CFO Rising: CFO’s Show They Are Increasingly Business Oriented

The Rising CFO is Increasingly Business Oriented

CFO risingAt the CFO Rising West Conference on October 30th and 31st, there were sessions on managing capital expenditures, completing an IPO, and even managing margin and cash flow. However, the keynote presenters did not spend much of time on these topics. Instead, they focused on how CFOs need to help their firms execute better. Here is a quick summary of the suggestions made from CFOs in broadcasting, consumer goods, retail, healthcare, and medical devices.

The Modern CFO is Strategic

CFO risingThe Broadcasting CFO started his talk by saying he was not at the conference to share why CFOs need to move from being “bean counters to strategic advisors”. He said “let’s face it the modern CFO is a strategic CFO”. Agreeing with this viewpoint, the Consumer Goods CFO said that finance organizations have a major role to play in business transformation. He said that finance after all is the place to drive corporate improvement as well as business productivity and business efficiency.

CFOs Talked About Their Business’ Issues

CFO risingThe Retailer CFO talked like he was a marketing person. He said retail today is all about driving a multichannel customer experience. To do this, finance increasingly needs to provide real business value. He said, therefore, that data is critical to the retailer’s ability to serve customers better. He claimed that customers are changing how they buy, what they want to buy, and when they want to buy. We are being disrupted and it is better to understand and respond to these trends. We are trying, therefore, to build a better model of ecommerce.

Meanwhile, the Medical Devices CFO said that as a supplier to medical device vendors “what we do is compete with our customers engineering staffs”. And the Consumer Goods CFO added the importance of finance driving sustained business transformation.

CFOs Want To Improve Their Business’ Ability To Execute

CFO risingThe Medical Devices CFO said CFOs need to look for “earlier execution points”. They need to look for the drivers of behavior change. As a key element of this, he suggested that CFOs need to develop “early warning indicators”. He said CFOs need to actively look at the ability to achieve objectives. With sales, we need to ask what deals do we have in the pipe? At what size are these deals? And at what success rate will these deals be closed? Only with this information, can the CFO derive an expected company growth rate. He then asked CFOs in the room to identify themselves. With their hands in the air, he asked them are they helping to create a company that executes or not. He laid down the gauntlet for the CFOs in the room by then asserting that if you are not creating a company that executes then are going to be looking at cutting costs sooner rather than later.

The retailer CFO agreed with this CFO. He said today we need to focus on how to win a market. We need to be asking business questions including:

  • How should we deploy resources to deliver against our firm’s value proposition?
  • How do we know when we win?

CFOs Claim Ownership For Enterprise Performance Measurement

Data AnalysisThe Retail CFO said that finance needs to own “the facts for the organization”—the metrics and KPIs. This is how he claims CFOs will earn their seat at the CEOs table. He said in the past the CFO have tended to be stoic, but this now needs to change.

The Medical Devices CFO agreed and said enterprises shouldn’t be tracking 150 things—they need to pare it down to 12-15 things. They need to answer with what you measure—who, what, and when. He said in an execution culture people need to know the targets. They need measurable goals. And he asserted that business metrics are needed over financial metrics. The Consumer Goods CFO agreed by saying financial measures alone would find that “a house is on fire after half the house had already burned down”. The Healthcare CFO picked up on this idea and talked about the importance of finance driving value scorecards and monthly benchmarks of performance improvement. The broadcaster CFO went further and suggested the CFO’s role is one of a value optimizer.

CFOs Own The Data and Drive a Fact-based, Strategic Company Culture

FixThe Retail CFOs discussed the need to drive a culture of insight. This means that data absolutely matters to the CFO. Now, he honestly admits that finance organizations have not used data well enough but he claims finance needs to make the time to truly become data centric. He said I do not consider myself a data expert, but finance needs to own “enterprise data and the integrity of this data”. He said as well that finance needs to ensure there are no data silos. He summarized by saying finance needs to use data to make sure that resources are focused on the right things; decisions are based on facts; and metrics are simple and understandable. “In finance, we need use data to increasingly drive business outcomes”.

CFOs Need to Drive a Culture That Executes for Today and the Future

Honestly, I never thought that I would hear this from a group of CFOs. The Retail CFO said we need to ensure that the big ideas do not get lost. We need to speed-up the prosecuting of business activities. We need to drive more exponential things (this means we need to position our assets and resources) and we need, at the same time, to drive the linear things which can drive a 1% improvement in execution or a 1% reduction in cost. Meanwhile, our Medical Device CFO discussed the present value, for example, of a liability for rework, lawsuits, and warranty costs. He said that finance leaders need to ensure things are done right today so the business doesn’t have problems a year from today. “If you give doing it right the first time a priority, you can reduce warranty reserve and this can directly impact corporate operating income”.

CFOs need to lead on ethics and compliance

The Medical Devices CFO said that CFOs, also, need to have high ethics and drive compliance. The Retail CFO discussed how finance needs to make the business transparent. Finance needs to be transparent about what is working and what is not working. The role of the CFO, at the same time, needs to ensure the integrity of the organization. The Broadcaster CFO asserted the same thing by saying that CFOs need to take a stakeholder approach to how they do business.

Final remarks

In whole, CFOs at CFO Rising are showing the way forward for the modern CFOs. This CFO is all about the data to drive present and future performance, ethics and compliance, and business transparency. This is a big change from the historical controller approach and mentality. I once asked a boss about what I needed to be promoted to a Vice President; my boss said that I needed to move from a technical specialist to a business person. Today’s CFOs clearly show that they are a business person first.

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Twitter: @MylesSuer

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