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The Ideal CFO Skills

In a recent advertising article in CFO (Nov 14), David W. Owens talks about the skill sets a recent survey of CFO's provided. The Results show the ideal CFO should spend more than half their time as a strategist (analyzing data to guide decision making), a great deal of time as the catalyst for change, a quarter of their time as steward of the business and very little time as an administrator. Given these four categories: Strategist, Catalyst, Steward and Administrator, what amount of time do you feel each role should consume on a daily/weekly basis?

Answers

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

It depends on the company's stage in its life cycle and also depends on size of the company. Different stages require different distribution of skills. Size means ability to delegate thus spending less time (but still responsible).

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Emerson, pick a company you have been associated with, and give a relationship value.. ie, 200M, 15 acct/fin FTE, 30%Strategist, etc...

Sanderson Bell
Title: CFO | COO | Finance and Operations Execu..
Company: -
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO | COO | Finance and Operations Executive | Trusted Adviser, -) |

In firms $50 - 300 million CFO/Finance Executive role was 30% strategist, 40% catalyst, 20% steward and 10% administrator. Firms required operational optimization and technology enhancements to maximize performance. CFO role took on strategy definition and implementation of initiatives across the organizations. Every firm is a little different in what they require of a CFO.

Mark Rome
Title: CFO
Company: Empower2adapt
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, Empower2adapt) |

Effective Strategies (30%), effective Systems (25%), effective Culture (25%), leadership/mentorship (20%)

Jeff Durbin
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.
(Chief Financial Officer, F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.) |

While I agree with the original article's point, there's no 'right answer' in practice beyond the very broad parameters suggested in the original article.

I doubt the answers you are receiving even align with what actually occurs because none of us sit here with timesheets.

It's human nature to get these way off. I worked on a McKinsey cost-reduction project at First Interstate Bank very early in my career where we actually used timesheets to measure the activities we did so we could assign monetary costs to each of them and then assess whether the benefits of the reports / analyses / activities were worth the costs and we were shocked at the gulf between our expectations before the project and the reality at the end of the project.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Jeff -

Don't keep us in suspense... the gulf was (in large painted strokes)...???

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I'm currently spending ($20M company) 10% Steward, 50% Strategist, 20% Catalyst and 20% Administrator.

I expect this to change to 15% Steward, 35% Strategist, 15% Administrator and 35% Catalyst.

Joe Kirby
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: NorthPoint Health
(Chief Financial Officer, NorthPoint Health ) |

I agree with what Emerson stated earlier, it depends on where you are in the company's life cycle. As a CFO in a small non profit ($5M annual revenue), I find myself moving from one one skillset to another quite frequently. Being a good steward of funds is number 1, while being a strategist and catalyst for change play important roles as well. We should not forget the HR, IT, and facilities components which often require a CFO's time.

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

I will add the following factors : (aside from what I listed above)
(1) depends on the performance of the previous CFO << this is a major factor
(2) direction the CEO wants to take

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

Mine would be very similar to Mark's: Effective Strategies (30%), effective Systems (25%), effective Culture (25%), leadership/mentorship (20%). For me it is fairly balanced around these areas. Interesting question; made me think. Love the challenges.

Alan Hart
Title: Consultant
Company: Pacific Shine Group
(Consultant, Pacific Shine Group) |

I would like to see:
40% Strategist, 40% Catalyst, 15% Steward and 5% Administrator
Working closely with the CEO will make all this more effective.

Jeff Durbin
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.
(Chief Financial Officer, F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.) |

Wayne, do you sit there with a time sheet and measure your hours? Assuming a 50-hour work week, a 5% change in Steward takes you from 5 hours to 7.5 hours.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Actually, yes. For this client.

Warren Miller
Title: Cofounder
Company: Beckmill Research, LLC
(Cofounder, Beckmill Research, LLC) |

In general, I agree w/Emerson about 'It depends.' However, I disagree with the example given in the set-up piece about what a strategist does: "analyzing data to guide decision making." That's what a financial analyst does. It's backward-looking. It's work that needs to be done, of course, but it's a gross underutilization of the skills of a real strategist.

Among other tasks, a strategist looks for--or, better, anticipates--changes in the external environment at two levels: the remote level (a.k.a. 'macroenvironment') and the industry (or strategic-group) level. There are six forces at each of those levels. The analysis is mostly qualitative and involves context. Few CFOs of my acquaintance understand the implications of industry structure. Fewer still even understand what the word 'strategy' means.

A strategist also keeps tabs on competitors--changes in personnel, new hires, new offices, new services and products, etc. This requires significant research, analytical, and integrative skills. As with the analyses in the preceding paragraph, the one here is almost wholly qualitative.

At least as important as keeping an eye on current competitors is scanning for potential new entrants into the domain. This is a distinctly non-trivial and complex task that doesn't lend itself to step-type 1-2-3 approaches. It requires a deep understanding of the evolution of the domain, its barriers to entry, would-be disruptive innovation(s), and, esp. these days, potential complementarities.

Most important, in my view, is this: the strategist in a company that is NOT the market leader in its competitive domain, whether industry or strategic group, must understand that the ONLY viable strategy for the company or the division is 'differentiation.' For any competitor other than the company with the biggest market share in the domain, competing on price is a race to the bottom of the ocean. . .and the divers are wearing cement wet-suits. And, of course, committing to a strategy of differentiation is a ton easier than actually designing and implementing such a strategy. It has many moving parts because part of the definition of 'strategy' is that it is a 'unique system of complementary activities.'

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP of Finance & Operations
Company: RBA Consulting
(VP of Finance & Operations, RBA Consulting) |

The other factor to consider in addition to current state/need of the company is the CEO and management team peers - there is what a CFO can do (your skills) and what you are asked to do (your tasks).

Having worked for a wide range of management teams, I find that I plugged in where they needed help - for example, I worked for a President and team that were all very strong in Sales and Marketing, so I stepped into the strategy duties - primarily around helping us pull together the process. I've got examples the other way, where I was a participant in strategy, but only to facilitate how to interpret the strategy into projections.

There has been a series of questions posted on Proformative related to working with CEO's that can provide great insight.

Cheers,

Mark

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

As related above, it depends on a number of factors including where the company is currently and where it is headed, what is the role of the CFO relative to his peers and his staff, what are the key initiatives, etc. As a general statement, I would not be surprised if the split was an even 25/25/25/25.

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