The high performance CFO

I often get people coming to StartupCFO after searching for CFO job descriptions. The job of a startup CFO is very different from one at a “big” company. The latter is much more of a hands-off role focused on investor relations, deal making (financing,M & A), governance, reporting and other back office matters. In stark contrast, the startup CFO is much more hands-on and integrated into the day-to-day of the business. Here’s my recipe for a high impact CFO:


Technician: A professional accounting designation (CA, CPA) is the foundation. A few years ago it was all the rage to have MBAs in the top finance role. Having both, I can tell you that an MBA does not begin to cover the accounting, process and tax knowledge needed to steer a company’s finances.


Financier: The high impact CFO not only runs the deal process for fundraising, but should also bring deal flow into the company. She should have a track record of originating and closing debt and equity deals and should have a long list of potential financing sources that are eager to take her call.


Closer: Your CFO should be a key member of your sales team, working at the late stages to help negotiate and close sales.Even before close, the CFO should be actively involved in managing and optimizing your sales pipeline and should be deeply engaged in sales.


Operator: Your CFO should take a leading role in bringing operational excellence into your company. This doesn’t mean bringing in ISO 14001 or whatever the latest flavour is. Instead, it means installing just the right amount of process, reporting and structure. Not so much that it slows you down, but enough so that you smoothly run and grow the machine.


Lawyer: It will be a long time before you have in-house counsel and you don’t want to go to your outside law firm every time you get an NDA to sign. So, choose a CFO who’s very comfortable reviewing legal documents.


Sys Admin: No, you don’t want your CFO troubleshooting Windows on your desktop, but you do want someone who’s sufficiently comfortable in information technology to take the lead in driving your information systems.


Cheapskate: This isn’t usually a problem with CFOs but you want someone who can stretch your $ by knowing which expenses to cut without harming your business.


Consigliere: Your CFO should be a trusted advisor. Running a company can be lonely. Your CFO can be a key, objective source of advice and counsel as you make the big and the small decisions.

As you probably noticed, only one of these points (the 1st one) actually deals with accounting. Despite their accounting beginnings, the best CFOs go far beyond this foundation. They are capable of adding value to every aspect of the business. Judge yours accordingly and make sure you have a high impact CFO.