The role of the CFO in private business

by | May 9, 2022 | 0 comments

Understanding the Importance of a CFO in Private Business

What is a “good” CFO supposed to do?

As a relatively new or emerging CFO, no one necessarily tells you what you should be doing differently from your previous role as a Finance Manager or Financial Controller, do they?

Here I share my Top 10 Tips for transitioning from the “beancounter” to the valued partner in the business.

  • Do you have a sense you might not be meeting expectation?
  • Feel like you are doing two jobs?
  • Struggling to keep your head above water?
  • Is that imposter syndrome creeping in?

10 Tips for CFOs in Private Business to Succeed

From my own experience of following a fairly traditional route to CFO, and having worked with several other senior financial professionals navigating their career progression, I share my top 10 reflections:

  1. Gain clarity on what the Owner, CEO and/or Board expect of you as the CFO. If it’s not immediately obvious– ASK.  And even if you think it is obvious, still ASK because assumptions can be a dangerous thing.
  2. Shift from thinking like an accountant to thinking like a leader. Ask yourself, if I were the CEO or a Director what questions would I need answering to assist in making a decision?
  3. Try to see the bigger picture and understand the strategic context. Get your head out of the details. ASK yourself- why is this important; what value does it add?
  4. Recognise that leaders within the organisation want clear, concise and relevant information presented in an easily understood format. Less is often best.  Charts better than words. Summary tables better than detailed spreadsheets.  If you are new to the role, it is a fantastic opportunity to put your stamp on financial reporting. ASK and get feedback on what information is actually useful and why it is useful.
  5. Let go of your old role as Finance Manager and embrace your new CFO role. Stop trying to do both roles. It is a sure way to burn yourself out.
  6. The sooner you can curb your control freak tendencies, trust your team and delegate to them, the better for you and for them. No-one likes to be micro-managed.  This is a hard one, because as accountants we tend to be perfectionists and like to get things right. It took a long time for me to allow my team to make mistakes and recognise that mistakes are a good thing, because that is how we learn.
  7. Position yourself as a valued partner in the business through understanding the needs of the business.  As financial professionals we are in the service industry.  If we are to be of any value to those that we are serving, we must understand what they need from finance.  Do not assume anything.   ASK them.
  8. Spend as little time in your office as possible. As the CFO you are not paid to bury yourself in spreadsheets. Build relationships and understand the issues and perspectives from across the organisation, and from outside of your own organisation. “You need to get out more”.
  9. Build relationships. To be an effective CFO you need to know what is going on in the business. That means you need to build trust and earn respect from your peers. Be approachable so that people share things with you, ask your opinion and use you as a sounding board.
  10. Be yourself; let your personality shine through – after all, you don’t want to be known as that “boring accountant.”

The Vital Role of CFOs in Private Business Success

  • Do not assume you know what the business wants of you
  • ASK a lot of questions
  • Build relationships

I am a Chartered Accountant, 10 years as an Auditor within professional practice, making the transition to commerce where I progressed from Finance Manager to CFO within a large private business.  Combined with 12 years experience as a Non-Executive Director and Chair of the Finance Committee for several not-for-profit Boards.  This all means that I understand what the Owners, CEO and Board need from their CFO. 

As an Associate Certified Coach, I coach emerging CFOs to meet the needs of the business and work with CEOs and Business Owners to get the most out of their finance function.

Written By Debbie Millard

Master your business through strong leadership, knowing your numbers and empowering your people

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