In the ever-expanding complexities of the modern world, some things in the field of corporate financial leadership don’t change.
A lot has been written about the changing role of the CFO in a technology company over the last few years. From my standpoint, the role has become more operational in nature, more integrated into the business. But what about the qualities of the person in the seat? Does the nature of what makes a great CFO—vs a so-so CFO—change with the demands of the job? I’d say in some ways, yes. An operationally-oriented CFO needs more tools at her disposal than a purely financial CFO. But some personal characteristics never go out of style or need.
Last week, while meeting with a new client for the first time about the CFO search we were about to embark on, we discussed his thoughts about what was needed in the new CFO. Many of the qualifications were predictably present. Then he surprised and delighted me with one word: “Grit.”
My client wanted his CFO hire to demonstrate the personal quality he defined as grit. Great word. But it caused me to pause and dig into it a bit. His was not a troubled company, and my mind immediately went to the 1969 movie “True Grit” with John Wayne and Glen Campbell. Did he want a gun swinging cowboy?
No, he calmly explained that to him grit meant perseverance. It meant sticking to the plan when everyone else was chasing the new shining object. It meant resolve and strength even if it meant going against the group think.
As I think about many of the CFOs I’ve met over the years, it seems that the ones I hold in the highest regard do possess this quality. They can cite examples of having to stand up to a CEO who wanted to take the company off course on their latest whim. Or having to fight for terms and conditions favorable to the company, not a vendor’s head of sales. Or taking a firm stand on an accounting treatment (ring any bells, CFO friends?).
The CFOs I respect the most have all had to persevere on multiple fronts over many years. It’s a hard job because in many instances the CFO is the one person in the C-suite who must keep the team on task and focused on the long-term strategy. The CFO is the one person who has the fiduciary duty to say “No” at times, without pissing everyone off. This not only takes a master’s degree in diplomacy, but I would also argue it takes grit.
Most of the CEOs I meet are visionary, brilliant, self-assured and at times very stubborn. They need to be. The role of the CEO can be very lonely one, and the antidote is having a great CFO at their side. The CFO is the CEO’s confident, and most likely the only person in the C-suite who can be trusted with every tidbit of information. This is why I liken the CEO–CFO relationship to that of a marriage. The trust needs to be deep and dependable. The two-some must persevere, working together through thick and thin to help ensure the company’s success. In a word, both parties must have grit.
It’s not totally exclusive to technology companies, but I do think grit is a must have for a technology CFO. The landscape on most every front changes faster than in other industries. What funding is available today may disappear tomorrow. New competitors appear from thin air. Apple decides to get into the business you are in. The list goes on. So as my client so insightfully believes, among the many qualities of the successful CFO, grit has to be high on the list.
If you are seeking an exceptional CFO with true grit for your company, that’s the kind of hire we can bring to fruition. While we don’t take on impossible to fill mandates, we like a challenge. We’ve been creating tremendous value for our clients through attracting strategic CFOs since 1998. To learn more about what we can do for you, give me a call at 408-205-7373 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.