast: Becoming a world-class CFO and Finance team: What it takes, why now, and who’s made it?

Listen to the Podcast here:


Download the Podcast file by clicking on this link.

This podcast is also available on iTunes.

Transcript for Episode 1 of the IXN Thought Leadership Podcast Series

Becoming a world-class CFO and Finance team: What it takes, why now, and who’s made it?


Donna Papacosta: Welcome to the Intellectual Xchange Network Thought Leadership podcast, sponsored by SAP. I’m Donna Papacosta, your host for this podcast.

The Intellectual Xchange Network or IXN is a thought leaders network, by invitation only. IXN members are a select group of professionals, who through their research, writing and relationships are subject matter experts in their fields. As members of the IXN they provide insights, share ideas and help their readers and listeners become better informed on how they and their companies can improve. They are not paid nor are they spokespersons for SAP.

In these conversations, you’ll meet some of the members of the IXN, who will share ideas we hope you’ll find innovative and thought provoking.

This episode of the IXN Thought Leadership Podcast series was recorded February 22, 2013. Today we’re talking about becoming a world-class CFO and Finance team: What it takes, why now, and who’s made it? Our guests are Samuel Dergel, Mary Driscoll and Frank Ciannella.

Samuel Dergel works with Stanton Chase International, and specializes in CFO executive search. He is known as “The CFO Expert” and is a blogger and social media leader on the topic of the chief financial officer. Samuel is currently writing a book for CFOs called Guide to CFO Success: Leadership Strategies for Corporate Financial Professionals, to be published by John Wiley & Sons in 2014.

Mary Driscoll is Senior Research Fellow at the American Productivity & Quality Center. APQC is a Houston-based nonprofit that provides expertise on business process benchmarking and best practices for improving organizational performance. Formerly a senior editor at CFOmagazine, Mary is the author of Cash Management: Corporate Strategies for Profit, published by John Wiley & Sons.

Frank Ciannella is a Director in the Global Analytics Center of Excellence at SAP. He is a Certified Public Accountant and has extensive experience in SAP core financial and costing solutions, as well as planning, consolidation and profitability and analysis solutions. Before coming to SAP he was a senior auditor at a public accounting firm.

Donna Papacosta:           What inspired this discussion was a recent APQC survey, referred to in an Industry Week article entitled, “Finance: CFOs can become game-changers if given half a chance.” This, combined with Samuel’s post entitled, “CFO’s, can you afford not to have an excellent Finance function?” really merits a conversation with Mary and Samuel, as well as Frank from SAP, so we can explore this in more detail.

Let’s frame the discussion starting with this question: Based on your conversations with CFOs and Finance teams, what pressures are they facing today that could be preventing them from becoming a world-class department? Do you want to start with you, Mary?

Mary Driscoll:                  Sure. I think that’s a really interesting question because we’ve been studying for many years, what are the dynamics in Finance? To say that Finance has to become a better business partner may strike some as archaic. Certainly, I’ve been talking about that and writing about it for a long time, but in my research, what I find is that many organizations hit a wall on their way up the maturity curve.

When I look at our benchmarks and research, what strikes me is that easily 50% of companies are quite happy to tolerate their Finance operating costs that are two times or even three times more than necessary. Why is that? I think there’s been a long period of lack of willingness to invest in the people, processes and technology that would make Finance not only more efficient, but more effective. That’s really what business needs today; it needs Finance to help them be an analytical competitor.

Donna Papacosta:           Samuel, I’m sure you have an opinion on this.

Samuel Dergel:                 I think that the CFOs need to think of themselves as the CEO of their group. They need to run their Finance group like a business, realizing that they have to do customer service internally and be profitable. Another way of looking at is be cost-effective. To do that, they have to think of themselves as a business, they have to have a strategy for their Finance group, and they have to have a plan. Without these things, they cannot be successful.

Donna Papacosta:           Frank, what would you add to that?

Frank Ciannella:              I’d like to add a couple of comments around the pressures that CFOs face and my conversations with them. A lot around continuing regulation, whether it’s their home country, other countries, or just some of the regulatory authorities that are put onto the Finance organization. In addition to the changing workforce and what the incoming workforce is expecting from just an analytic and systems capability, the CFO also has to be concerned with deglobalization. It’s not just competing in your home country, it’s about competing globally and understanding who your competitors are. It also extends to the war for talent.

Much to Sam’s point, the CFO needs to be the general manager of the organization as Finance is looked at as a strategic business adviser throughout. I’d say another pressure that the CFOs face is internal. There’s a lot of system inadequacy, so too much of Finance time is being spent on data collection and gathering, and just not enough on high value-add activities. And as Finance supports the organization in the growth mode, they just can’t scale, and have often mentioned to me that that’s one of their major concerns and pressures they feel; just how do they support that growth mode of the organization?

Samuel Dergel:                 Frank, how many of them have a plan? How many of them really think it through and take the time to work to improve it from a 50,000-foot level, as opposed to trying put out fires on a regular basis?

Frank Ciannella:              That’s an excellent point. I’d say the majority of them do not have a plan or they have a plan that they just haven’t been able to execute on. That’s one of the things I like to talk to them about, is putting that plan in place and being very methodical about executing on that, because that’s the only way that Finance is going to help the organization pursue its growth opportunities.

Mary Driscoll:                  I have a comment on that too. In addition to a plan, I would argue that what really has to be in place is a strong and clear charter that ties the work of Finance to the enterprise mission. For instance, it’s easy to say, “We want to be a great Finance organization. We want to be really efficient and smart. We have metrics that show we’re doing more with less.” But what does that do for the organization? How is that helping the enterprise maximize return on capital? In the best-practice companies that I’ve had the pleasure of studying, it’s uncanny. You see that there’s a clear Finance charter and it includes language about the role of Finance in business decision support. These are not just mission statements that are hung on a wall and ignored; they are vital documents that inform the role of every single person in the organization.

Donna Papacosta:           I think you’ve all done a really great job of painting the picture of the current state, so maybe we could move toward some of the contributing factors that can help to create this really effective Finance function. I know you can all touch on talent, skills, processes, best practices, systems, tools, all that. I don’t know who wants to start there.

Mary Driscoll:                  I’d say if there’s a lack of commitment from the top, you can just about forget about it, because in order to make any traction at all, there will have to be investments in process and people. Take for example, the process of financial reporting. It’s scary to see how many organizations are still reliant on manual data entry, spreadsheets, and have just not stepped up to the plate and said, “We’ve got to automate this process and put in some workflow technology to take the risk out of this.” Why that is, it baffles me, but you’ve got a lot of very talented Finance people using age-old techniques and tools. It just doesn’t make any sense, given the risks of error. Sam?

Samuel Dergel:                 People are a key component, but it requires, from my perspective, three: People, process, technology. These three components need to be able to work together. On the people side, having the talent that you need is very important. The challenge is, and you bring it up, Mary, that many people within the organization are using ways that aren’t effective anymore, but where does that come from? The CFO is a leader of the Finance organization. The CFO needs a handful of strong lieutenants across the board. If they want to be able to deliver value to the rest of the organization, at the executive level in Finance, it can’t just be about the continuous monthly, quarterly, year cycle; that’s part of it, but in terms of delivery. But it really needs to be addressed as to how do you actually get there? If you don’t have visionary Finance people that can’t see where it can go and they’re just used to doing it because that’s what was always done, the CFO’s going to suffer and the organization is going to suffer.

Mary Driscoll:                  Sam, that’s right. If I just may jump in here; take the example of planning, budgeting, and forecasting. In this day and age when businesses are moving at the speed of lightning, it baffles me to think that companies are still relying on an annual budget as a primary performance management tool. That just doesn’t make any sense when it’s clear that to be resilient, businesses have to respond to fast-moving market changes. Finance, in order to be part of the solution, has to be able to refresh its forecast and help the company navigate or get back on track when it’s fallen off track using driver-based planning and techniques of that sort.

Samuel Dergel:                 From my perspective, from a talent perspective, it really is a question of having the leaders making it work and not just accepting the way it’s always been. It takes effort and it takes time, but without the leadership getting in control of that, it will just continue in a vicious circle.

Frank Ciannella:              I think that those are excellent points. I’ll even add something from a little bit different slant; maybe capitalize on what Mary mentioned. When I look at what can really help them become world class, I think of what capabilities do they have from a solution or systems and tools. What I find too many times is that what they have just isn’t easy to use; it’s not user friendly.

I think, if you look at from a Finance investment, it’s investing in capabilities that are very easy to use, very user friendly of course, easy to maintain, even from Finance. You don’t need to go back to an IT organization or elsewhere in the organization and wait for a month to get your capabilities met, because business is changing too fast. The ability to keep up with that, to go reforecast within a matter of hours or within the same day is critically important. So having these capabilities that are easy to use, very user friendly, very process-centric is really, really critical.

What I’m starting to see also is Finance organizations starting to gain much more interest in mobility; how can I enable my workforce, my Finance directors and VPs to work from anywhere at any time, having access to these systems and tools that make them most effective? I think of mobility capabilities, as well.

Donna Papacosta:           We’re tackling a big subject here I understand, but I’m wondering if you can share some examples that you’ve seen where Finance teams are evolving to this more efficient status and overcoming some of the challenges that you’ve been describing.

Mary Driscoll:                  Donna, I’ve got a good example. I was speaking with a CFO the other day who is working with his counterparts in Marketing and Product Development, and doing what he called “layering business intelligence over financial forecasting.” What that means is working with people in Product Development to understand customer behaviors and preferences, and begin to connect the dots between customer shopping behaviors and purchasing behaviors. With that, translating that information, or layering that information, over financial performance forecasts to make revenue forecasts more precise and help the organization as a whole better allocate its marketing dollars, for example, its Product Development dollars.

Donna Papacosta:           Samuel or Frank, can you think of an example that would help us to envision this future state?

Frank Ciannella:              I would like to add: Whenever I talk to CFOs, one of the first things that comes up and how they’re able to transform their organization, because I work a lot on the financial transformation side, is they really have to have to have the foundation done and essentially running on itself, almost like a factory. What I mean by foundation, it’s the core processes that plant owns, it’s the transactional processing, the general ledger, it’s account reconciliation. Having those processes, those transaction-heavy processes, order to cash for example, having them run, be efficient, be very repeatable, very accurate; and the CFOs have been engaging their own, lately, have been wanting to take that. I’ve seen some of them take that and say, “OK, our next step is we want to then take our close process and shrink it down to as little time as possible.”

So I worked with a large chemical manufacturer in the Midwest that had acquired another company, had their core foundational processes working very well, and I was able to combine, consolidate, and close over 1,700 different legal entities in a matter of hours. They’re looking at it very methodical: Let me focus on my close and consolidation process. Then for this particular company, the next on the roadmap is how do I make my budgeting plan forecasting much more agile, and how do I react much more quickly to changing market conditions?

The examples I’m seeing is really a step. I think sometimes we get enamored with trying to do everything and swallow it all at one time, and it just becomes more of a mess than a true example of world-class Finance. Those are the examples I always like to inject in situations like this, because I think they really speak to the fact that, A, it’s not easy; this is hard stuff, but B, there is a path and customers are blazing that path forward.

Samuel Dergel:                 There’s recent example I have with a CFO that I work with who was planning to improve the Finance function across the board. My perspective is from a talent perspective, and the CFO asked me to ensure that the leadership and the team had the talent that they needed to be able to move forward. It’s more than just, are they there and are they good people? It’s, can they meet the plan? Do they have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be able to make it work? It comes from the top. When a CFO looks at their talent pool and knows what they have and what they don’t have, that can allow them to make some very effective changes and get them to a world-class state. It has to start somewhere.

Mary Driscoll:                  Sam, I would add to that that the soft skills are increasingly being underscored by CFOs that are truly committed to continuous process improvement. We did a survey last fall that basically proved that when CFOs make a genuine commitment to raising the so-called “soft skills” – negotiation skills, critical thinking skills, presentation skills. When a commitment is made to those things as well as the nitty-gritty aspects of finance and accounting, when those commitments are true, the people in Finance increasingly are considered to be reliable business partners by folks on the operating side. They’re taken more seriously.

Samuel Dergel:                 What I do find, and it’s unfortunate, but in many cases in the Finance group, the way that you move from junior, to manager, to director, to VP is by being technical. That’s great to start off. Some people can have the ability to gain those skills if they’re trained. They may not have had the opportunity to get those skills; some aren’t. Unfortunately, too many Finance functions have senior leadership that don’t have the ability to grow in critical soft skill areas. That’s certainly a challenge for the CFO who needs their leadership to step up.

Donna Papacosta:           Right. Obviously, this is a situation where there are so many interconnected parts. I’m wondering if – we know that picking the right place to start is important in any kind of improvement initiative. Can each of you provide some advice briefly, as to what areas CFOs could focus on to improve their chances of success at this?

Mary Driscoll:                  What I do know is that the best-in-class Finance organizations that we find and document in case studies, 9 out of 10 times, you’ll hear them talk in terms of process methodology. You’ll hear them talk about Six Sigma, you’ll hear them talk about Kaizen, you’ll hear them talk about root cause analysis. It’s no coincidence that they get into the top-performance categories, whether it’s in cost efficiency or business partnering. It’s no coincidence that they also very much embrace that process excellence mindset.

Samuel Dergel:                 I agree that it’s a state of mind. If the CFO can get the Finance team to think about efficiency, effectiveness, customer service-oriented delivery, as Mary pointed out to me and I wrote on one of my blogs, efficient teams cost less. Spending money on talent ends up costing the CFO less. It’s proven, and it’s key. There has to be an effort to improve and make it work.

Frank Ciannella:              Yes, Sam, I think you’re 100% right, both you and Mary. Mary, you were talking about the process side of it. Sam, you mentioned earlier, and I completely agree; it’s people, process and technology working together. So where do you start? I think, first off, the mindset is a given; the leadership and driving from the top down is absolutely a given. A lot of things that I advise CFOs on, and I think we all do: What do you have today that you think you can do better? Thinking from a process standpoint, how can you become more efficient, more effective? What are those process improvements? Where can you leverage technology to make your organization a better business partner? Then once you’ve captured those points, going back to the first question we had; what is that roadmap? What is that plan to then start looking at newer capabilities and how you’re going to drive Finance to become that world-class organization so that you routinely are reducing your days sales outstanding? You’re reducing the amount of time spent on your reporting packages every month.

It’s this transformational journey, really, that needs to be put in place. I think there’s very easy places to start, which is just looking at what you have today already and what you can improve upon without a large investment. Then of course, make those improvements, and then put a clear roadmap in place to march forward. Usually, that does take some investment and commitment, but in becoming world-class, that’s what it’s all about.

Donna Papacosta:           Frank, that’s a great place to wrap this up, this conversation with you, Samuel, and Mary. I thank you so much for sharing your insights today. I think you’ve given people a lot to think about.

Mary Driscoll:                  This was fun. Thank you, Donna. Thanks ,everybody.

Samuel Dergel:                 Very much enjoyed it. Thank you.

Donna Papacosta:           Thanks to our guests for today: Samuel Dergel, Mary Driscoll and Frank Ciannella. Until next time, this is Donna Papacosta for the IXN Thought Leadership Podcast Series. Be sure to look for the podcast on iTunes.