Yes, a few years ago getting an accounting degree, spending a few years in public accounting, handling accounts receivables & payables and managing finance operations may have been the typical career path for a high tech CFO, but the world has changed significantly and the CFO role has been elevated to new heights.
In the old days the CFO would compete for corporate resources so as to optimize company performance, but today’s organizations and market challenges have changed, considerably. Corporate Boards, CEOs, investors, customers, and partners demand greater performance with higher valuation expectations along with precision projections and market disruptive strategies. The new age CFO works closely with corporate development to pursue a company’s long term strategic welfare, venture investment and portfolio management. In the case of Salesforce’s corporate investment arm, the two have collaborated to create the world’s largest ecosystem of enterprise cloud companies. Salesforce elected to form these beneficial investment partnerships in order to accelerate the growth of over 300 technology startups that depend on Salesforce’s channels and marketplace. Salesforce invests in next generation enterprise technologies to help companies connect with their customers in entirely new ways. Invested companies receive capital as well as access to Salesforce’s cloud ecosystem along with the guidance of Salesforce’s executive team. This strategic investment approach has helped build market credibility while accelerating Salesforce’s growth and valuation.
Today, the CFO needs to be a solid team player, collaborating with the Chief Investment Officer, Chief Security Officer, Information Officer and Chief Marketing Officer to securely assess, analyze and manage data, collaborate with the head of HR to shape the corporate culture, and to collaborate with the COO/EVP to gain the most cross-functional, high value capabilities from the overall organization. Just as the IoT has merged marketing, sales and customer services into a cohesive transparent workflow, today’s financial operations are difficult to separate from administration and accountability. Something to think about as one considers hiring a CFO.
Is your corporate financial executive fully armed with the right key decision-making answers?
A new generation of next wave “unicorn” CFOs have already made their indelible mark on the high tech industry. This new breed of CFO is much more strategically-oriented, understands the value of AI-financial planning, precisely accurate projections, digital transformation as well as applied analytics and links them to corporate strategy, market trends, valuation creation and greater public-facing external interaction.
CFOs have always played an active role as a key adviser to Founders and CEOs. The difference today is the tremendous technology tools available that provide and enhance decision making. In today’s disruptive market economy, technology is no longer a “nice to have” luxury it’s a definitive “must have” that propels companies beyond their competitors. These next wave CFOs recognize that creative thinking and calculated risk-taking is the defining factor in leading their organizations through successful digital transformation journeys. Now, with the integration of advanced AI-based finance planning technologies CFOs can analyze a wealth of information rapidly while offering greater strategic guidance than ever before.
This isn’t just about finding, recruiting and hiring a new wave CFO. If you’re searching for a CFO, you already know that he/she needs to be an absolute “A” player with potential for success determined by their levels of intellect, pedigree, work ethic and creativity, that is to say that he/she fully understands where technology can be best leveraged in:
- the business,
- the market opportunities,
- the long term growth strategy,
- the financial fundamentals that encompasses processes, controls, systems and reporting,
- managing conflict,
- attracting senior executive talent,
- controlling chaos,
The new generation CFO brings together critical information from every aspect of the business: world wide sales, marketing trends, operations, human resources, finance & accounting and speaks the same Founder CEO language about the business, its growth, strategy and value appreciation. The ability to bring together both the financial elements with strategy and operations is a great set of skills. The right CFO is capable of advising Founders and CEOs on how to transform this breath of view into specific executable initiatives with a solution-bias, versus the typical naysayer bean counter. This combination of cross-organizational views and leveraging AI to model the impact of internal and external factors on future performance will transform finance leaders into more strategic advisors to management and Board of Directors.
These are the skills that define today’s CFO’s uniqueness and added value among business executives.
Ideal New Age CFO Profile
In order to prosper and gain competitive advantage, companies need to see around corners, adjust as needed, making appropriate course corrections, and harness advanced technologies to re-purpose business models. The agile company understands the importance of delivering greater value to its customers while bringing the CEO’s vision to life.
If your ultimate objective is rapid sustained growth, valuation appreciation and a successful public offering, then consider hiring a finance leader with an MBA from an ivy league school and a successful investment banking track record coupled with a passion for valuation growth. Those with an investment banking background make attractive CFO candidates because they are highly skilled on deploying resources and capital to generate greater value appreciation.
“The first rule of hiring exceptional talent is to recruit where the very best talent lives.”
An excellent example of such a profile is Sarah Friar who started her career at McKinsey & Co, then left to become the Managing Director, Equity Research Division at Goldman Sachs. She was lured away to Salesforce to become Senior Vice President, Finance & Strategy, then became Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer for Square, Inc. (SQ) guiding the company through an immensely successful IPO. Today, Sarah is NextDoor’s newly appointed CEO and serves on the board of Walmart and Slack Technologies, as well as Member of Aspen Global Leadership Network and serving on the Management Board at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Sarah received a graduate degree from the University of Oxford and an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. There are many more such examples.
Perhaps the most important Founder & CEO decision is that of hiring the right executive team. The most successful and effective CEOs I’ve ever worked with share that very same view, the importance of hiring the very best talent while creating a culture where that talent is empowered to do the best work of their lives.
The author, Igor Sill, is a Silicon Valley executive search and venture investor who worked with Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, Marc Benioff, co-founder of Salesforce, Tom Siebel, Siebel Systems and Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple & NeXT. Igor distills common leadership traits these three legendary founders share in their ability to identify, select and recruit exceptionally talented finance leaders. He can be reached at genevavp.com