2018 wraps up with the strongest employment market in memory. While the stock market took a bit of a dive at year-end, as 2019 springs up so does the Dow. There is definitely a shortage of “been-there-done-that” technology CFOs, but will it matter if companies do not need to hire one in 2019? We are at a pivotal moment with China and China with itself. Indeed, we seem to be at a pivotal moment in the US economy and with politics. The proverbial unstoppable force is headed for the unbreakable barrier. Who will win?
In regard to finding exceptional CFO talent and diversified Board members, there is reason to be optimistic no matter what happens politically. As noted in my blog, “Gender Diversity on your Board of Directors and California SB826,” in California at least, there is reason to believe that corporate boards will need to act to bring gender diversity into reality.
On the CFO front we are still in a shortage situation and I believe the shortage is systemic as noted in my article, “The Dawning of the C-Suite Candidate Scarcity” presented on Recruiting Trends & Tech Talent’s website earlier this month. The proof of my theory was in evidence at the end of 2018 with Airbnb, Uber, and RobinHood—all Mega-Unicorns who were all hiring first-time CFOs.
So, we have in a way two parallel hiring universes facing us in 2019. On the Board front the need to appoint women is absolute. On the CFO front even the most valued private companies are waking up to hiring first time CFOs to take them into the public markets. I have not heard the proverbial “must have previous IPO experience” from a founding CEO in some time. As we look back at 2018 maybe it really was a turning point in the demographic.
The impact of political and economic decisions in Washington are real and could put a dent in these market realities, however. If China’s economy continues to slow it will impact technology companies. Apple has already demonstrated the domino effect; when Apple sneezes their huge supply chain catches cold. If we cannot solve our domestic squabbles there will be a direct hit to the economy, which will affect hiring. Already, IPOs are at a standstill with no one at the SEC to even review submissions. Shall we boycott paying taxes since no one is at the IRS to collect them? (Good news IRS, I already sent my payments! LOL)
My advice for clients on the Board front is to move thoughtfully and quickly. The best and brightest women will be picked up fast and once on a board or two that is probably it for most. My advice for clients on the CFO front is to continue to think creatively around the critical skills needed in the role rather than the pedigree or specific experiences on a person’s resume. To facilitate either of these hires it helps to have a passionate, knowledgeable partner at your side, and I hope you will consider me.
If you are a female executive reading this and feel you are right and ready to serve on a public company board, please feel free to reach out to me; I would enjoy getting to know you better. If you are a CFO or CFO in waiting I am cautiously optimistic that 2019 will remain an employee’s market over an employer’s market. As you can see from my “Recent Searches” PDF accompanying this blog, I am not a high-volume shop. I meet 200-300 people every year and place about 10. That is just the nature of executive search, but I welcome these meetings because they are what excites me the most about getting up in the morning: talking about your career!
So, we shall see…I choose to be always optimistic and 2019 is no exception. I look forward to hearing from you, email me at email@example.com or call 408-205-7373.
I was in a client meeting this week and was taken aback by my client’s view of retained search professionals. Maybe he was burned a few times by executive search firms? Not sure, but out of our conversation, what differentiates my firm Arnold Partners from most other retained search firms became clear: some firms just don’t know how to correctly hire a CFO.
While at an investors’ conference the week prior, my client ran into a partner from a large executive search firm and they got into a debate about the relative value of the search process vs. the outcome of the process. The search exec. stressed the value of the process and the insight gained, but could not sway my client; the only value he saw in the search process was the end result – a great hire.
Gems Gleaned from the Process
I agree that the search process itself can provide a great deal of valuable information to a company, specifically discoveries about how the company is perceived by the professional community and how the specific role is received by the potential candidate pool. These are truly important things; the candidates you are seeing and the prospective candidates your search partner is approaching are not yet “drinking the kool-aide” as we like to say here in the Valley. If the response to the company story is not positive and needs to be re-tooled, this is valuable insight especially when the story is being presented to CFOs, who are by their nature conservative and a tad skeptical, in my experience.
Beware the Purple Squirrel
Another possible discovery that can be a real show stopper: the person you are looking for does not exist! I have heard this called the unicorn or the purple squirrel. This is a frustrating discovery, but it can also provide insight for the executive team and board. If the specification for the role is too far outside the lines or tries to combine too many “must-haves” there needs to be a reconfirmation with the search partner and the client to reassess the needs of the business and the goal of the search. I like to say, “In search, you cannot find what you are looking for unless you know what you are looking for, but, if you are looking for a purple squirrel, you may be looking forever!”
Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Completion and Stick Rates
My view is that process is important and discoveries can provide insight, but the real drive and goal is the successful hire ─ to find a CFO that who will create a lasting, positive impact for all stakeholders in the organization. A process without consummation is a failure. This is where I pride myself in our 100% completion rate. Yes, searches can be tough; in fact most of them are. But for the best outcome what should a CEO or VC look for in a search partner? Two metrics: completion rate and stick rate (how long the placed candidates stay in the roles). One national firm boasts on their website of a 77% completion rate, which means they do not complete 23% of their searches ─ almost a quarter! And yet their clients are out 100% of their fee for service.
If you are contemplating how to hire a CFO and seeking a search partner for your search, you will find Arnold Partners to be 100% committed to both a useful process AND a successful outcome with long-lasting results. If you would like to share your experience on how to hire a CFO, or want to learn more about how Arnold Partners hits its numbers, call me, Dave Arnold at 408-205-7373 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I 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 hiring a CFO for a client 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
We 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 hiring a CFO and are presented with a slate of 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!