The Challenges CFOs Face Alone (But They Don’t Have To)

CFO Peer Groups: A mid-year updateCFO Peer Group

Since the release of my book, Guide to CFO Success in 2014, I have been reminding CFOs that they need to build and develop their relationships within their organization.

Last fall, when speaking with some of my key Chief Financial Officers that I keep in regular touch with, I was reminded that while CFOs are lonely, there is a solution to their loneliness. These conversations with my Chief Financial Officers led me to develop my CFO Peer Groups.

Starting this past winter, I created 3 groups of 10 CFOs from across the USA and Canada, with the express goal of getting them to talk, learn, share and network with each other. Each month we had scheduled conference calls, with questions from CFOs sent to the group in advance that prepared the group. These CFOs were able to call on their peers both during and outside of our meetings on the issues and challenges facing them.

This fall, we will have our first in-person meeting in Chicago. At this meeting we will take our phone conversations to the next level and set the stage for where we take this in 2016.

Here is a sample of some of the discussions we have had so far this year in CFO Peer Group.

Topic addressed Question discussed
The ability to grow while stabilizing the core business. How to grow while investing in the core and changing the culture?
Scaling the organization to handle growth efficiently and profitably. What changes have you made both to the finance organization and encouraged throughout the organization to deal with top line growth year-over-year in the 20%+ range.
Having sufficient cash for all initiatives and not wasting time or money to get there. What strategies have you used that have had success or failure? Why?
Integrating 4 recent acquisitions How have you dealt with integration challenges? Staffing, IT, timelines, etc.
Scaling without rapidly increasing costs and maintaining quality What systems, processes or frameworks have they utilized to be successful in the past?
Best practices for managing tight cash flow. How do you redirect the culture of an organization to be conscience of tight cash flow when the CEO wont.
Describe your day to day activities and how this has changed over the course of your tenure What are your thoughts on how the role of the CFO evolves over time and how do you build your team such that you focus on the highest priorities? What functions report to you?
Outsourcing of non-strategic functions To what extent have you outsourced? What did you outsource? What was kept in house? Which outsource partners would you recommend?
Acquisition Process Do any of you have a well defined non confidential process around acquisitions that cover everything from target evaluation, negotiations, financing, due diligence and all legal documentation through purchase? Or is it more ad hoc project planning as circumstances warrant? In either case are roles and responsibilities clear and what role does the CFO and his / her organization play?
The Finance Team How do you ensure a strong, engaged team? How do you ensure they are treated with the respect they deserve by the non-finance departments? What are some good tips and tricks for finding and retaining a strong team? How do you prevent burnout and staff turnover? How to you create a culture that values the finance staff and the role that they play?
Building your Finance and Accounting team Do you have separate Accounting and FP&A functions? Do you lead each of those functions or do you have a #2 Executive in your department that manages these functions (or others?) If so,
Business Unit Structure Have you structured business units in a complex multi-product environment? If so, how did you do it and what worked well and what didn’t? Would also like to know how you structured the management of the business units
I am currently focused on CyberSecurity and efforts to be in front of the issue. What best practices have you put in place recently? Have you reviewed insurance coverage for security breaches? Recommendations for Outsourced CTO services.
Asia expansion. Anyone have experience with hiring/establishing a local presence in Asia?
Budget Planning Has anyone used Zero Based Budgeting as a means to get deep into spending areas? If so, was it worth the time and how did the process
Internal Audit Process Curious on rigor of Internal Audit Process and role of group within your company (financially vs. operationally focused, approach to audit planning, consultative vs. enforcers, etc.)?

These are only A FEW of the discussions we have had in CFO Peer Group so far in 2015.

As the year progresses, my CFOs will be sharing, learning, growing and networking, both in our continued conference calls, as well as at our first in-person meeting this November in Chicago.

My questions to you

As a CFO, wouldn’t you want to be able to share these types of questions with your peers?

As a CEO or Board member, aren’t these the types of things you want your CFO to have the support for?

There is help for the Lonely CFO.

Create your own CFO Peer Group. Or ask to join mine. I might be able to make room.

A CFO Success Story: Christine Russell, CFO of UniPixel

Christine Russell, CFO of UniPixel

The following is from an interview with Christine Russell, recently hired as CFO of UniPixel, as announced in CFO Moves. This interview was edited for clarity.

SD: Congratulations on your move to UniPixel. What are you excited about in your new role?

CR: I have been a Silicon Valley CFO for 30+ years and I’ve been involved in all kinds of different technologies. I’ve worked in many different industries, but there is a fundamental formula consisting of three elements for success that I’ve found in my companies and if they have this formula to start with, then they are going to meet with success.

First, the company really needs to be serving a large market (in the multi-billions) and that way in your growth cycle if you’re capturing only 10% of market share, you’re still a company with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. I’ve never enjoyed going to companies that are targeting a niche market where you don’t need 80% of the market and you’re a 200 million dollar company and there’s nowhere to go from there.

The second criteria is the product needs to be something that’s really useful and can be differentiated in the market. It can be either technological advantages, cost advantages, usability or some combination of these. It has to be something that people really need, and not something that we need to go out and convince everyone they need. Finally, the CEO needs to be a leader – somebody thoughtful, decisive, and with a bias for action. They need to have an impeccable reputation in the industry. Someone I’m really proud to present to investors and who customers can stand beside. To me, UniPixel has all of these elements – a multi-billion dollar addressable market in touch screen devices that have both technological and cost advantages and a CEO with a deep background in display and optical and who has run public companies before with great success.

  • Quick Takes from Christine on… 

    The formula for a great company:
    1) Serves a large market.
    2) Creates a useful and differentiated product.
    3) Has a really well-rounded CEO.

    Networking: Successful networking means making lifelong friends and giving back.

    Successful Female CFOs: Executives need to make their career a priority. There is no such thing as balance. It’s a compromise. It’s what you choose to do with your life.

    Females on Boards: Recruit your board by individual, irrespective of race, sex, country of origin. Hire the best for the board. Period.

    Managing your Board: Over-communication and transparency creates trust.

    The Best CEOs for CFOs: Confident CEOs are able to share their powerbase with the CFO and treat them as a trusted partner.

    Advice to up-and-coming female CFOs: Be absolutely fearless. Brainstorm with your other executives, and shut up and listen – you will learn a lot.

SD: How do CFOs get matched with great companies? What did you do to get to this company?

CR: I was approached for the UniPixel opportunity by a colleague who I knew in Silicon Valley for many years. He introduced me to the CEO, Jeff Hawthorne, and told me that he had worked with Jeff before and that he was an excellent and effective CEO. He told me that Jeff was respected for his deep knowledge in the display and optical industry. So a personal recommendation is extremely valuable. Always.

The way I joined my prior company was through a board member who was a committee chair who I knew from professional organizations. So again, it’s about who you know.

SD: How did you become so well networked?

CR: First of all, because I don’t really like the concept of networking, I think of people as friends. Friends help one another. I’ll tell you a little story about how I came to know some of these people, especially the gentleman who recommended me at Vendavo: I belong to a professional organization called Financial Executives International and I always enjoyed attending the Silicon Valley meetings. One day they approached me and asked if I would be willing to become the president of the organization. I was doing an IPO for a company at the time so I said I was too busy. I was set straight by one of my corporate outside lawyers. He looked at me and asked if I enjoyed going to the organization and if I found it helpful. So I said oh yeah, the people are wonderful. And he said, so when do you give back? I left his office and I immediately called up the board and told them I would accept the position. I have no idea how I did that while I was doing an IPO, but I did it, and then those people went on to become very good friends of mine and they really helped me. They help you and you help them.

SD: Most Senior Finance Executives don’t do enough networking.

CR: No they don’t, and I think they’re missing an opportunity to meet people who can be a lifetime friend and find out about opportunities that go both ways. They look out for you and you look out for them. And I will say that executive recruiting certainly has its own place. A search firm located me through my LinkedIn profile for a previous position that I held at Evans Analytical Group.

SD: If you look at the percentage of women at the CFO level, it’s not representative of the number of females in finance. What is your take on that?

CR: First of all, I think there are more women in HR and finance than there are in many other positions. I think that you have to have a certain amount of ambition and time that you’re willing to devote away from your family if you want to see the executive staff table. I was once on a panel where one of the panelists got a question asking a woman how she balanced her work and home life. Her response was you don’t. She devoted a lot of time to her work life at the expense of her home life. There is no such thing as balance. It’s a compromise. It’s what you choose to do with your life.

SD: What are your thoughts on the social discussion about females on boards?

CR: I’ve always thought that you should recruit your board by individual, irrespective of race, sex, country of origin, or anything that is unrelated to finding the best people you can who will accelerate your business. I know I’m going against the grain by saying that, but I think that a board member has to be highly qualified to be a board member. Especially in these times of challenges and activist investors. You need to have the very best qualified individual you can find.

SD: How have you as CFO managed to get the best relationship possible with the board that you had at various companies throughout your career?

CR: I have learned to over-communicate with the board. I will communicate very regularly and frequently and I wait for people to tell me “Christine, quit calling me!” Then I know that I’ve done enough communicating. I’m very transparent with them if there are problems or issues. If there is anything they don’t like about something, they can talk to me about it. But over-communication and transparency create trust.

SD: Some CFOs have said that the CEO can sometimes get in the way of effective communication with the board. What’s your take on that?

CR: I think that’s a valid comment. Just as there are all kinds of personalities of people in the world, there’s all kinds of personalities of CEOs. Some are very transparent and some are very controlling, but you’re not going to have someone become CEO if they don’t have a controlling personality. Some are more concerned about protecting their relationship with the board and trying to keep that relationship exclusive, seeing as it’s about power. More confident CEOs are able to share that powerbase with the CFO and treat them as a trusted partner.

SD: Where do you get the energy for all of the many accomplishments you have had in your career?

CR: I don’t know what else to do! I don’t have hobbies, I don’t play an instrument, and I can’t sing or dance… I’m a working cat! That’s what I do. And I’m good at it and I think as long as I have the ability to contribute and help create jobs, companies and ROI for investors, I’m going to keep doing it.

SD: What advice would you give to a young female CFO?

CR: I would say that you have to be absolutely fearless. One of the things that I did wrong earlier in my career was I thought I had all of the answers, but if you don’t get buy-in with some of the other members of the executive staff, it doesn’t really matter. Enter in the brainstorming conversations with the executives. Ask for everyone’s ideas, no matter how crazy those ideas may be. Create a common mind rather than coming in with all of the answers. Shut up and ask others what they think!

SD: What are you most excited about in your new role?

CR: I’m really excited about this being a pivotal time for UniPixel. We just acquired the Atmel touch film technology and the production facility in Colorado Springs. We are combining the best aspects of the UniPixel technology that we worked on with Kodak and the Atmel technology to come up with something that is more than just one plus one. I’m also very excited about the CEO I’m working with. The number of people he knows and who greeted him at a recent information display convention in San Jose was very heartening for me.

I recently visited the newly acquired Colorado Springs facility and the energy level there is amazing. These people are now able to work with a much smaller, more nimble and flexible company rather than being under a small vision of a large company. The energy level there is still like a start-up.

SD: What is the top thing you need to accomplish in this new phase of the company?

CR: Finance and admin are thinly staffed. I have to get comfortable with a minimum amount of support and identify the positions that I need to upgrade, as well as bringing in proper software and processes for finance. Even though that’s a lot of work, it’s an advantage because you’re not inheriting someone else’s ideas for a business.

SD: Is there something that you feel you would like to tell the CFOs who read this blog?

CR: Stick together! Form groups and partnerships. Join professional organizations and become a cohesive group so that if you’re ever in a bind –finding yourself in need of a boilerplate template for a sales commission plan for staff delivered software, for example – you can pick up the phone, email or text another CFO and ask if they have ever dealt with something similar. Those kinds of professional contacts and friendships are amazingly helpful and allow you to shortcut so many of the things that you would otherwise be handling alone.

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A CFO Success Story is a feature of Samuel’s CFO Blog, where Samuel Dergel follows up on his book, Guide to CFO Success, speaking with CFOs featured in CFO Moves, Samuel’s popular and comprehensive weekly report on CFO Movement across the USA.

A CFO Success Story: Craig Foster, CFO of Amobee

The following is from an interview with Craig Foster, recently hired as CFO of Amobee, as announced in CFO Moves. This interview was edited for clarity.Craig Foster

SD: Congratulations on your move to Amobee. What made you want to move there?

CF: I thought Amobee was an incredible opportunity. I’ve worked at a late-stage private that then went public. I’ve worked in Investment banking, consulting to those types of companies. My first CFO job was at Ubiquiti, which was a ride into the public company landscape. I thought Amobee was a great opportunity to work with a very late-stage private company (we are actually a division of SingTel) with aspirations of becoming our own public entity. I thought that really fit well for me.

SD: What are some of the challenges that you are excited about at Amobee?

CF: Amobee is a very young company, a product of 3 different transactions that have come together. My investment banking background has a lot to do with M&A, those types of transactions. These were 3 companies that needed to come together as a single operating unit on worldwide basis. I think it is going to be really interesting bringing them all together.

SD: What’s the size of the company right now?

CF: We have about 450 people currently, and doing hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue.

SD: What experiences have you had in the past that you feel will really help in your new opportunity?

CF: A long time ago, I worked for LoudCloud. They were a late-stage private company, and they were all over the place. It was a high growth company that was trying to find its sea legs in terms of an operating business model. You had an incredible amount of talent from a management stand point. There was a lot of great energy that went into the company. When I worked at LoudCloud, I saw the entire life cycle of the company right in front of your eyes. From a VC Start-up, it then became public company and the business model was challenged then we ended up selling. I thought it was great to live through both the entire up and down of a corporate infrastructure.

After leaving LoudCloud is that I went to business school to get more training. I had this great experience with LoudCloud, but I really wanted to consult to companies that were facing the same issues. How do you deal with High Growth? How do you deal with changing business environments? What’s the best path for exit? Those are key points of any company’s life cycle, and to be part of that was pretty empowering. I chose the banking path because I thought it would be the best way to work the most companies as quickly as possible.

SD: When did you realize that you wanted to become a CFO and that was the path that you wanted to take?

CF: I was really enjoying my banking career. I was the lead banker when we took Ubiquity Networks public, and I had a very good relationship with the management team. When Ubiquity was making a CFO change after the CFO announced he was resigning, I put in a number of candidates I knew from my time in banking. After they went through the candidates, they said “why don’t you take the job”.

At the time I really hadn’t considered the CFO path.

I think in the back of your mind when you’re doing investment banking you kind of wonder what the end game is. At some point you don’t want to be 60 years old and getting on a plane 7 days a week for hour long meetings. Some of the people in investment banking move into a corporate development role, some down cycle their investment banking and work for a smaller firm so they can have a little more career control.

When I heard about the opportunity, I said to myself that while I hadn’t really thought about the opportunity, the upside is absolutely tremendous. If I was thinking of an end game for my investment banking career, I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to walk into a multi-billion dollar company from Day 1 and assume the role of the CFO. It was the chance of a lifetime.

SD: You moved from investment banking to a CFO role where it wasn’t part of your plan but it was an exciting opportunity. What are some of the things that surprised you when you made that transition?

CF: I’ll tell you why I really liked the role, then I’ll tell you about what surprised me.

Everyone in investment banking sees themselves as a top tier McKinsey consultant, except they know a lot about finance. The issue is that when you’re in banking, you’re really not accountable for the end game of the deal. You’re putting two companies together from an M&A standpoint, but at the end of the day you don’t live with the transaction. The execution of the transaction becomes someone else’s problem. You can package an IPO, but you don’t live with the company and have to be there for the next 10 earnings cycles. You’re not empowered, and you don’t have much accountability passed the transaction.

As I started thinking about what I would like to do in my career, I thought that having 1000% accountability for transactions and decisions that you make would be really exciting.

That’s how I talked myself into that this is something I could do, and that I wanted to do.

I’ll tell you what my biggest concerns were – and then I’ll tell you what my biggest surprises were.

When I first started my career, I did public company accounting with PwC in New York. I did that for 3 years as entry level, early career kind of stuff. I then moved away from the core accounting. My initial concern was “how long would it take me to get back in the fold of day to day accounting operations so that I was comfortable signing the financial statements?”

I knew that was going to take a lot of effort on my side, besides the fact that the company had a lot of strategic and operational changes that they needed to make. It’s a line by line understanding of where the dollars are going before you can get comfortable. I had to lock myself up. It took me the better part of a couple of months to get to the point where I felt that I was extremely well versed where the company was and where it was going.

And then what surprised me was that you kind of think of a company as an entity, using a battleship analogy, where it’s really hard to turn a company because it has its own trajectory and culture. What I found was that in a company with 500 people or so, is that you can make impactful changes very quickly and that was the biggest surprise to me. You can come into a new organization with new ideas and make substantial changes and have them permeate all the way through the organization. And you can see the results almost instantaneously.

As an example, when I started, the company’s DSOs were in the high 60s. I was told that this was the industry standard that’s the way it’s done. We objectively looked at the problem and said there are ways to make some changes that will fundamentally change the way that we look at this, how we collect money and close the gap between what we’re getting paid and what we’re owed. At the best, the company got that down to 24 days. That was a substantial improvement.

One person can come in and really make a change for the better. I was a little bit naïve thinking that, regardless of the leadership, making change is very difficult within an established organization.

SD: CFOs are sometimes looked at as Mr. or Ms. “No”. How did you connect with your peers and what did you learn from that experience?

CF: I was fortunate that I did not walk into a situation where we had a tremendous amount of cash constraints. We were in a high growth mode, so it was more like “what is the most opportunistic way to leverage our spend so we can get higher returns”. Our recipe for success was making individual business units accountable for their time and expenses. Meaning, if you’re building an R&D project, how are you budgeting your time and the resources that you have, that meets the deliverables that are in front of you.

Plans change, projects change, scope changes. As long as there is a dialog and have a collaborative way to think about the end game, as long as there is accountability, everyone is on the same page. At the end of the day, you can say that either it was a successful venture or it wasn’t, and you have some way to benchmark it. It’s not that you’re sitting there saying no. You are empowering people so you can make the right business decisions.

SD: What career advice do you wish you were given before you started your MBA?

CF: I wish I had made the move to CFO sooner.

SD: How do you manage all those multiple goals that you want to be able to accomplish with only 24 hours in the day?

CF: We are around the world, so I use Skype a lot. I have a lot of business partners here, a team that supports me, and I’ve empowered them all, in certain aspects of the business, to affect change. I think they were a little bit afraid to do that, for fear that will be some ramifications of making those decisions. I’m using the leverage points that I have, which are the people that I work with. In some cases, I have seen some major gaps in the finance function that need to be automated, and we’re making investments to automate those. I believe we will be able to find a lot of efficiencies based on those two pieces.

SD: What do you find exciting about the environment at Amobee?

CF: Strategically as I was thinking about my next position, I wanted to get closer to software. I’ve been working in a hardware environment, and everything is software driven, even if it’s hardware. The differentiation is in the software layer. I wanted to get closer to a company that was using software to differentiate itself.

The industry that I work in, digital marketing for mobile, has a lot of “me too”. Our company is built on an analytical platform that allows you to analyze and justify your marketing spend against how it is being received in the field. I thought this was really empowering, and I like models that is extremely differentiating in a ‘me too’ environment. What I saw here is a company that has great technology, a very powerful sales engine, and needed a lot of help on the finance side to get things coordinated. For me, this is a project within a project within a project, and believe that if executed correctly, we can accomplish great things. I think this is a very exciting opportunity.

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A CFO Success Story is a feature of Samuel’s CFO Blog, where Samuel Dergel follows up on his book, Guide to CFO Success, speaking with CFOs featured in CFO Moves, Samuel’s popular and comprehensive weekly report on CFO Movement across the USA.

Marketing Reporting to Finance? Surely the Sky Must be Falling.

The marketing world was all a twitter last week when it was announced that Twitter’s marketing group would now be reporting to the CFO.CFO on Twitter

I found the opinions and reporting from marketing folks to be very Chicken Little. Here are some reports.

Twitter gives control of its hapless marketing department to its chief financial officer – The Verge, May 5, 2015

Marketing TwitterSix Pixels of Separation Blog by Mitch Joel from Mirum

CFO as Marketing Chief? Maybe Not as Unusual as You Think (or Maybe So)Advertising Age, May 11, 2015

Most of my CFOs would shy away from taking responsibility for marketing, yet a good number of them have overall responsibility for important areas outside of Finance. Now, really, what does a Finance trained CFO understand about areas like Human resources and Information technology ?

The only important difference between HR and IT‎ and Marketing is that Marketing is seen as a lever to drive revenue, and that areas like IT and HR are good old support functions.

Yet, wait a minute.

  • Which C-Suite executive is looked at as a potential successor to the CEO?
  • Which ‎C-Suite leader is most often called upon to become Chief Operating Officer, either in conjunction with continuing as CFO or as a stand alone role?
  • Who at the executive table is volunteered for dealing with the most challenging and difficult parts of a business?

That’s right. The CFO.

Now what led Twitter decide to give overall responsibility of Marketing to its CFO in a company ‎who’s entire business is about marketing? We’ll never know for sure.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years in executive search and my weekly reporting on CFO Moves is that the official story and what is really happening behind the scenes can some times sound like they are fiction written in different genres.

But that won’t stop me (or others) from speculating.

In the Twitter situation, it seems that Marketing is falling under the purview of the CFO while the company is looking to hire their best next marketing leader.

The positives for Twitter of this temporary move could include:

  • Someone needs to take responsibility for this very important function. Why not Finance?
  • There could be no better way for the CFO to learn the marketing function than by taking responsibility. Most CFOs learn well under pressure.
  •  CFOs love to challenge the status quo. This is an opportunity to shake things up‎.

Most importantly, in a comp‎any where marketing is key to the product and the mission, the CFO needs to truly understand the value of marketing so they can say yes to the big dollars needed to fund the Twitter marketing machine.

So, is the sky falling?

A CFO Success Story: Ken Goldman, CFO of Everbridge

This following is from an interview with Ken Goldman, recently hired as CFO of Everbridge, as announced in CFO Moves. This interview was edited for clarity.Ken Goldman

SD: Ken, congratulations on your recent hire by Everbridge as their new CFO.

KG: Thanks Samuel. This is my 10th CFO assignment in 34 years. I had the advantage before joining Everbridge of having known Jaime Ellertson, the CEO, for 8 years. I had lots of points of reference that allowed me to come in with more information than most people have when they join a company.

SD: What is it about the tech space that keeps you coming back again and again and again?

KG: Of my 10 CFO assignments, 8 of them were in technology (new world), 2 in the old world.

What I like about technology is the fast pace, the amount of innovation that takes place. It is higher risk, higher reward. I love the feeling of the wind in my hair. I like the idea of driving fast. This is one of those opportunities where my only frustration is that there are not enough hours in the day. I feel very fortunate that 34 years into my career I am very excited to go into work every day. I get up at the ungodly hour of 4:45am and I’m in the office at 6 o’clock. Not because I have to but because I love what I do.

SD: It’s great to be in such an environment. You mentioned ‘higher risk, higher reward’. I’d like to touch on that just a little bit. Imagine you weren’t a CFO and that you only had general business experience, and you would say the words “Chief Financial Officer”. The perception of such a CFO would not fit who Ken Goldman is.

KG: If you think about, going back 20 – 30 years ago. CFOs were thought about as the Chief Accountant, Green Eye Shade, Risk Manager. They were someone to protect the company. While protection is part of my mandate, I would say that it really starts with enablement. My job is to enable the company to achieve success and greatness. I spend all of my time thinking about “How to do I do that?” Yes, protection is important, limiting the downside. But nobody ever built a company by just limiting downside. It’s about investing in upside.

SD: I’m interested in learning from you how you bridge the gap in a technology environment where you have visionaries and creatives that are running around you and coming up with hair brained schemes that can or cannot work, that needs to be thought through. How do you deal with being the grounded business person in an environment of giddy creatives?

KG: I’m not always the most popular person at the cocktail party being the voice of reason. The good news is that having done this a few times I can strike the appropriate balance between yeah, let’s jump out of the plane and put the parachute on the way down vs. let’s jump with 2 parachutes on firmly in place.

Part of the reason a company like this hires somebody with my amount of grey hair is because they want somebody who can do this. When I talk about risk / reward, downside, risk mitigation, alternatives, it’s from a position of having done it before, I’m not just thinking about it for the first time. I have the scars and the failures to prove it. It’s all about balance. You can be a gambler or put it all on red or black, you can win everything or lose everything, or you can be more conservative and take a more thoughtful approach.

As a good CFO, it’s about understanding the upside potential compared to the downside potential. It’s about making informed intelligent decisions as opposed to just rolling the dice.

SD: You talked about not enough hours in the day. In my peer group recently, I asked my CFOs how they are doing. They all say that they are busy. I have never met a CFO who ever said that they weren’t busy. How do you manage? What is your key to dealing with ‘there is not enough hours in the day’?

KG: It’s about being really good at juggling lots of balls at the same time. It’s about understanding the concept of triage. It’s about hopefully seeing around corners and out of the back of my head and hoping that in the 100 things that I have to do in any given day, I get the most important 99 done. I have what I call 51% days, where I consider it a good day because I got 51% of what I had to get done, done, but I’m frustrated that I didn’t get the other 49% done. In some ways I call it job security, because it’s not like I am going to die of boredom, but the other side of it is worrying about what was that one thing I didn’t get to today that was mission critical?

And a lot of it is because I am 3 weeks into the job and I’m still developing relationships with my team and making sure that they understand that if something is mission critical, don’t just send me an email along with the 150 that I got that day and assume that I understand the mission criticality of that email. If it is really important, come see me. If it is really important, text me. If it is really important, find the appropriate channel to communicate so that it does not get lost in the fray. Eventually I am going to get to all 150 emails, but like everyone else I use emails for time shifting. Some emails I’m going to take care of tonight when I get home. Some of them I will not get to when I clean up my emails this weekend when I get to the 400 emails I didn’t get to this week. I try as best I can to look at the header on every email as it comes in to try to figure out ‘is this something I need to drop everything else for’? Some of that is luck, some of that is skill, and a lot of it is experience.

SD: You talked about team. Most CFOs agree with me when I say that a CFO can only be as good as the team they have allows them to be. What is your approach to ensuring you have the best team possible to support you?

KG: In an ideal world, you get to go out and hire all superstars. Start with the fact that the hiring process is imperfect, all the people that you’d like to hire are not necessarily available at the time you’d like to hire them, and there is a time to ramp up. There is a lot of value to incumbency. I am very fortunate coming in to Everbridge that I have a team, some of whom have been here 5 to 7 years, They have incredible institutional knowledge, a good core skill set, and in some cases it is a question of the right management and mentorship. I believe that great employees are not necessarily hired, they are developed over time. I believe based on what I have seen so far, the people that I have today are keepers.

Even in my own job, in my own career, I believe I earn my job every single day. If I do a good job today, I get invited back tomorrow. If I don’t do a good job today, I probably don’t get called back tomorrow. It’s not that you are at risk every single day. The number one thing I look for in an employee beyond being qualified and capable, is work ethic. I want employees who have that solid work ethic, because to me, that is what gets you through the times when you don’t have enough hours in a day.

Again, I’m fortunate here to have a good core team. I think one of the things that experience teaches me is how to assess that pretty quickly. I said before hiring is imperfect because everyone puts on their best suit in the hiring process, we sell the candidate why are a great place to work, a candidate tries to sell us on why they can walk on water and turn lead into gold. It’s not till you’ve worked with someone for a while that you realize their strengths and weaknesses. If you’re lucky, you make a reasonably good choice. Perfect choices, sometimes happen, sometimes don’t. You try to do the best you can.

SD: Let’s switch over to what you are excited about at Everbridge. What’s on tap for you to accomplish going forward?

KG: Every time I look at a job opportunity I start with thinking at it from the standpoint of “if I were an investor, would I invest in this company”. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m taking a job, I am making an investment. I can either invest my money or my time, my career and my reputation.

I look for 4 things. Large addressable market, good financial results, company with a leadership position and elements of their business plan that make them / gives them a strategic competitive advantage and a great team.

At Everbridge, this is a team with a proven track record. They have all worked together multiple times. Jaime Ellertson, our CEO, is probably among the best CEOs that I have ever come across. We have a great team, with a large addressable market, great financial results, and lots of development that give us a strategic advantage. If I wasn’t given the job opportunity, I still would have invested in this company.

What I’m excited about is, we’re moving fast, we’re growing quickly, and that doesn’t happen just by momentum. We’re growing quickly, not because we are doing everything right, but almost everything right. I can say we are doing everything right, but nobody is perfect. We’re getting market validation, we’re growing at a rapid clip, picking up signature accounts, and rolling out new products. At the end of the day, the market votes with their dollars. If your revenue is growing, you’re probably doing something right. And we’re doing more than something right. That’s the most exciting thing because we have that growth, and that gives us options.

When I say options… I describe the role of the CFO – create, maintain, increase and ultimately realize shareholder value. At the end of each day, I measure each day by whether I helped create, maintain, increase or realize shareholder value. If I can check that box, than I can probably come back tomorrow. To me, this opportunity is about creating great shareholder value. We are a for profit company, we have investors, we have stakeholders besides outside investors (employees and customers). Increasing shareholder value benefits everybody.

SD: Ken, thanks for taking the time to share you CFO Success Story with my readers. Your passion for what you do comes through, and I wish you continued success and fun.

KG: Thanks Samuel.

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A CFO Success Story is a feature of Samuel’s CFO Blog, where Samuel Dergel follows up on his book, Guide to CFO Success, speaking with CFOs featured in CFO Moves, Samuel’s popular and comprehensive weekly report on CFO Movement across the USA.

Numbers Are Only the Beginning: Relationship Management Is Vital to a Controller’s Success

This article is an excerpt from the April 2015 issue of The Controller’s Report published by The Institute of Finance Management

Professional success for any finance leader is based on their brand (how others perceive them), their network (who knows them and is willing to support them), and their visibility (who knows who they are).

IOFM April 2015“Controllers can only impact the business if other leaders trust them and the information they provide” says Samuel Dergel, CPA, member of the CFO and Financial Executives Practice at Stanton Chase. “This trust is built over time when relationships are managed successfully. That is why effective relationship management is a critical tool for financial management.”

“Controllers need to move beyond ledger books and spreadsheets and act as business partners, providing
timely, actionable information upon which other parts of the organization can make profitable decisions,” says Dergel. “However, numbers alone cannot positively impact the business. Relationship management is essential.” Dergel offers the following advice:

1. Recognize the importance of “face time.”

“Relationship management in a corporate environment is based on strong communication,” says Dergel. “However, if a controller is communicating solely by e-mail, there is plenty of room for improvement. The telephone is more effective than using e-mail, but face-to-face communication is more effective than all the above. That’s why controllers must get out of their offices as much as possible.”

2. Develop a “relationship maintenance” plan.

“Be aware of the people you absolutely need to have a good relationship with, and create a plan on how you will maintain and improve those relationships,” says Dergel. Schedule time for relationship management with all these key people (see sidebar). You’ll need to make a special effort with people in other departments.

3. Never underestimate the value of simply sharing coffee.

Relationship building does not always have to be formal—in fact, it is often during informal interactions that the most powerful relationship building can occur. “Simply having coffee on a regular basis with people you want to build relationships with can go a long way toward learning their needs and how you can help,” Dergel notes.

4. Always deliver what was promised, when it was promised.

“Not delivering what is expected erodes trust, and this is a major cause for rifts in business relationships, Dergel explains. “Trust can be built only with people who know you and like you, and this is achieved by understanding what others expect from you and ensuring timely delivery on these expectations.”

Why should a CFO tweet? 

I blogged about CFOs and Twitter three years ago. Since then, practically nothing has changed for CFOs and Twitter.CFO on Twitter

Few CFOs use Twitter.

And this is a mistake.

Reasons given by CFOs as to why they don’t use Twitter include:

Time. CFOs use this reason as a crutch for many things they don’t feel is important.

Irrelevant. CFOs do not feel that this social media tool is relevant to them.

Other CFOs don’t tweet. While this is true, this is never a reason not to do something.

They don’t get it. This, I think is the real reason CFOs do not tweet. CFOs generally do not understand how to use it and do not understand why they should use it.

So let’s address the real issues.

Reasons why a CFO should use Twitter.

Visibility

Not being on Twitter limits your visibility. One of the keys to success for a CFO is to be visible. Does a CFO who is invisible actually exist? In the business world today, if you are not on the Twitter channel, you may not exist.

Brand

Twitter impacts your brand. If you are on Twitter and use it even just a little bit, you can easily brand yourself as someone who is ‘with it’. As many CFOs struggle with how to stay relevant within their organization and their career, using Twitter is a small investment that pays off big dividends on your personal brand. A well branded CFO is a successful CFO.

Network

Few CFOs will admit to being master networkers. While tweeting is not networking, it is a tool that supports networking by sharing information with those that know you and those that want to know you. Social media supports networking, and Twitter is a channel that any CFO serious about networking should be part of.

Listening

An effective CFO knows how to listen. Twitter is now a mainstream channel of information, and if you are not on it, you could be missing information being said about things you care about, including what others are saying about you. Any time you are at a conference or in public, having a Twitter handle allows others to talk to you directly. You may want to hear what they have to say.

Be Part of the Conversation

With Twitter, you can not only listen to what people have to say about you. You can be part of the conversation. Imagine for a moment you are presenting at a conference. With your Twitter handle, audience members can reach out to you directly about what you said, tell others and spread your brilliance, and interact with you directly. I have been to too many CFO conferences where CFOs talk about what they want to share, and because they are not on Twitter (which is most of them), they miss interacting directly with the people who are there, not to mention the ability to reach others way beyond the room.

As CFO, if you are on Twitter, please reach out and tweet me @DergelCFO.

If you are not on Twitter yet, and would like to know more about how to work with it, you can find many resources online, including this Twitter Tip Sheet from Donna Papacosta.

What I said on my blog three years ago bears repeating.

Twitter. It’s good for you. And you might actually like it.

 

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,

 

Samuel

Finance Executives: Should you take an overseas posting?

An article today in WSJ’s CFO Journal by Kimberly S. Johnson (Career Booster for CFOs: a Stint Abroad) discusses the opportunities that exist for finance executives in taking an overseas posting on their way to the CFO chair. The article is well written and researched, and has many positive points to consider for finance executives on the rise.

You may remember playing snakes and ladders as a youngster. The article makes it seem like an overseas posting is a ladder to get you to the top. I have seen instances that it has been such a ladder for up and coming finance executives.

But beware. What very well looks like a ladder could be a snake that gets you to slide down and out.CFO Snakes and Ladders

In my experience as executive search consultant, I have spoken with a number of disillusioned finance executives locked out of the most senior roles in an organization because they took an overseas role thousands of miles from head office.

From my perspective, one of two things happened. These finance executives either lost the opportunity to move up by being so far away from decision making, or they were pushed there because senior management did not consider the executive the “A” player they thought they were.

Opportunity or Kiss of Death? Ladder or Snake?

Here are some pointers.

Have the conversation – know what is expected of your time overseas. Listen and ask questions, especially for what comes after the posting. Only hearing vague promises of great things after your stint is not enough. You need to understand what is expected of you during your tour of duty, and what the plan is after. Also, have the conversation as to what knowledge, skills and experiences you should obtain during your expatriate experience, and how they are needed to “complete you” for your next tasks ahead. Oh, and get it in writing – who you speak with about the plan to leave and return may no longer be with the company when it is time to come back.

Stay close – In Guide to CFO Success, I discuss the importance of relationships to your success with your employer. Your Relationship Map will be a key tool to ensuring that you continue to manage the important relationships needed for your success overseas. Being in the corporate loop is difficult enough when everyone you need to speak with is down the hallway. Being an multiple times zones away makes staying close that much harder, and critically more important.

Impact your success – Use this as an opportunity for to impact your three critical career success factors (discussed in my recent book). Plan how this new posting will impact your Brand. Network inside and outside your company is more important than ever, and maintaining your visibility takes a lot planning and effort.

If you are offered an overseas move, don’t just jump at the offer. Make sure the move will land you on a ladder, not a snake.

Analytics, Shmanalytics? Why the CFO should care

The office and the role of the Chief Financial Officer continues to evolve.

This evolution may cause apprehension in some seasoned CFOs. These experienced financial executives feel this way because, in part, they have worked very hard to get to where they are. They believe that their past experience and success should speak to their future opportunities.

Yet for any executive, especially one in the finance side of the business, resting on your laurels is so 1980s.

The world is changing at a rapid pace, and the business world is either leading this change or trying hard to stay ahead. Organizations that do not continue to stay relevant wither up and disappear into obscurity. Ditto for CFOs.

Cindy Kraft, a CFO career coach, works with CFOs who want to stay ahead of the curve in their career. I like her work, and am always happy to refer senior finance executives to her. As a fellow blogger, she and I agree most of the time. In recent posts (here and here) she discusses technology and its relevance to CFO careers.

The statistics from Cindy’s questions on whether technology should be in the domain of Finance is interesting. I believe the results would be more telling if there was corresponding information on company size. From my experience, companies of a smaller size have CFOs responsible for IT, while larger companies have an executive in charge of Technology.

From my vantage point, CFOs who are able to stay ahead of the changes in the business world, including technology, are able to continue to stay relevant and add value.

So why does Analytics matter to the CFO?

In my book, Guide to CFO Success, I ask and answer “What is a Chief Financial Officer?” in the first chapter (you can preview a copy of Chapter One here). To summarize, I say that a CFO is a Strategist, Leader and Advisor.

Corporate value comes from making great decisions. Decisions based on analysis rather than gut is where Finance and the CFO have the ability to make a difference at the executive table. Technology is just a tool that helps intelligent people make great decisions.

CFOs need to be a Strategists, Leaders and Advisors to their businesses. If a CFO is not helping the company make decisions and adding value to the organization, they are not a Strategist, not a Leader and not an Advisor. In essence, they are not a real CFO.

To continue to be a real Chief Financial Officer today, you need to be able to help your organization make the best decisions possible.

The term Big Data has been bandied about as the cure-all for corporations. Technology vendors are very happy to use the term to get attention and their portion of corporate spending. But data itself is not enough, no matter how big the data is.

The Data Value Chain illustrates that data is only the beginning. It is the usable information that is pulled from this data, viewed through the lens of intelligence, either human or artificial (or both), that wisdom can be obtained.

As CFO, it is your duty to provide wisdom to your organization. This wisdom will lead to the creation of corporate value. Analytics is the point where you turn all that data into valuable decisions.

If you’re not providing the wisdom you would like (or think that you should) to the rest of the business, understand why that is.

Is it because…

  • You do not have the tools?
  • You do not have the people? Or,
  • You do not know where to start?

As CFO, no one expects you to be intimately aware of the available tools and be able to analyse this yourself. However, as CFO, you are only as good as your finance team allows you to be.

As CFO, no one expects you to choose the right analytical tools by yourself. As CFO, no one expects you alone to do the analysis necessary to come to great decisions. However, as CFO, you need to make sure your team can support you in this value added activity. As CFO, understand the power of these tools and information yourself of what they can do. Then you need to guide, lead and develop the team necessary to do so.

I had the pleasure of meeting RK Paleru at the AICPA CFO Conference last May. RK is the Analytics guru (Executive Director, Systems Analytics and Insights Group) to the CFO at George Washington University.

RK blogged about an article I shared with him about the idea of companies hiring a Chief Analytics Officer. While I do not think that most companies are ready to create another seat at the executive table, I do think that Analytics can add tremendous value to the executive table. I am certain that the CFO of GWU thinks that the analytics that RK does bring tremendous value to the CFO, as well as adding significant value to the institution and its mission.

Anders Liu-Lindberg wrote recently about his take on Analytics within the finance function. Anders, from where he sits in his role as Regional Finance Business Partner at Maersk Line, sees corporate value ONLY IF the talent team is built properly within finance is able to partner with the generalist functions. Finance should act as a true business partner to the business, helping make decisions at all levels of the business.

CFOs who do not continue to improve, change and learn will, as mentioned earlier, wither. Resting on laurels is career limiting.

If, as CFO, your response to “Analytics” is “Analytics, Shmanalytics”, you’re not only missing the boat, you’re doing a disservice to your employer and your team.

To remain CFO, both today and tomorrow, both within your company and at your next employer, understand the power of Analytics. Then, ensure you develop and nurture a finance team that can give you the wisdom to help your company make great decisions.