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Defining the Perfect CFO: Evolving Skills, Hunger for Change

The perfect chief financial officer (CFO) brings more to your company than an expert eye for financial statements and projections. The CFO who’s a perfect fit is a center-court player, one with a passion for long-term strategic thinking, day-to-day operations, and future-minded growth.

While defining perfection is always a subjective exercise, a tremendous amount can be learned from business leaders who’ve found their own ideal CFOs.

When Henry Ward, Chief Executive Officer at Carta (formerly eShares), hired on a new CFO, he looked for someone who embodies what he thinks a perfect candidate can be. The key factors that lead to his decision can also be applied to your own CFO search.

Define the CFO type that fits your company’s needs.

One of the most interesting things about hiring [a CFO] is that candidates tend to fall into two ‘buckets’,” Ward said. “There’s the accountant-type and then there’s the finance-type.” Accountant-types focus on reconciling historical financial data and details; finance-types lean toward creating projections, forecasting revenue growth, and the like. Ask your candidates about their focus and passion, because how they categorize themselves can make a crucial difference to your team-building strategy.

Identify CFOs whose skill-sets dovetail with your team’s established strengths.

Ward knew eShares needed an accountant-type to round out its leadership team. “We are a financial company,” he said. “At the end of the day, if we needed to do finance and forecasting, we’ve got half a dozen MBAs on staff.” And so, the key for eShares was to onboard a skill-set that complemented what his team could already achieve. While the size of a company (large or small) may mean that some teams can’t pitch in the way Ward’s MBAs stand to do, your ideal CFO should still augment and enhance your company’s established skill-set strengths.

Seek CFOs who crave new roles and experiences.

When your candidate fits your company culture, it counts for a lot. The perfect CFO for eShares ended up being an accountant-type who was open to learning a set of finance-type roles — one who could represent both types of CFO “buckets” in the long run. Finding a candidate who represents a passion for growth is crucial to finding the candidate who’s a perfect fit.

Ward is not alone in his take on the process of finding best-case CFO candidates.

"Definitely find someone who cares about the business,” said Scott Bailey, Managing Director of MassChallenge in Boston, echoing Ward’s approach. “Even if they don’t have the experience, do they care? Do they want to work hard to figure it out?”

A perfect CFO fit seldom represents a static relationship, between the candidate and the company. Alternatively, it requires the kind of talent that can meet the present needs of your business and then evolve over time. Find that individual, and you’ve found your perfect CFO.

The information in this article is presented as-is.

© 2018 First Republic Bank

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