Archive | CFO Executive Search Process

How to Interview a CFO Candidate

charlie-roseMost professionals (and many recruiters!) are never really trained in How to interview a CFO candidate. They learn from trial and error how to hire a CFO, or perhaps they learn anecdotally. Unless you find yourself in a huge corporation, there may not even be a resource to help you get better at interviewing. I have hired and trained many recruiters over the last 22 years as well as interviewed hundreds of CFOs. As VP of Operations in a national recruitment practice, I co-developed a very detailed process for conducting effective interviews. Here I’ll share some insights I’ve gained on how to hire a CFO.

My Muse: Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose is the most impressive interviewer in the public domain today. He has conducted thousands of interviews with the most highly placed figures in all walks of life including heads of state, politicians, rock stars, movie stars, and business heavyweights. I don’t know how many CFOs he has interviewed (probably a few), but I do know that his style is one that ALL interviewers should learn from. Part of what makes him unique is his ability to truly listen.

The old adage in sales is to listen twice as much as you speak. This holds doubly true with interviews. If the interviewer is doing all the talking, how can he/she learn about the interviewee? Charlie is a master of this. His follow-on questions are sublime. He has a script of questions at the onset of every interview, but depending on the answer, he is quick to change gears and ask an appropriate follow-on question. He can only do this by keenly listening. He is also a master of getting people to answer the question. Many of his guests are good at not giving a direct answer, but Charlie won’t let them off the hook. Watch his interviews with the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for inspiration, such as:

My Read: “The Corner Office”

The New York Times has a twice-weekly column, “The Corner Office.” Each article is an interview with a CEO. Excellent information is exchanged, and in most cases the CEO is asked about his interviewing style. I am fascinated by the lack of consistency in how CEOs interview (which supports my point that people aren’t trained to interview), and the excellent questions CEOs ask candidates. This column is no substitute for interviewing training, but can help you formulate probing questions.

For more guidance on how to interview a CFO candidate, please contact me, Dave Arnold at 408-205-7373 or



Hiring a CFO: Secrets from a Chef

ducasse_alainI recently had the pleasure of spending some time in Paris and took a class at the Alain Ducasse School of Cooking. Monsieur Ducasse has built an empire and amassed numerous Michelin stars at his restaurants around the world. One of his protégés actually taught the course I took─conducted 100% in French!  While my primary interest was acquiring skills in technique for the kitchen, I was surprised that as I julienned and sautéed, I gained fresh insights on the executive search process for hiring a CFO.

Preparation is the Key in Cooking and in Executive Search

The French say that before you start cooking you must be in a state of “mis en place,” loosely translated as “having everything in its place.” The course was Bistro cooking, meaning a simple meal well prepared. Of course, nothing could be simple in the world of Ducasse. Just as no hiring process is simple; whether you are hiring a junior accountant or a CFO one thing remains true: you need to know what you are looking for BEFORE you start looking. Mis en place! Mais oui, Chef!

An important part of my process when working with a client looking to hire a CFO is first, to truly understand what they are looking for, and second, to help the client understand what they should be looking for. The discovery in this phase of the process goes beyond identifying the obvious skills of a CFO; it gets to the heart of the culture of the company, its growth plan, where the blind spots of the CEO are, how dynamics at the Board level affect the CFO hire, and more. This deep dive is the necessary prep work before any cooking can start. It is not trivial and must be approached systematically so when the real work begins the result is a timely, targeted, and effective search.

Three Hour Prep for Two Course Lunch Pays Off

inplaceWe spent about three hours prepping a two-course lunch consisting of a white and green asparagus salad followed by a veal tenderloin with a green pea sauce. All the heavy lifting was in the prep. Once we got to “plating” and then the enjoyment of the meal, it was clear to me why we spent so much time in the prep.

When you are presented with a slate of CFO candidates for consideration, you are going to be happy with the results because the prep work goes on every day of the year at Arnold Partners, and the customization for your specific needs will not be short-changed. Prep, prep, prep. Mais oui, Chef!

Let’s get cookin’ on your CFO hire. I’ve got the recipe for success. Contact me at


How to Hire a CFO: Avoid this Common Pitfall

louI read with great interest a LinkedIn post by Lou Adler, the self-proclaimed “Original Headhunter” about how to avoid hiring mistakes. As a long-time executive search consultant and former hiring manager, avoiding mistakes is paramount for me and my CEO clients.

Lou made some excellent points about cultural fit, not over or under hiring, assigning appropriate tasks once the new hire is on board, etc. However, he failed to mention a common hiring practice: the misuse of references. It just so happened that this practice was the subject of a lunch conversation I had with a CEO a few days after reading Lou’s post.

The CEO was not having success in hiring a senior finance person. Rather than using references early in the process to gain an objective, outside view of a candidate, she made the mistake of using the references after she made up her mind about who to hire. The reference merely validated her decision. When used correctly, references are a very valuable tool to uncover the truth about candidates before making a hiring decision.

When and How to Check References?

This business is a bit tricky. Say you are courting a new CFO to your company and she is currently a CFO of a public company. You can hardly start calling official or backdoor references prior to a serious intent to hire.  Let’s lower the bar: say you are courting a CFO who is currently in between assignments…when is it ok to start the reference checking process?

A Two-Edged Sword to Swing Carefully

In the somewhat small halls of Sand Hill Road, everyone’s references are quietly checked all the time.

In hiring a CFO, the reference process is a delicate and infinitely important one. There isn’t a hard and fast rule for when and how to check references. It needs to be considered on a case by case basis. But one thing I will recommend: don’t make the mistake of waiting to check references until the very end of your hiring process. You’ll just validate your view of the candidate, or waste a lot of your time and that of your executive team.

For those interested in understanding how to hire a CFO, I also recommend hiring a third party to execute on finding the truth about anyone you’re thinking about adding to your team. This will take the emotion out of the equation. If you have comments or want to share your thoughts on how to hire a CFO, please email me, Dave Arnold, at or call 408-205-7373.


Industry-Specific Experience: Key in CFO Search?

yahooThis is a pressing question I get asked a lot by CEOs, CFOs, and Investors. My answer always stimulates a passionate discussion.

Two recent, high-profile CFO appointments shed light on the issue.

Ken Goldman (63) was hired by Yahoo! and Marissa Mayer (38) to help resurrect this great entity. What is Yahoo! anyway? Simply put, it’s a digital media company, but it has trouble explaining that in an elevator pitch. I suppose it’s many things, and it’s sitting on a big pile of cash! How does Ken fit in from an industry perspective? Ken started his career in semiconductors (Cypress), moved to software (Seibel), then to the famed @Home, then back to security software (Fortinet). You could make a case that @Home and Yahoo! have some similarities, but on the surface, it doesn’t seem like a natural transition or fit for Ken.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (29) hired David Ebersman (42) from Genentech to be his CFO. Despite what Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote about David after the “debacle” of Facebook’s IPO (NY Times, Sept 3, 2012), I would hold him up to be one of the best CFOs in the Valley. It’s not immediately clear that Genentech has much in common with Facebook either.

Why two major internet players went “outside” their industries to hire CFOs

The decision has more to do with the character and quality of the CFOs than what was on the spec. Marissa and Mark probably asked everyone they knew who is the best CFO in the Valley. The same names kept coming up and they went out and got them. In the case of Yahoo!, they paid a pretty penny too.

So you think your company is the next Facebook or Yahoo! — after all, your investors just valued your company at $B+. (Even though you may or may not have revenue). Who should you try to attract to be your CFO: the person with the industry specific resume, or the perceived best CFO?

Adding up the numbers in the CFO search

In executive search, the starting point should be clear. The spec is written with clear goals in mind that are derived from careful listening to the CEO and BOD. This spec will generally include the desired industry experience. But at the end of the day, the spec may be less important if you are able to attract the very best athlete. This goes to the heart of the matter of masterful recruiting, and why sometimes one plus one might not equal two. Call me, Dave Arnold, to discuss this further at: 408-205-7373.


Search for Integrity in CFO Search

integrityThis quote from the January 31 NY Times, “The company seeks the most accomplished and competent people for the job” is from a company spokesperson for J&J. It’s in defense of the hiring of Andrew Ekdahl to head their hip replacement business. The problem is that Mr. Ekdahl is lacking THE premiere quality of all executives and particularly CFOs: Integrity.

Ekdahl knowingly promoted the sale and implantation of faulty hips into roughly 100,000 patients. This is more than a slight slip up; it’s morally and ethically reprehensible. He may have been accomplished (good sales guy?) and competent (at lying?), but he certainly was not acting with integrity.

A definition that sets the bar

The definition of integrity is easy to find, but I like this one: a firm adherence to a code of moral values: incorruptibility (Merriam Webster). Other definitions use similar words like honesty, being whole, consistency of actions.

The question remains, how do we discover the true level of integrity in another person? It’s pretty easy when you know someone over the course of years. It’s actually apparent when you play a round of golf with someone! But how do you flush this all-important quality out when you are considering them for an executive position in your company?

I don’t propose that the need for “high integrity” is not just for the CFO; in a perfect world, the entire C-suite and their direct reports would get A+ for integrity. I do maintain that because the CFO has a fiduciary responsibility (the bar in a capitalistic society), CFOs are naturally forced into deciding between difficult, competing interests on a daily and quarterly basis.  So if you are an investor or head an organization, the number one quality you should look for in a CFO is integrity.

There are many other qualities that one must consider in hiring a CFO, and I will cover these in future posts. If you want to know how the CFOs I consistently place with clients are screened for their integrity, call me, Dave Arnold at 408-205-7373.