Strategy, Legal & Operations

New CFO? Take these six steps for success (plus two pitfalls to avoid)

Lady taking orders

Taking on a new CFO role—whether you are joining a new firm or have recently been promoted—is inevitably accompanied by a pivotal period of transition. It’s what you do with this time that may determine your success.

Sage Intacct works with many finance leaders in the SaaS industry who are entering that transition. And recently, I had the opportunity to interview a few CFOs about how best to navigate this important stage.

First off, there are two key questions that should serve as your North Star in determining where you should put your time and energy.

  1. Why did they hire you? Companies vary by stage, space, ownership, culture, and hundreds of other factors, but they chose you—and your skillset—to help them solve a problem. Remember this for confidence when the roller coaster ride takes off and as your guidepost when you must make decisions.
  2. Where are you going to add value? Create a plan that pinpoints where you are going to get the early wins to establish yourself.

Once you answer those questions, follow these six steps to set yourself up for long-term success.

1. Interview the Team – Avoid an inclination to jump right in and start problem-solving. Listen first, and give everyone a voice. Also, take the opportunity to share the values you will use to make decisions, so your team knows what to expect from you.

2. Know the Current Trends – Dig into the metrics of your business and the marketplace. These will influence the business.

3. Know the Business – Paul Morrissey from Battery Ventures has some great advice on this. While you may be correct based on gut, too much credibility is lost early if you can’t prove why you know something must change.

  • How do you really make money today? And every bit as important: how will you make money in the future?
  • Cash-flow –  How much do you have? What is burn? How long will it last?
  • Planning – What is the budget for the company and how are you doing against it in budget versus actuals?
  • Internal controls – Do you have the right safeguards and controls in place?
  • Revenue recognition – Is it set up properly?
  • Insurance information – Always have the plan for the downside.

4. Build your coalition.

  • Start with the CEO. Remember, the CEO’s job is to build the vision, and the CFO’s job is to fund that vision. There can be a tension between how those get balanced, but if you try and get there together, you won’t be at odds.
  • A host of folks outside the company are important too. Know your investors, lawyers, auditors, and industry analysts; and put great effort in being aligned.

5. Build the business process mapping for how you will scale things.

  • Review your systems to ensure you have the right tools in place. Modern cloud financials are the cornerstone for building a great company. Get things out of Excel!
  • After laying out the steps above, you will know the business, the metrics, the expectations, and the gaps. Now, hire for the key roles you will need to get it done.

6. Laugh – No one likes someone that takes themselves too seriously.

The CFOs I interviewed also shared two regrets worth passing on. For one thing, most  wished they had moved faster to get the right talent in place. When you build your plan, take the gut check on the team you have today. If they can’t be successful in what you need, don’t hesitate to  rip off the Band-Aid. Some CFOs also said that they wished they had conducted better due diligence around culture. CB Insights just had a great article on why companies don’t succeed. Culture is a key component.

A final bit of advice: Leverage the insights you receive from your peers on building your roadmap for real success—both for yourself and for your organization.