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A Great CFO Hire on Paper vs. a Great CFO Hire: A Tale of Two Clients

I had a client last year that kept falling in love with candidates he could not attract to his company. There was nothing wrong with his company; in fact, I think it will prove to be very successful. However, it was earlier stage than some CFOs want to get involved with. The CEO is a compelling, passionate, smart guy and frankly I think he could sell anything to anyone. But CFOs are a different breed. They do not like to be sold. They think more like engineers—the numbers drive their decision making.

 

Meet Mr. Amazing: A Great CFO Hire?

This client was easy to work with—he was communicative, open, and we really got some great talent to the finish line. But it was just not closing. There were some internal delays. The candidate who was considered perfect wasn’t so perfect after a long health delay. So along comes a CFO that the CEO considered the “most amazing candidate of all time!” This candidate looked great on paper and was coming off of a big win in the industry. He was known to the Board and it was thought he would bring an air of success, credibility and celebrity to the company. Now you can guess, my client was ready to hire; there was some fatigue on his part. And hire he did against some objections from me, but mine was a lone voice in the crowd. He hired this most amazing candidate start to finish in about a week.

Four months have passed and the most amazing candidate of all time has quit. The IPO has been delayed. The commute was too far. When the going got tough, the one with all the credentials on paper got going—right out the door. The CEO and the Board’s judgment became clouded when they got caught up in a moment of euphoria, and they rushed the process at the end. The right hire is in the wings and there will be no replacement search necessary, but now the client has a different type of credibility gap to fill.

Mr. Carve-out Wasn’t Carved Out for the Job

A recent client was a very different tale. He was extremely decisive and thought he knew what he wanted before he engaged us. He had one CFO candidate identified that we carved out of the standard fee. My client met with a total of three candidates in our process and decided Mr. Carve-out was right. We made him a fair and market offer but he said no. Mr. Carve-out was also was coming off a big win and I believe he is really looking to be a CEO not a CFO. This was not the right hire and I was relieved that he turned us down. It could have been a repeat of the client story above. Had the “most amazing candidate of all time” resigned prior to our making the offer to Mr. Carve-out, I would have been even more strongly against that hire.

Enter Ms. Moneyball

Ms. Moneyball is what the Board member who introduced me to the search called her. She is hungry and has all the skills and stats, but is not a proven commodity. Like Matt Duffy vs. Pablo Sandoval. (Look how that is turning out!) The offer we made to her was the same as to Mr. Carve-out, so the Moneyball analogy does not completely fit. I would not have my client hire a woman for the job for less than what he was going to pay a man. The key point is that she is the right hire for their stage and will actually do the work that “the most amazing” and “Mr. Carve-out” would probably want to hire staff to do. She is an “A” player in terms of the skills and experience we were looking for; she just did not have the CFO title. If and when the times get tough, she will fight through them. She is smart and driven and will work very hard to ensure the company success. This search was completed in 40 days start to finish.

Lessons Learned

Don’t be fooled by a big reputation. Skills, smarts and potential are more important and a rigorous process should not be rushed. Clients take note: I will be more forceful in my advising in these situations in the future. If you would like to share your own stories or to discuss hiring strategies, please contact me, Dave Arnold, at: dave@arnoldpartners.com.

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