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.”

Thoughts About Successful CFO Hiring

I was recently interviewed by Jack Sweeney for his podcast series called CFO Thought Leader. This was the second time I was interviewed by Sweeney, and I enjoyed the conversation. I believe you may find the conversation interesting and relevant.

Here are some of the things that were discussed. (You can find the listen to, download or find the iTunes link below)

  • Helping companies hire their next CFO with the correct chemistry for the company.
  • Key reasons a company needs to work with an executive search firm to hire their next CFO.
  • The courtship process in hiring a new CFO.
  • Young CFOs who are “Jumping the curve”.

“Patience is a virtue, and CFOs need to be virtuous.”

“Today’s CFO is all encompassing. CFOs have to be involved and responsible for everything. As CFO, you need to know what you can and cannot do. The importance of the complete finance team allows you to be as successful as possible.”

  • Private Equity firms and the influence they have over the placement of CFOs in mid-size market.

“The CFO is a significant part of the valuation of a company.”

  • The CFO career path – jumping to larger ship vs. niching down.
  • CFO Hiring – from within the same industry or outside the industry?

If any of these topics are of interest to you, you will find this podcast to be worth listening to. (23 minutes)

Which comments resonate most with you? Let me know what you think below, or privately by email.

Download | Subscribe to CFO Thought Leader Podcast series on iTunes | Link to the CFO Thought Leader web page with more details about this podcast


The Accidental CFO

I am very fortunate to be involved with the careers of senior finance executives, whether I’m hiring them for my clients, coaching current and future Chief Financial Officers, following their careers and sharing their moves with the world, or impacting people just like you with my blogs and my CFO book.

I see, speak with and come across many focused senior finance executives that plan and prepare their career to be in the right place at the right time who are ready to become CFO for the first time. 

Yet a number of senior finance executives become CFOs by accident. A typical scenario I have seen is ‎where a company CFO leaves (this is usually unplanned for by the company), and the CEO and Board need to make a quick decision as to what to do to fill their CFO spot. In these situations, they decide (again, without much planning and foresight), to make one of their senior finance executives the new Chief Financial Officer.

As someone who helps companies hire the best CFO for their needs, my opinion is that this is not always the best solution for the company. However, these are companies that do not have a business relationship with me (yet), so they haven’t asked me for my opinion. I’m not saying that this is a bad solution. In fact, it could be a great solution for the company. I am saying that the probability is that if they haven’t done any proper succession planning for this important role, they may be making a strategic and costly error by hiring the wrong person as CFO.

Whatever the situation for the company, it is up to the newly promoted CFO to make sure that the company made the right choice, if only so that this new CFO can truly benefit from this unplanned career opportunity.

Here is some advice for the senior finance executive that finds themselves as a newly appointed, yet accidental, CFO.

[You will see links to previous blog posts that touch on these subjects. For a more comprehensive overview of how these subjects relate to the success of a CFO, I recommend reading my book, Guide to CFO Success]

Relationship Management – This is the biggest area of change for the new CFO. Whatever your role was prior to your ascension to the CFO throne, you now have to deal with new relationships.

Plan – Too many senior finance executives I have spoken with that have been promoted to the CFO chair, when asked how their role has changed since their promotion, tell me that their job hasn’t changed much. This people are missing a critical opportunity. You must plan for any new role as CFO. You also must know what is expected from a real CFO.

Lonely – Now that you’re finally CFO, you will understand what it means to be lonely at the top. You should prepare for it, and find ways of managing this new experience.

Development – You may not have planned to become CFO so soon, or at all. But now that you are CFO, what are you doing to further your development to become the best CFO you can be? In my book, I recommend that CFOs negotiate a Professional Development spending account that can allow them to pay for the courses, coaching and conferences they need to become a better and more productive CFO.

Coaching – I find that the Chief Financial Officers that I work with in executive coaching are motivated to become even better CFOs. I truly believe that most CFOs would benefit from having a confidential confidant and coach to help them better focus, improve and plan for their success. For a new CFO who didn’t plan to become one so quickly, if at all, having an executive coach can make a big difference on the way to become a successful CFO for the company your work for today, and to your future employers as well.

If you are an accidental CFO, or may find yourself in this position one day, take these recommendations to heart. You may be fortunate to find yourself in the CFO chair, but do not squander this wonderful opportunity.

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.

Webinar – May 23, 2013 | CFO Succession: The Right Way to Grow your Company’s next CFO

Join me on May 23, 2013 as I present a Webinar on the following topic:Webinar - CFO Succession

CFO Succession: The Right Way to Grow your Company’s next CFO

This session is graciously hosted by Proformative, and there is no charge for attending this seminar. To sign up, please click on this link.


Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) know that they will not stay in their current role with their current company forever. The CFO needs to ensure that his or her team has the right talent that can be called upon to replace them when they eventually leave the company (or the role of CFO). Strong CFOs also know that they are only as strong as the weakest leader on their team. This session will discuss the right way for the CFO to attract, retain and develop financial leadership talent for their team, while ensuring that they are setting the stage and preparing for their own eventual succession.

Learning Objectives

After attending this webinar you will be able to:

    • Understand why your success depends on having the best possible leadership talent in your finance team
    • Learn how to identify which areas to develop your finance leaders for future success
    • Become aware of the key components necessary to attract, retain and develop your company’s next CFO and other future finance leaders

CPE Credits are available for this session. For further information, please see details in the “CPE Info” tab on the sign up page.

I’m writing a book for CFOs. You’re invited to participate.

I previously announced that I will be writing a book. I’m pleased and excited to announce that I signed a book deal with Wiley!My Upcoming Book

The book I will be writing, which is tentatively titled A Guide to CFO Success: Leadership Strategies for Corporate Financial Professionals, targets CFOs (and future CFOs) who want to invest in strategies to become better and more successful financial leaders.

As I enter into the heart of writing my first book, I am interested in feedback from CFOs like you that have achieved success and are interested in sharing with their peers the important things they have learned on their personal road to CFO success.

To this end, I am creating an advisory group of accomplished senior financial professionals to advise me on questions I will have, as well as feedback I will need, when writing my first book for CFOs.

Members of this Advisory Group will be sent an email when I have a question for them, and will be able to provide their answers in an online survey format that will assist me with accumulating their answers.

Each member of this Advisory Group will be mentioned and thanked publicly in my upcoming book. Any feedback you provide me with in this process will remain completely confidential.

To apply to join Samuel’s CFO Advisory Group and make a difference to your peers, please sign up here.

I’m looking forward to working with you,


Do CFOs need to master IT to succeed?

As the person responsible for all things financial in an enterprise (of any size), the Chief Financial Officer needs to combine people, process and technology to drive results across the enterprise.

Solutions for organizations and finance departments  that were best in class only a few years ago may well now be obsolete, and incapable of providing  companies the functionality they need  to succeed in today’s dynamic business world.

Does a CFO need to master Information Technology to succeed?

I asked this question to John Kogan, CEO at Proformative, an online community by and for Corporate Finance, Accounting and Treasury Professionals. Here is his response:

Master IT? No. Truly understand how IT can be used within their organizations and across the enterprise? Yes! CFOs can’t outsource their understanding of technology and its use within the enterprise. They need to embrace it in order to understand how it is being used and how it might be used to better advantage. Armed with such knowledge they can create a plan, with help from others in their organization as well as IT, and work to make whatever they do have better and more effective. This is a never-ending process.

I also asked John the following question:

Are CFOs afraid of IT?

I’m sure they are out there, but rare. I think it’s more common for some CFOs to be so busy doing all of the other things they are responsible for that IT may fall between the cracks or they outsource it to someone else internally. They may not realize they are doing this or they may not believe IT merits more of their time. Obviously they have a lot to do and there is never enough time to do it. However, this takes them out of a very important loop at their companies – the loop that provides data upon which their company makes decisions, for better and worse.

What can a CFO do to better understand IT?

Knowledge is power. CFOs may not need to be an IT master, but they certainly need to understand where IT is going, how it affects their business and how it impacts their finance team. Staying up to date and current in the fast paced changing world of IT can be difficult. It requires reading, speaking with peers, listening to vendors and industry experts.

How does a CFO find the time to stay on top of all things IT?

A CFO makes the time. Like most successful CFOs, they are efficient and effective in how they get the best value from their available time. Finding an excellent conference that can allow you to learn from experts and speak with your peers (with an additional benefit of finding time to network) can be a very effective solution.

So where does a CFO find an all-encompassing conference like this?

One conference that can meet a CFOs need for all things IT is PROFORMATECH 2013 on March 20, 2013 in San Francisco. This conference is geared for Senior Finance Professionals like yourself who need to stay on top all things IT.

Even if you’re not on the West Coast, I recommend you make the time to attend this conference. It will certainly be worth the cost, because the conference is FREE (which is the right price for most CFOs).

Don’t delay. Register today!


Note: I am an Advisor with Proformative and a Topic Expert. There is no compensation for these roles, unless you consider that I usually win the $25 Amazon Gift certificate each month for most popular blog on the site. :-)

CFOs: Do you want to become a Controller? This CFO did just that.

Non-CFOs might think that CFOs are people that look backwards, not forwards. I speak with Chief Financial Officers every day, and I can tell you that they look are interested in moving forward with their careers. They want to improve, grow and succeed. They want their next career opportunity to be bigger, better and have more responsibility. Many CFOs want to be able to grow into the CEO role, and as I report each Monday morning in my CFO Moves blog, a number of CFOs do just that.

Cindy Kraft wrote a blog just yesterday called CFOs Really Can Move On and Up! which deals with how a CFO can position themselves for the CEO role. 

So this CFO Move last week really caught my attention. 

Courtesy of Xerox Corporation

Courtesy of Xerox Corporation

Luca Maestri, CFO of Xerox, let his company know that he would be taking a position with a new company. This is not an uncommon occurrence. 

He also informed his employer that he will be taking on the role of Controller at his new employer. This does not happen often. 

Now you need to keep in mind that the new employer is Apple. But it is not like he was working for a small company either as CFO. He was working for Xerox! 

So why would a CFO at one company become a Controller at another company? 

I have not had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Maestri about his decision. I’m sure he had good reasons. If Mr. Maestri was consulting with me about the move I would most probably tell him that I think it’s a great move. 

However, most CFOs are so focused on moving forward in their career and getting promoted that they often lose sight that the best opportunities for them may require ‘stepping down’ a little. 

Luca Maestri did just that.

As CFO, what can you learn from Luca Maestri?

CFOs are not Born. They need to Continually Transform.

There are many accountants and few CFOs. The accounting track is a popular starting point for many of today’s CFOs, but accounting is certainly not the only track to the Chief Financial Officer role.

Butterflies have an easy transformation from caterpillar. CFOs, those that make it to the role and those that are successful in the long term, have a much harder time. In fact, they do not have one transformational moment in a cocoon, but a series of ongoing transformations they must seek and overcome to continue to be successful and on top of their game.

I was fortunate to present in Vancouver last week at the CMA Leadership conference. It was a great opportunity to connect with those who believe that the CFO chair is in their future, as well as those that have achieved this status yet are continually looking to improve and grow.

My premise about CFO success is simple. Simple to say at least, but very hard to accomplish continually. Too many CFOs get comfortable with their employment and their status. Yet I still speak with too many CFOs on a weekly basis that are caught in CFO limbo precisely because they get too comfortable with their status as a butterfly. 

CFO success requires planning: for their current role and employer, as well as for their career. While success for accountants may be about what they know,  CFO Success comes from relationships. Who they know is much more important. What Chief Financial Officers do with their relationships and how they develop ‘like’ and ‘trust’, allows them to accomplish their employment AND career objectives. Becoming a better CFO benefits their employer AND their career.

Successful CFOs are not butterflies. They are so much more dynamic and long lasting. It takes hard work and planning.

What’s your CFO Success Plan?


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Presentation Links: The Road to CFO

Today I am presenting at the CMA Leadership Conference in Vancouver.

As part of the presentation, here are links to previous blogs referred to in the presentation.

Whether you have attended the presentation or not, these blogs are key on The Road to CFO.

    1. Strengths
    2. CFO Relationship Map
    3. Team
    4. Coaching / Mentoring
    5. Starting off on the right foot


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