Business Advice & Ideas

Searching for a clever CFO is like finding your perfect match

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09 May 2021

In the movie Schindler’s List, German industrialist Oskar Schindler said, “My father was fond of saying you need three things in life - a good doctor, a forgiving priest, and a clever accountant. The first two, I've never had much use for.” Schindler and his accountant Itzhak Stern’s collaboration in compiling a list of Krakow ghetto Jewish residents as factory workers for his company would later save that many lives from dying from the harrowing Holocaust.

Schindler’s statement is not far from truth. Every company needs a clever accountant to survive, flourish and ultimately save lives.

In modern times, this lies in the hands of the Chief Financial Officer or CFO who tracks down the company’s liquidity, devices revenue-generating policies, controls operating expenses, investments, evaluating contracts and so on. CFOs also conduct regular financial planning with stakeholders, analyses the firm’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of what it has in the bank, and proposes actions in cases when the business, like a ship on stormy waters, goes on dire straits. Indeed, so vital is a CFO to a company that finding the right one can be an exacting task.

Experts suggest the key to getting the right CFO is in figuring out what qualities, experiences, skills and training could best suit your business organization. It is more like finding the perfect match as in marriage, only this time, the CFO functions with numbers and informed decisions, not emotions, if you will. But that’s just half of the task. Getting the right CFO also entails coming up with as objective as possible, an assessment of your business organization – the prevailing work culture, the company’s needs and direction, and its leadership’s management philosophy.

One expert once quipped, “It’s like a Lego thing. You have to make the interlocking plastic building blocks fit.” It’s a two-way traffic: the candidate should fit into the business organization’s set-up; and the latter, as well, on the candidate’s abilities, so that both ends fit into the equation and hold together like an assembled Lego toy.

As LinkedIn has so aptly puts it, a CFO’s role may differ for any business set-up depending on a host of factors. For one, what could be needed is somebody with a spotless accounting background complimented with business savvy and foresight to steer the company in the right direction. And so, the right CFO is one who goes beyond overseeing accounting and tax compliance by way of coming up with a narrative that mixes what the numbers tell with a plan of action to open opportunities and achieve strategic goals.

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A question was once raised: Does a CFO needs to be a CPA?

While many CFOs today are also CPAs to keep themselves abreast with basic accounting principles and changing regulations, it is not actually unusual, experts say, to have a CFO with non-traditional background. What counts the most is the ability to manage and oversee accounting functions. Going beyond numbers meanwhile, an ideal CFO should be one manifesting excellent leadership skills for the simple reason that the CFO will be the CEO’s right hand. And to be effective, the right CFO must have the skills to muster the trust of the various teams in the company; the boldness to raise a voice when something goes wrong; and acumen to foresee obstacles before they unfold.

Still another quality of good CFOs is the adeptness to examine financial impacts and see opportunities in the market, the ability to think on their feet, like for instance analysing stock market numbers and deciding which way to go. In other words, a CFO identifies and maximizes all tools available to add value to the business as well as increase and speed up profitability. Lastly, another vital characteristic of a CFO is an excellent networking skills, someone who knows the industry like the back of his hand and holds key players in acquaintance on first-name basis. This would ensure that your business is in the league.

All said, here are a quick checklist to keep you on the right track:

  • Commission an established and respected search firm with formidable industry networks – or what is called “head hunters.”
  • Cross check the candidate’s reference list with other sources, going as far back as five jobs ago.
  • Have a well thought-out internal hiring process.
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