A CFO Success Story: Aidan Cullen, CFO of CliQr

Aidan Cullen

Aidan Cullen, CFO of CliQr

The following is from an interview with Aidan Cullen, recently hired as CFO of CliQr, as announced in CFO Moves. This interview was edited for clarity.

What has helped you become a successful CFO over the years?

I’ve always been a long term planner and thinker. I started my career in public accounting getting the fundamentals. I then went into internal audit consciously thinking about where I need to go for my success. That gave me an understanding of what’s underneath the hood of a company. From there I started to specialize in the functional roles and business partnerships, so I went to engineering and managed an engineering group worth about 120 million dollars. After that, I went into another company and managed a sales organization and was a business partner for sales services and support.

When you start to get into a specialized business like engineering, you look at all the portfolios and investments and really begin to understand how things roll in a company. Similarly, with sales you start to understand what incentivizes salespeople, what motivates them and how you get the most productivity out of them. Then you become more of a generalist and you start to move into and become more eligible for a CFO role. At that point you really have the depth to be able to go down a thousand feet and then come back up specifically when you’re dealing with the executive level management.

  • Quick Takes from Aidan on…

    Growing from Controller to CFO:
    A lot of us are very technically and operationally qualified and the next part of that is the chemistry and the synergy that you have with the executive team.

    How to move upwards and onwards:
    If you build up and broaden your experience and your accomplishments and consistently perform… I think that will open any door.​

    Networking and a new job:
    We spend so much time trying to build a network and then when we get into a new job we tend to forget about that network.

    Why CFO Peer Groups are important:
    It’s very important to keep a close check on what challenges other CFOs face in the market these days.

    Building your network:
    You should value your network and you should always think about building and expanding on your experiences.

You went from an engineering organization to a sales organization, both of which have very different requirements and very different world views. How did you transition at an early age to those perspectives? What did you learn from that?

I suppose I was just fortunate. I got in to the engineering role and the engineering VP at that stage got promoted to the general manager of a business unit that had a value of $1.7 billion dollars. So I was fortunate to move in with the VP and become the general manager’s number one finance person – the CFO. When I moved into the sales company, I specifically moved in as the number two. They didn’t have a CFO at the time and I moved in with the COO. The main concerns they had, operationally in the company, were in getting the financials restated due to the software changes that were going on, specifically around revenue recognition. In the company that I joined, several of the competing companies had their financial statements restated. Fortunately, because of my operational background in external audits and looking at the business side of things, I was able to take that role on and I spent a good year really reengineering the sales organization – specifically from an operational perspective. So that was just a bit of fortune and I just stepped up to the role. And when you actually have a bit of experience behind you, it’s nice to have that exciting challenge.

I’ve seen that a lot of CFOs who – while they were certainly smart – were at the right place at the right time. What was it about you that helped you get to that first CFO role?

I think it’s my assertiveness. It’s a little bit of planning and being willing to step up – having the energy level to step up to the next level and perform. As you start to get in, a lot of us are very technically and operationally qualified and the next part of that is the chemistry and the synergy that you have with the executive team and also with the CEO. It’s that business partnership that makes it all gel together.

What were some challenges you faced when you and the CEO thought differently? What have you done in your career that has made that CFO/CEO relationship work?

I think there are a few you areas that I would look at. The first that comes to mind is the ability to scale a company from, say, a 20 million dollar company to a 100 million dollar company. There are certain roads and paths to take. You would first look at the financial portfolios system or the ERP system and ask: which is the best one to scale? What are the key resources that you need to have? Each time you have to make some decision it impacts the business and may impact the CEO and executive team. So they’re truly critical decisions because they have a long term impact. That’s more the long term side of it.

On the operational side, I have the skills that I need from a sales operation perspective that I can use to go underneath the sales organization and understand the key issues associated with productivity, the sales model, the pricing and so forth. Because of this, sometimes the CEO or the VP of Sales do not see eye to eye with me. Through my perspective on certain things, I can justify it from the numbers, from looking at the facts, looking at trends, building them out and being able to start to perfect models and sales projections. Because of this, I started to gain respect from my peers and especially the CEO and then I moved forward and it got better. Everything started to get better.

What can you share about the process that moved you forward to your new role?

I think the key is networking. If you build up and broaden your experience and your accomplishments and consistently perform – especially in the CFO capacity – I think that will open any door. I think that’s the key to success. In my case, I’ve worked in many companies and I’ve met a lot of VCs and board members. I consistently keep in contact with them and these doors remain opened and the friendship and partnership are there.

One of the VCs on the board here opened up the door for me and connected me with CliQr. From there it just took the normal steps to get the position. I have kept in contact with all the top financial recruiters over the years – whether I am looking for an opportunity or not. If I can touch base, even if it’s only once a year, I’ll try to keep an eye on them and say hello. We spend so much time trying to build a network and then when we get into a new job we tend to forget about that network. And it doesn’t take much to maintain these relationships.

What tool do you use to ensure that you stay in front of everyone you want to stay in front of on a regular basis?

That’s a difficult one. I don’t have any specific tool. I kind of identify it and put it in my calendar on a quarterly basis. I do like sports, though. I tend to see if I can play golf with some of the executives. I might go to an event with them. Some of the banks that I deal with invite me out. For example, one of the financial recruiters is having an event here and it’s typically at an event like that where I catch up with my peers in the industry and have a drink and socialize.

Another process that has worked for me in the past is I will meet with CFOs on a semi-annual basis.We go to lunch and without getting into numbers we discuss the business process and we go into networking. The world of finance changes an awful lot. Technology changes and business and financial market changes. It’s very important to keep a close check on what challenges other CFOs face in the market these days. I enjoy that. We spend time together sitting around the table and then we reconvene in another six months’ time. It’s a great forum for keeping pace with what’s going on in the markets.

What are you excited about joining CliQr?

CliQr represents a fundamental shift in the IT market. We’ve seen the internet bring a lot of change. It has changed almost everything. The cloud is today’s internet in my mind. It has the ability to change everything about the way business interacts with information technology. CliQr is pivotal in this change. It plays a major role. It’s a transformation from the old rigid data centers to today’s desire to logically place applications across diverse environments and include the data centers across private and public clouds all in one place. This is what CliQr does. In my mind, the market’s real, the product is very very real and we’ve got really smart investors in the company (like Google Ventures and Foundation Capital -to name a couple). My colleagues here are very smart. It’s a nice working environment. To me, these are all key ingredients to success.

What are some of your objectives to help the company along and make a bigger impact in its success?

The major one is to scale the company. CliQr is at the point where it has gone through with a Series C and financing and we’re at that stage of growth. The next stage is global expansion and building out the enterprise and the sales into the various geographic regions. Those are the major challenges and in confronting them I bring in head counts and business processes. I did the same thing at Gigamon, where I expanded and brought in a new ERP system for a manufacturing company and broadened the sales geographic regions.

Where do you hope to take this?

I think one would always love to take it to IPO. Companies are not sold now, they are bought. So the strategic intention is to build this up to a company that can go IPO. I have not brought a company to an IPO process yet. I’ve filed an F1, but I’ve never been on the other side as a public CFO.

What advice would you give people trying to build themselves up on a path to success as CFO?

You should value your network and you should always think about building and expanding on your experiences. Try to look at the end of every year and assure that you’ve added some accomplishments to your resume or background. I think it’s important to meet regularly and get a pulse check with your peers to see if you’re keeping touch with how things are working out. Specifically, your skill set versus the market. Finally, I think it’s good to follow smart money. These days we’ve got some super VCs in the Valley. They do an amazing job and when you can actually get a line through to these VCs, they truly do mitigate the risk that we have as CFOs. In looking at opportunities, these are the people you should start to follow.


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.

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.


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.

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.

LinkedIn’s new Tool: Endorsements

If you have been reading my blogs for a while, you know that I am a big fan and user of LinkedIn. (You can read my LinkedIn related blogs by clicking here).

Until recently, the only tool that LinkedIn had for others to confirm that you are as good as you said you were was its Recommendations feature. This is a good tool, but requires the person writing the Recommendation to make a big commitment to you – they needed to essentially write a letter as to what they like about you and where you’ve added value to them and their company. Few people actually used this feature because of the commitment involved.LinkedIn is an excellent tool for business professionals. It allows them to brand themselves and stay connected and expand their professional network.

LinkedIn’s Endorsements feature is based on what you’ve identified as your skills and expertise, and others click to say “I agree” that you have this skill set. It’s an easy and effective tool.

I’ve enjoyed the past few weeks as people I know have endorsed me. It is interesting to see who actually thinks I have the skills I say I have, and I appreciate everyone’s endorsement.

To get the best out of the Endorsements feature, it is important that you properly identify your Skills & Expertise in LinkedIn. For example, if you are branding yourself as a CFO, do you really want to be endorsed for your Excel Skills?

Are you using Endorsements?

Do you find value in this LinkedIn feature?

The Fresh CFO (and 5 ways to say Fresh)

Last week I wrote that No Employer wants a Stale CFO. While we can agree that a Stale CFO is not desired, staying Fresh takes hard work. The most important thing for a CFO to do to stay Fresh is to budget.

When I ask CFOs why they do not make staying Fresh a priority, the usual excuse they give is that they don’t have the time, or they cannot get (or are afraid to ask for) approval for the expense.

A CFO needs to budget time and money to ensure that they stay Fresh.

How can a CFO find the time and money?

New CFOs are in the best position to find the time and money when negotiating their new CFO Employment Contract. As part of a new employment agreement, asking for a budgeted amount for conferences and other professional development gives a Chief Financial Officer the flexibility to find relevant learning and networking opportunities to stay fresh and further develop themselves as CFOs and as experts in their industry.

Employed CFOs that have not spent the effort to stay Fresh really need to get out of their rut. If you’ve been CFO with a company for 3 years but haven’t spent the time and money on staying Fresh, convincing your CEO that you need to start spending time and money on this could lead to quizzical looks. You may want to use the argument that you’ve spent all this time applying your previous experience, and now you need to upgrade your skills to better service the organization.

Whether a new or incumbent CFO, you need to believe that staying Fresh adds value to your current employer, and that your employer needs a Fresh CFO to get the best value from you.

Now that you’ve committed to spending time and money on improving and developing yourself, what are your options?

Conferences – Getting out of the office and in front of other people is not only a good change of pace, it can provide you with formal and informal learning opportunities and networking that will can add value to you and your employer immediately. CFO focused events, such as the AICPA CFO Conference or CFO Rising or even specialized CFO Conferences for your industry (e.g. the CFO & Finance Managers Conference by the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers) are excellent opportunities for learning, development and thinking about how you can apply what you’ve learned. I also recommend that you attend Industry conferences that are not finance focused so you can better understand the business and industry you currently serve.

Training – Specific training, either on a new subject or as a refresher, whether in a class room or as a webinar, can certainly allow you to stay fresh. Proformative has excellent webinars on relevant CFO topics on a regular basis, as well as an up to date list of CFO relevant events across the country.

Peer networks – CFOs can learn a lot from their fellow CFOs. Groups such as The CFO Alliance (which has meeting in cities around the USA) as well as local FEI chapters can provide learning and networking opportunities that are worth your time.

Licenses – I tend to see too many inactive CPAs. If you’ve went through the effort to get your CPA in the first place, find a way to get your employer to agree it’s valuable and pay for it. Make this cost a part of your Fresh CFO budget.

Coaching – Athletes do better with a Coach. So will you. Getting a CFO Coach can allow you to have the individualized attention and support you need to be the best CFO you can be. Putting this cost into your budget ensures you will continue to improve.

How much do you budget to stay Fresh?


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Ask Samuel: Industry Experience Required?

Dear Samuel,

I have come across many companies over my career that, when looking to hire their CFO, require that they have not only CFO experience, but experience as a Chief Financial Officer in their industry.

How would you recommend that I position myself to be hired into an industry that I do not have direct experience as a CFO?

Denied in Denver

Dear Denied,

When decision makers hire (or make any decision) they choose the path of least resistance. This usually includes making decisions based on their belief system.

Many people making these hiring decisions have the belief that their industry is so specialized and unique that no one coming from outside the industry will be able to learn quickly enough about their industry and will therefore be at a disadvantage.

From what I have seen, decision makers that are able to hire key people from outside their industries usually do so because they have a more convincing factor in making the decision – trust. In these cases, the one making the hiring decision knows and trusts the person that will be coming into the role, even if they don’t have the industry experience. 

When companies face ‘change management’ considerations, they are more open to hiring executives from outside their industry to shake things up.

So how do you get hired into an industry you don’t have direct experience in? Use your connections. People that trust you know what you are capable of and will overlook your lack of industry experience.

Thanks for writing,



If you’d like to ask Samuel a question, click here.

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When hiring a CFO, is LinkedIn the place to look?

A recent blog piece on ERE.net called Fishing in a Small Pond discusses, from the recruiter and company perspective, whether LinkedIn is the best source for candidates when looking to hire.

Our own research shows that LinkedIn is not as great a source for CFO candidates as people think. Our CFO Moves Blog, which is the most regular and comprehensive source detailing CFO hires and unhires across America, is the only list that refers to the CFO’s LinkedIn Profile. If the CFO has a LinkedIn Profile, CFO Moves provides the direct link to it. Take a look for yourself.

Look at the blog and you will notice that not all CFOs are on LinkedIn. A good number of them aren’t.

Shocked? Don’t be.

Also, look at the links to CFO LinkedIn Profiles in our CFO Moves Blog. You will notice that of those CFOs that are on LinkedIn, a good number of them have weak or ineffective profiles, with few connections (Category: I’m here, but leave me alone), and what appears to be no real investment in looking out for building their personal brand.

Lessons to be learned:

For… Lesson to be learned Recommendation 
A company looking to hire your next CFO LinkedIn is not sufficient to do a proper search for the best candidates meeting your needs. Engage a Search firm that not only understands what you need, but how and where to find them.
A CFO actively looking for their next opportunity Your LinkedIn Profile can give you a competitive advantage, if done right. Be active and visible to those looking for CFOs that are too lazy to do any other type of search.
A CFO who iskeeping their eyes open for their next opportunity Other CFOs are not on LinkedIn or not taking LinkedIn seriously. Build your personal brand, including being active on LinkedIn, and opportunities may find you.

We are in process of preparing detailed statistics on what we have learned from our CFO Moves Blog this year. Our report will be coming out in January. Sign up to this blog by clicking the “SIGN ME UP” button on the right column to ensure you can learn what we’ve learned from our CFO Moves Blog.

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Ask Samuel: Should I accept all LinkedIn Connection Requests?

Dear Samuel,

I’m a senior financial executive that is taking an active role in building my network. I’m finding that LinkedIn is a good tool. It allows me to keep track of who I know and stay visible to my network.

From time to time (and it’s getting more frequent) I get requests to connect with someone I don’t know. They either say that I know them as a Friend or I have worked with them in the past. While it could be possible that I met them once, I don’t remember.

Should I accept a connection request on LinkedIn from someone I don’t know?

Connecting in Connecticut

Dear Connecting,

I understand where you are coming from. Being as active on social media as I am, I get requests constantly to join people’s networks. So I developed a LinkedIn Connection Policy that I stick to. You can read my LinkedIn Policy in my previous post.

I also recommend that you read the postings of a fellow blogger, Joel Ungar, The SEC Auditor. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 of his blog – How NOT to Make a Connection on LinkedIn.

To answer your question in standard accountingease: It depends. It ultimately depends on what you want to accomplish on LinkedIn.

What should your LinkedIn Connection Policy be?

Thanks for writing,


If you’d like to ask Samuel a question, click here.

LinkedIn Connections – What is your Policy?

Dear Readers:

I previously published this post on another blog in February 2011. I am reposting it here as a reference to those who wish to connect with me on LinkedIn.

If you’re not connected with me on LinkedIn – now you know what it will take for me to say yes.



LinkedIn has certainly become the online place for business people to connect and stay in touch. While it is a very powerful tool, it is only as powerful as you make it.

Networking is more effective when you use it to give to your network as well as receive from it. The same applies on LinkedIn. If you want LinkedIn to work for you when you need it (i.e., when you are looking for work), you need to work with, assist and engage your network when you don’t need your network.

As someone who uses LinkedIn on a daily basis to connect and add value to my network, I regularly get LinkedIn requests. Many times, it is from individuals I do not know. Yet.

I am interested in making genuine connections with people. It is my business to know people and meet people – LinkedIn is a great tool for this. I’m not interested in the game of “How many Connections do you have?”

So how do I choose who to connect with?

I connect with people that:

    • I know
    • I have met in person
    • I have spoken with
    • I have engaged with online

When I get a request from someone I do not know it is my policy to reply to them and ask questions that will help me get to know them better before I actually connect.

I categorize networkers on LinkedIn into the following categories:

1) LIONs (LinkedIn Open Networkers).These people have a policy to connect with anyone and anybody. They call themselves “Open Networkers” but in my opinion are not real networkers – they are just looking for leads to move their agenda forward and have access to names they may not otherwise have.

2) Real Networkers.These people use LinkedIn to support their in-person networking activities, not to replace their in-person networking. These people are meeting people in person and using LinkedIn to stay connected and engaged with their network when they are not in front of them. Real Networkers do develop relationships on LinkedIn, but only as part of an engagement strategy with their network, groups and questions to build real relationships, even if they start them online.

3) Passive Networkers.This is how I would categorize the majority of people on LinkedIn. Passive LinkedIn Networkers connect with some people they know on LinkedIn, but really don’t go out of their way to connect or engage their network. These people are generally passive networkers in their day to day lives. While I am an avid evangelist of the powers of networking, I am aware that most people don’t love networking, and feel more comfortable not networking. For them, just being on LinkedIn and passively being involved is certainly a step up to those that do no networking at all.

4) I’m here, but leave me alone. There are people who have a profile on LinkedIn because someone they respect asked them to be a part of it, but have no desire to put an effort into networking at all. I respect the choice these people have made, but I feel for them – they are missing out on a revolution that is positively affecting the careers and personal lives of everyone around them.

I categorize myself as a Real Networker. What kind of LinkedIn Networker are you? What is your LinkedIn Connection Policy?


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