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.

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.

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.

The C-Suite Relationship Map

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

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

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

CFO Relationship Map - October 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 CFO & CHRO: The discussion continues. Listen in.

On Wednesday August 13, 2014, I was interviewed on DriveThruHR by Nisha Raghavan.

In our discussion, we touched on a few points about the relationship between Human Resources and Finance. Here are some of the topics Nisha and I discussed.

  • Who should HR professionals report to? The CEO or CFO?
  • Discussed CHRO Moves and CFO Moves and the difference between the visibility CFOs and CHROs get.
  • Discussed Samuel’s new book, and what it says about the importance of the CFO having a strong relationship with the CHRO.
  • HR and Finance are critical support functions that need to work together to make the business successful. A deeper discussion follows on how HR and Finance can work well together.
  • How CHROs can benefit from a close relationship with the CFO, as well as how the CFO can benefit from a close relationship with HR. A business partner approach is very effective.
  • Where should companies find finance talent? Everywhere. The right senior finance talent is much harder to find and attract. Companies cannot afford to hire the wrong CFO. There is not only the cost of hiring wrong, but companies are missing the upside of hiring a great CFO as well.

Go ahead and listen in to the entire conversation:

Internet Radio with DriveThruHR on BlogTalkRadio
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Samuel’s CFO Blog is published by Samuel Dergel, CFO and Finance Executive Search Specialist and Finance Executive Coach.

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.

25 Quotes from Guide to CFO Success

A number of my followers are excited about the release of my upcoming book, Guide to CFO Success: Leadership Strategies for Corporate Financial Professionals in the United States and Canada on March 31, 2014. (Available in the United Kingdom on April 9, 2014)

While you may have to wait a little longer to get your copy of the book, I extracted quotes from the book I thought might wet your appetite.

If you find you find these quotes relevant and interesting, you can let others know about the book by:

    • Sharing the Slideshare presentation on social media
    • Sharing your favorite quote on social media
    • Recommending the book to someone who would appreciate reading it.

Stay tuned for further updates, including speaking engagements and book signings.

Thank you for your continued support,

Samuel