I recently met with a CEO who is a potential client in need of a new CFO. He is in a name-brand company that most people in technology circles would recognize. He is also one of the most network-connected people I have ever met. Part of the value he brings to his company is his deep and wide network of connections to influential people; this helps him recruit exceptional talent and drive customer and vendor relationships.
However, because his network of CFO talent is not the deepest and widest, he is considering engaging Arnold Partners to help him identify and land the CFO. It is pending while he reaches out to a few folks before engaging a full search. I always encourage my prospective clients to work their network prior to engaging a search; it just makes sense.
On my soapbox again
For frequent readers of my blog, you will recognize the soapbox upon which I stand regarding the importance of a strong network. As I emphasized last year in my video on the importance of networking and ways to do it effectively, I am constantly in awe of the power of a great network. Most folks in full-time jobs may only occasionally think about networking, but for me it is a daily priority. One of the greatest assets I bring to my clients is the depth of my network and my ability to tap into long-term relationships based on mutual trust to deliver exceptional results. When I entered the executive search business over 20 years ago, it was clear to me that building a trusted network of people of influence was truly the goal each and every day.
What also surprises me about my own network is the breadth of its reach and its value personally as well as professionally. When I needed sold-out U2 tickets for my friend’s 50th birthday celebration I had someone to call. When my client needed to set up their first European operations I had someone to introduce them to. When my client was looking to move office space I had top-tier folks to help them. When there have been personal medical issues beyond my control, my network was there with well-connected referrals. When my good friend started an HR consulting business and needed help setting up a website, I introduced him straight to excellent vendors. All these significant relationships have come from years of networking.
In the last week I have received inquiries about partnering on two separate CFO searches—one in Florida and one in New York City. Both are successful SaaS companies and will need seasoned CFOs to help chart their next stages of growth. With a quick look into my contacts database I have confidence that we have an excellent jumping off point to help these clients efficiently and effectively. Our research team will supplement our existing network with additional introductions as needed.
Brand-building and networking go hand-in-hand
I just read an article about executive branding. Building a personal brand is important, but if you do not have a network to share it with, what good is it? For most CFOs, and up-and-coming CFOs, building a network is not on the top of the daily to-do list. So, how do you do it? It does take time. And the time is worth the effort. As cited above, a strong network is more than about finding your next career opportunity. It is about being a knowledge resource for all sorts of solutions. It is about knowing who to tap to find the answer for both personal and professional challenges.
Taking time to assess the marketplace
One of my favorite high-profile CFOs said in a Business Journal article last year that he takes the time once a quarter to step back from his current job and assess the marketplace. Not only to assess what is happening with specific opportunities for himself, but check out what is happening in the broader pulse of technology and in the tea leaves of the economy. If there is a certain item or trend that grab his attention he will make the time to explore who he knows in that new vertical or emerging industry. This is a good practice for all of us. Get out of the weeds of our daily roles and take a look at the macro. When something in the larger field grabs our attention, it’s the perfect opportunity to explore it and become networked in that new universe.
My personal new year resolution is the same every year: keep building the network. I encourage you to do the same. If you are looking for a top-notch CFO or Board Member to join your team, call me at 408-205-7373 or email me at: email@example.com and we can have a conversation about taping into a deep, wide, and continually expanding network.
Economic and Employment Outlook for 2018 (i.e. How Long is the Commute?)—and Impact on CFO Demand
It’s not just the CFO market that is RED HOT in Silicon Valley, it’s the entire economy. According to the California State Employment Development Department, as of March 7, 2018 the overall unemployment rate in Santa Clara and San Benito counties is currently at 2.9%. That’s the overall rate. For degreed professionals it is under 1%. That means more jobs, including CFO jobs, are out there.
For those of you commuting anywhere in the Bay Area, you instinctively know this. A look at the unemployment rate from 2010 to 2018 is telling — it’s a straight down and to the right line:
What’s Driving All This?
The economy in Silicon Valley is firing on all cylinders. It’s a very different expansion from what we saw with the dot-com bubble in the late 90s. For starters, the push is extremely wide in terms of the industries within tech: AI, Autonomous Vehicles (can you guys hurry up with this, we need them now!), SaaS, Consumer, even Semiconductor is seeing some revival due to the AI boom. On the Life Science side of things, CFO jobs are opening as both Biopharma AND Medical Device companies are getting funded and doing very well. This expansion is about revenue generation —- real dollars (not just ICOs, which is a whole other topic).
From everything I’m reading there’s still a lot more fuel to throw on these flames. Where we’ll house and transport additional workers is a real problem, but the epicenter of tech is still here and not disappearing anytime soon.
IPOs Drive CFO Demand
There are a number of high profile IPOs that really will happen in 2018 and 2019. DropBox, Zscaler, AirBnB, and Uber have all announced. IPOs directly affect the CFO market in that when high flyers go out into the public markets with success, others will follow. We saw this happen in 2012 in the Biotech market with dozens of IPOs, some of which probably should not have gone out. Most companies will not go public without a CFO, and those that do soon realize they need one.
What does this mean specifically for the CFO market in 2018? It means competition for employers. It means candidates for CFO jobs can be picky. It means there are very few people on the sidelines. It means if you are seeking to hire a CFO it will be hard work and you will need to dig deep into your contacts and or work with an executive recruiter who can really help.
Changing Demographics Impact CFO Availability
There’s an additional factor facing the CFO market this year and the coming years as well — the Baby Boomers are retiring. This is noticeable at the CFO level and will force companies to look at planned succession and look at candidates who haven’t previously been in the CFO seat. Our clients have been more receptive to looking at “step-up” candidates than ever before, and I think this is at least part of the reason.
So enjoy the ride as slow as the traffic may be, it’s going to last a while. And take stock that full employment is a lot better than the alternative. Remember 2003?
When the CFO market is this tight, you need a search partner with proven success in this type of environment. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your objectives and we’ll work together to land your ideal candidate.– Dave
Dave’s got a lot to say on variety of topics relating to CFO jobs and the industry. Be sure to read his previous post: Have You Ever Been Presented with a Counter Offer?
Recently my friendly competitor and colleague Cliff Scheffel published a white paper titled, “When is the right time for a tech startup to hire a CFO?” What I really liked about his report, which was co-written by Jeff Epstein of Bessemer Ventures, is that it gives analytical support to what all three of us have experienced as search executives and as investors. It provides a CEO, board, or founder with specific metrics that signal when to hire a CFO. The key markers cited are 100 employees, $25MM in revenue, and/or revenue growth of 100+%.
The report was well done. Let me know if I can send you a copy.
I got thinking about a related question: what factors or changes call for changing the CFO? I believe that in some cases, the first CFO, perhaps at the stage of company that Cliff and Jeff outlined above, can grow his/her skills along with the growth of the company. In other cases, a change in CFO is needed as the company changes.
It’s common for companies to contemplate a change in CFO when they start to seriously look at an IPO. In a VC-backed company, the investors are always looking for ways to minimize risks in their portfolio. If the CEO doesn’t have previous public company experience, that is also an important consideration on when to hire a CFO – the investors will almost certainly want an experienced hand in the CFO. If the incumbent CFO can demonstrate the ability to communicate the story to investors, they may be considered a candidate, but this situation will frequently prompt a CFO change.
Pre-Revenue to Commercial Stage
What about a company that goes from pre-revenue to commercial stage? This too can prompt a CFO change. We see this in the Life Science sector of our technology practice at Arnold Partners. If a bio or pharma company is successful in getting a drug approved, they have a major decision to make about bringing that drug to market. If they plan to build out a commercial organization, the role of the CFO changes materially. I actually had a CFO tell me a few weeks ago, just as his organization with going through this change, that he wanted no part of being in charge of a revenue-producing company!
Beyond IPO and Commercialization
Beyond IPO and commercialization, other changes in a company can affect options for when to hire a CFO. For many tech companies, international expansion is happening earlier and faster than ever before as tech goes to the cloud. In the med-tech side of things, sometimes getting a CE mark of approval is a better strategy to prove product acceptance than trying to fund a US-based study for FDA approval. These considerations affect the role and requirements for the CFO big time.
In an earlier blog, I wrote about how most CFOs get their first chance in the seat through a battlefield promotion. This can be a big break for a Controller or VP Finance that significantly changes the trajectory of their career. However, CEOs need to be careful in making a choice out of convenience over careful consideration of a slate of curated candidates while also considering the company’s stage of growth. Running a search process in parallel to a temporary promotion of a number two can pay dividends for all the parties: the CEO, the board, and the person in the seat. It can provide an objective test of the market to make sure the right person is running the show and that careful consideration is taken for all parties.
In only a few occasions have I seen a CFO go from pre-public company CFO to passing $1B in sales. It’s rare. CEOs need to be diligent to make sure they have the right CFO partner as their companies evolve in complexity and size. If you would like a consultative review or even more information about when to hire a CFO, please contact me at email@example.com or call 408-205-7373. As a corollary to this subject, my next blog will be about the importance of agreeing upon a good position specification when starting a search, “The Spec!” Stay tuned.
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My CEO clients are always asking me, “How long will it take to find a CFO, Dave?”
By industry standards, an executive-level search takes between four and five months to complete, on average. This is backed by search industry statistics, as well as data from our project management software provider, Clockwork Recruiting, as noted in a memo they sent their customers last week.
The Clockwork memo stated: “Over the last two years, Clockwork has been growing fast. We’ve signed up a lot of new executive search firms and we’ve migrated over 7,000 search projects from other systems like Bullhorn, Encore, Invenias, and Filefinder. Over that same two-year period, you—our Clockwork users—ran over 7,000 search projects inside Clockwork. This gave us two large, similarly-sized datasets to look at. We looked at “Days to Close,” a top Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in our industry measuring how long it takes to run a search project from start to placement. Thanks to you guys and your great work, the data show that projects run on Clockwork close 48% faster than the other guys.”
Arnold Partners Beats the Clock
We discovered that Arnold Partners is running 30% faster in “Days to Close” than the average Clockwork user. So that puts us at the top of the industry for a key measure that almost every CEO asks me about. By the time most of my clients call me, they are feeling like they should have started the search to find a CFO months, or sometimes years, before. They generally have a strong sense of urgency and want to know that the project will be thorough AND timely.
One major reason we can move more quickly than our competition comes down to focus. We meet CFOs every day. When we are called on to find that needle in the hay stack, we probably know where it is, or only need to move a few straws to find it. It’s never a new search in the sense of having to build an entirely new database of connections every time—it’s really an organic outreach to people we already know, warm calls to people with whom we have influence, who gladly take our call. Even if the role is not for them, they are quick to make referrals. This is why we never outsource candidate calls to associates or third parties. The CFO community wants to hear from Dave. Period.
More Important than Speed: Accuracy
However, I want to emphasize: more important than speed is accuracy. In fact, I don’t really want to be known for being fast or the fastest if people associate that with recklessness, sloppiness or lack of lasting results. What I want to be known for is our accuracy when we find a CFO. The truth is, over the last 20 years of recruiting experience, we have placed only one CFO that did not work out—far less than 1% of all our placements. And honestly, the reason had nothing to do with our process.
The Bottom Line: Value Creation
Our placed CFOs are extremely well tenured post-placement, creating massive value creation for their companies and stakeholders. Over the last 10 years our placed CFOs have created over $11B in value and counting. (Did you see our client Roblox just raised $92MM?)
So if you want to find the right CFO—the right way—right away, email me at Dave@arnoldpartners.com or call 408-205-7373. I look forward to helping you with a successful, long lasting CFO hire with the help of Arnold Partners’ connections and experience.
When you think of the word “headhunter,” what comes to mind? I generally have a distaste for the cannibalistic title as it engenders a scene of a crowded, bullpen-type work environment with individuals working furiously to fill open job orders—like the penny stock operation in Wolf of Wall Street. “CFO Headhunters” fall short of the complexity of what a real search consultant brings to their clients.
I have always seen myself first as a management consultant, establishing a relationship of mutual trust with Boards and CEOs where valuable advice is shared, strategy is discussed, and technology is understood. I also see myself as a career counselor with multi-decade relationships with the CFOs I work with, helping them make great decisions while in the chair or choosing the next one.
One of the key differences between transactional “cfo headhunters” and a true search partner is the depth of understanding about the client situation, the nuances of what is needed, and the particular characteristics of each candidate and how they would contribute value, both short and long term. Creating lasting value is what it’s all about—creating value for our clients through the actions of the placed CFO or Board Member, and creating value for the placed individuals as well.
Having that deep understanding of the client situation enables us to do what might seem like shooting for the moon: reaching out to potential candidates whom the client may think are out of their league. As Dan Steele, president of influential.co recently attested: “We interviewed 10 search firms before deciding to work with Arnold Partners. Dave Arnold was the only search consultant that felt he could source and deliver a candidate out of our league, or at least go after those candidates. The other firms all thought we would just be wasting their time and ours in looking for a superstar. In the end, we got a CFO that hit on all of our must-haves, and all of our like-to-haves.”
As I pointed out in my last blog about my relationships with our CFO and Board candidates, our ability to fully prepare a candidate for the client meeting is crucial to our mutual success. By truly understanding both the client situation and the psychology of our CFO candidates, we will be on target with the match, and bring the search to a faster completion. We have a track record of doing so; an independent service provider reported that our time to close is running much shorter than the competition. While we never feel rushed or pushed by a “bullpen” environment, our clients benefit from our diligent and persistent laser focus on CFO search and Board search, delivering expedient results that create long-lasting value.
By truly being a thought partner in the search, together we can persevere though the challenges all search assignments face. Sometimes it takes perseverance, sometimes charm, most times just plain old hard work, and even Lady Luck may play a role. No matter the challenge, when you’re ready to have a real partner—not cfo headhunters—helping with your CFO hiring needs and select Board appointments, please contact me at Dave@arnoldpartners.com or call 408-205-7373.
Interesting conversation yesterday with a top-tier public company CFO. He was musing about the search process and about how UN-informed so many CFO recruiters are when they call with supposed opportunities. Recently he was called about a supposed “confidential” search for a public company. The CFO from this “confidential company” had already announced their departure and the company had already made the necessary public filings. After asking some questions about the opportunity, this CFO quickly figured out who the company was and wondered why the recruiter was being so coy?
Certainly there are times when we CFO recruiters conduct confidential searches and the company name needs to be held in check. However, the recruiter reaching out to this CFO was not helping his cause, or his client’s.Our conversation led to his revelation about the value that different CFO recruiters bring to the search process.
All things Not Being Equal
The CFO told me what differentiates me from other CFO recruiters when I’ve called him for CFO opportunities in the past is how thoroughly I understand and explain the client’s situation: from details about the CEO and the organization’s capital structure, to market opportunity and the challenges they face. He said few CFO recruitment calls are as informative as the ones he receives from me.
Creating Value on Both Sides of the Equation
It’s executive recruiters’ job to present to a CFO a detailed description of the opportunity in a convincing and truthful manner. If we can’t entice the CFO to the table to meet the CEO, we have failed in our duty; however, it’s not our job to oversell the situation. It’s equally imperative that CFO recruiters present the backgrounds of our CFO candidates to our clients in a similarly thoughtful, thorough manner. This is what I mean by creating value on both sides of the search process.
The importance of this balance to a successful CFO placement is why Arnold Partners doesn’t rely on outside research or junior staff for any part of our search process. We are boutique in our very nature—personally attending to every detail of the search process until it’s complete. The call to a CFO about a client opportunity is probably the most important one; I can’t imagine outsourcing that process. CFOs by their nature are skeptical and analytic and don’t want to be sold. In order to get their attention, we have to present a deep understanding as to why THIS particular client opportunity is tailor-made for them.
The Art of CFO Recruitment
What is not too surprising, we receive many “not interested” responses from CFOs even after this thoughtful process. Generally speaking, most sitting CFOs are not looking for new opportunities. However, birds of a feather stick together, and many CFOs who were not initially interested either come back a few days later for a “tell me a little more phone call.” Or more frequently, they are quick to make a referral. This is the art of recruiting that can’t be carried out by an outsourced or junior person. This intimate knowledge of the client, presented on point to a specifically targeted audience, is how Arnold Partners continue to create value for both our clients and our CFOs.
When you’re ready to hire your next CFO, please contact me at Dave@arnoldpartners.com or call 408-205-7373. If you’re a candidate and you haven’t read my posts about CFO Compensation or How to Become a Successful CFO, I highly recommend checking them out now.