Being a CFO and other topics

Not just finance, hobbies too ….

Category: Leadership

CFO Pay

One question I get pretty often from people starting in Finance as a career is how much does a CFO get paid, and how do you make sure you are getting enough.  In many ways, that is a very puzzling question to me.  In a US-listed public company (not a foreign private issuer), executive pay is public and normally can be found in the proxy statement that is filed annually.  So it is no secret what CFOs get paid, everything is laid out in their contract (material contract and a copy is filed with the SEC) plus broken down in some detail in the proxy statement.

These are my general rules on pay and they really apply to every position, not just CFO, but I will use CFO as my example.

No one will take care of your pay except for you and you will only get what you negotiate for.  Hoping that you’re doing a good job and that the pay will just be adjusted accordingly is a false hope.  You need to be your own advocate here.  Maybe your boss needs to carry it to the compensation committee.  Maybe the head of HR needs to go argue on your behalf with your boss.  Whatever the case, if you are not making sure that more pay is needed, chances are good that nothing special will happen.

The best and only clear time to negotiate is before you accept the job during the hiring process.  Once you are on board, it will become much harder.  You need to know what a fair price for the position is.  You need to know what you would accept to take the job.  You need to negotiate for that up front.  Some negotiation is not only expected, if you do not, it may hurt their perception of you as a good Finance leader as they may wonder what you will do as CFO.

Most companies are not interested in hiring a leader that is too mercenary and you run a risk of being too demanding and setting yourself up to fail from the very beginning.  This needs to balance with the point above about the best time to negotiate is when you are being hired.  It is my view that there is more to life than being paid cash and the opportunity to learn and to work with a good team is important.  I also do not get paid as much as some of my peers and their setting a higher bar up front never seemed to hurt them, so I might be wrong there.

There are a few immediate sources of what pay you should be expecting.  The first is the proxy statements of the hiring company and its peers.  Look at what the CFO you are replacing received.  Look at what peers or companies of similar size and complexity are getting paid.  That will set a baseline.  The second source is the recruiter that approached you (assuming that is how you heard of the opportunity).  You need to keep in mind that their client is the hiring company, but they also play a role in setting the right expectations with the company.  Don’t be afraid to be upfront with what you are making now, they deal with attracting talent as a living, they are used to that type of discussion.  If what you want is too much, they will tell you.  If you are asking for too little, then you did not do your homework and maybe lack some confidence.

Once you are set on the base salary, you need to make sure the bonus is appropriate.  The same two sources you used for salary are good for this as well.  You should not only focus on the base bonus, you need to understand when it will be paid and in what circumstances it will be larger than base.  My normal expectation is that by working hard, 80% of base bonus should be very achievable.  As I have worked in several turnarounds, there have been years when no bonus was paid.  Again, it might be somewhat of a failing in my views as I have always accepted the same targets as the other team members when I have started.  Quite often the company is having a bad year and that is why they are changing CFOs and that approach means zero bonus for me as that is what the existing team is getting.  It is not uncommon to negotiate for a set bonus for the first year.  In many cases you would earn a good one if you stayed where you are and part of recruitment is overcoming such obstacles, so the hiring company often will make you whole.

The final “pay” part is the equity you will receive.  This is a question of how much the initial amount is, what can you expect on an annual basis and will you receive stock options or restricted share units.  You certainly should try to be made whole for whatever you would give up to join the new company.  You probably cannot replace the vesting, but the value should be on the table for negotiation.  Annual grants are important.  Over time, your base pay and your bonus will help to let you pay your mortgage, pay for your kids to go to school and save for retirement, but it is unlikely to change your life.  Stock compensation can change your life.

The normal choice between RSU and Options is certainty versus upside.  You really cannot control the overall stock market and there always is a risk that you do well but the stock cannot perform well because of general market conditions.  In that case, RSU are much better as payment, even if smaller, is at least going to happen.  Sometimes you are not doing all that well but the market takes off and your stock moves with it.  In that case, Options end up much better.

In the long run, as a responsible CFO you should tend to prefer RSU as dilution is smaller and expenses are more certain and predictable.  For pay, if the company is stable and growing then RSU will give you certain return.  If you are doing a turnaround and you want the biggest pay you can get, then Options have the most possibility.

One smaller item to consider is retirement savings.  I am sure that you will save the most you can into the 401(k), so any matching is a plus.  You also need to understand if the plan is top heavy and what happens if executives cannot save via the plan.

The pay factors to consider do not end with salary, bonus and equity.  Pay attention to the complete package and the contract they are offering you.  Vacation time is important.  You do not want to have a seniority-based system where you start with one or two weeks like any other new employee and only increase the longer you are there.  Clauses like this tend to be boilerplate and the same for all new hires and you need to pay attention to it.

You also need to pay attention to the severance clauses.  In the USA, at will contracts are typical.  So you need some protection if you are let go without cause.  It takes a while to find a senior management job and you should negotiate a buffer.  Look at what the comparable are as in all other pay items, but 6 months is about as little as I would accept and one year is not unusual.  Change of control clauses are usually somewhat linked to severance clauses.  Make sure you understand what the standard equity programs give all participants if there is a change of control.  If your equity does not vest on change of control, then try to at least have it vest if you are let go as a result of a change of control.  If your company is being bought they probably do not need another CFO and you are likely to be let go.  So make sure you are protected here.

Make sure there is a clear “Good Reason” clause in your contract that would be triggered and your severance pay become due for several usual circumstances.  For example, a forced move over 50 miles because your place of employment is changing, a drop it title or responsibility or a drop in pay, all of these are typical “good reason” clauses and you should make sure that you are protected.

Your contract will probably contain many clauses restricting your ability to compete if you leave, stopping you from hiring co-workers, making anything invented while you are there company property and defining what is considered to be confidential information.  Many of these are boilerplate and in most employment contracts for the new employees of the company.  Make sure that the requests are reasonable.

Finally, look at miscellaneous items like travel policies, restrictions on you being a Board member at another company and other anti- “moonlighting” clauses.

You would be well served to have a lawyer, especially a lawyer experienced working with employment law and employment contracts review your contract before you sign.  Make sure you understand what you are being asked to sign and that it is worded properly so that you are protected.

That really is all the top level advice I have on CFO pay.  Knowing what the market price and standard terms and conditions are is the most important.  The rest will come down to your ability and just how attractive you really are to the company trying to hire you.

My Technology Life – An Update

I recently built myself a new computer after using the last one for almost 5 years.  My old computer was able to run all the programs I had without any real issues, but it was slowly getting more unstable over time, and the update to Windows 10 had been rough.

The Computer

This time I wanted to build a computer that could run the latest virtual reality headsets and I wanted to have something that again would last me quite a while.  I typically buy the second fastest consumer CPU that is available as the fastest is normally at a high premium in cost but with little extra speed, but the Intel 6700K had finally come down to suggested retail price.  I wanted the modern chipset that went with it so something on the Z170 chipset was what I looked for in a motherboard.  My timing was not that great for a video card in that both NVIDIA and AMD were about to release their latest generation, so I actually waited over a month after buying the rest of my components before fully setting the computer up.  The motherboard did have built in graphics and the CPU did as well, so I was able to test everything except for the new card.

I will make two observations.  The first is that I have always felt it important to be agnostic about brands when making choices on most of the components.  Years ago there was a great deal of variety in motherboards and how features were implemented on them.  Today, the two main CPU makers (Intel and AMD) release a new chipset with each new CPU generation and that chipset is very full featured.  I have almost always used Intel CPUs because for many years, they have been the best performing.  AMD often wins on the cost to performance basis, but it has been quite a while since they have had a chip that can compete for pure performance.  I did build an AMD-based computer a few computers ago because that generation they did have the best CPU.

CPUs are fairly quiet, but there often are techie “holy wars’ over video cards.  I admit to have fought a little in them back when 3DFX and their voodoo chips revolutionized 3D, but I got over it.  Now I just buy the card that I think does the best for me.  The two main graphics processor unit (GPU) providers are NVIDIA and AMD (they bought ATI years ago).  My last generation computer has an AMD video card (a 370) and that was based on AMD having better multi-monitor technology at the time as I like running 3 monitors.  There are edge cases where AMD has had better chips, but for the most part, NVIDIA has had the highest performing chips for a while.

Unlike CPUs, the price jump to the most powerful GPU to the second best is still enormous and unless you really are a power gamer or power user, there is little need to get the best GPU.  For the computer I just built, I ended up with an NVIDIA 1070 based video card (the board maker was MSI).  I had considered the AMD RX 480 as it was a lot less expensive, but the demand was so high that cards were hard to find and the custom cards had not come out yet.  So I went with the 1070.

I could write pages and pages on the latest and greatest differences between the board makers and the different CPU and GPU you could choose, but this blog entry will exist for a long time and tech sites are always much more current (I go to anandtech.com but ownership changes have made it less useful in the last year).  So I will give some more general observations.

The premium priced components in the consumer space are all aimed at gamers.  This tends to result in multi-color LED lights and a black (and usually red highlights) color scheme.  There actually is very little value add from what I can tell from my research for the extra price you pay.  There certainly is much less bang for the buck.  The video card I bought is branded as an MSI “gaming” card and it looks nice but does not really offer any performance improvements over non-gaming cards.

Motherboards are similar.  The Z170 chipset has plenty of solid boards that cost around $150 (can be found for less during sales).  You can spend $250 to $300 and just get a few extra bells and whistles that you may never use.

One final comment, if you build the computer yourself, be prepared to troubleshoot yourself and to have to refresh your knowledge.  I had a faulty power supply and it took me quite a while to track the problem down.  Google and technology forums are your friends here.

This is the system I ended up putting together:

Intel Skylake Core i7-6700K
– the fastest CPU currently available. Depending on luck, can be overclocked a fair amount
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO – CPU Cooler with 120 mm PWM Fan
– One of the bestselling coolers. Quite tall, was interesting to install
ASUS Z710 – AR
– all of the modern features of the chipset and none of the “gamer” bells and whistles that jack up the price. PCI-e sharing (which is common for the chipset) so might be a concern for dual GPU use but I plan on only using one GPU.
GPU – MSI Gamer NVIDIA GTX 1070.  As I mentioned, both the main GPU companies just released new cards and it is hard to find cards priced at regular retail prices.

G.SKILL TridentZ Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3733 (PC4 29800)
– this is actually somewhat of a waste. Super-fast RAM that I probably would not need and I could of gone down a few notches in speed and double the amount for the same price as I will not heavily overclock
CM Storm Scout 2 Advanced – Gaming Mid Tower Computer Case with Carrying Handle and Windowed Side Panel – Black
– This is an updated version of the case I have been using the past 5 years. Roomy and has a handle on top which comes in handy more often than not. Plenty of room for fans, and a good front panel for USB
Antec 750 Gamer power supply.  I originally had a corsair power supply but it was faulty.
– Should be way more power than I need, especially if I do not have 2 x GPU
SAMSUNG 950 PRO M.2 256GB PCI-Express 3.0 x4 NVMe Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
– Very fast SSD (motherboard supported) that will be my boot drive and will have some applications on it
Mushkin Enhanced Reactor 2.5″ 256GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
– Secondary SSD for often accessed files and other applications
Seagate 3TB Desktop HDD SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5-Inch Internal Bare Drive
– Should be plenty of room, especially since I have a 16TB NAS
LG Black 16X BD-R 2X BD-RE 16X DVD+R 5X DVD-RAM 12X BD-ROM 4MB Cache SATA Blu-ray Burner
– I debated if I really needed an optical drive and finally decided to get one as I can see myself watching movies on the computer and I have a lot of Blueray disks (PS4 is my main player)
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Stealth 2016 – Backlit Quiet Mechanical Gaming Keyboard with 10 Key Rollover
– Decided to try a mechanical keyboard. These have Razer designed mechanisms, not sure if as good as Cherry-MX switches. Quieter version.
Logitech G600MMO Gaming Mouse – Black
– Will move over from my existing computer. I do not use all the buttons and may look at another mouse

VR Headset

The latest technology that is just starting to go mainstream is Virtual Reality.  There are two main contenders for the headset market right now – the Oculus Rift (which is backed by Facebook) and the HTC Vive which has teamed up with Steam (owned by a company called Valve and the main marketplace to buy PC games online).

If I had to sum up the main differences between the two headsets, I would say that the HTC Vive comes with two controllers and can be used standing and moving (called room-scale) and sitting down while the Oculus Rift is mainly meant to be used sitting down and does not as of now come with VR controllers.  The Vive has a lot more content available for it now, but many programs are made for both headsets and there are not many non-game programs available.

I got to try out the Vive at uploadvr.com ‘ s offices in San Francisco when I was there for a meeting with a McGill University representative who wanted me to help in their entrepreneur program.  I had read that the room-scale made a big difference and when I tried it out I agreed.

The experience in both headsets is pretty good and you do really get a sense of immersion far beyond what looking at a screen will give you.  The Oculus Rift is about $600 and the HTC Vive is about $800, but the Vive comes with two controllers and two sensor boxes that enable the room scale VR.

I picked the HTC Vive as it has more software available today and because the built in ability to move around instead of just sitting down sold me on the system.  The actual graphics capability is about the same between the two controllers and both are just emerging, so the “best” choice may change rapidly.

I have only used the headset for a few days., so I will hold off on a detailed review, but I can tell you that the base experience lives up to the hype.

I am waiting to see what non-game uses there are for the headsets.  There is a fair bit of work being done to develop approaches and applications for the virtual world the headsets put you into that make it useful for non-games, but there are not that many real life examples yet.  I will be attending a meeting on that topic in a few weeks and will update and right a new blog after I have more information.

Getting the headset to work was somewhat of a struggle and the programs are all new and very much “early access”, so I hesitate to recommend it for everyone, but it has been quite fun so far.  One of my friends brought his young son over (son is around 10 years old) and the son was fascinated with the headset and wore it for hours.

3D Printing

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, 3D Printers are technology that is still not quite ready for mainstream use.  They still take a lot of fiddling with to get to work well and consistently and you need to be comfortable with at least some light mechanical work.  I recently bought another 3D printer, the Wanhao Duplicator 6.  It is over twice the price of the Wanhao Duplicator i3 I started with (and that is an excellent starter machine), but it is much more capable as well.  I will do an update just on the new printer and what I have learned since I bought my first one.  This update will include using a raspberry pi mini-computer to remotely control and monitor the printer.

The raspberry pi mini-computer part of my coming update will be extensive as well.  Quite remarkable what you get for around $50.

Why Bother?

This is a blog on being a CFO and I usually have Tuesdays are purer “CFO” topics and Thursdays are where my occasional other blogs show up.  So you may be wondering why I am writing on building a PC or VR headsets or 3D printers.

My reasons are quite simple – career growth and personal growth.  I live in the Silicon Valley area and there is a lot of interest in the technology around computers, VR and 3D Printers.  More and more, companies are looking for CFOs that are more than just the accounting and numbers person.  IF I don’t expand my mind and learn by doing in areas like this, then how can I be credible when I claim to be a good fit for a technology company CFO role?

I get personal satisfaction on learning new things, but with the competition out there today, I really think that you need to keep actively learning.  If you stop and rest on your laurels, you will be passed by.  I often have had staff ask me how I got to know our company’s products, and it is the same drive that makes me want to understand VR Headsets that made me dig into how electricity comes from a solar panel.

So try not to dismiss other people trying to learn and very importantly, encourage your staff to do so.

 

 

Self Editing

I have two main forms of social media – Facebook and LinkedIn. Plus wechat, but my time in a China in the near future should be much more limited so I probably will not use it as much in the future. I link my blog entries in all three, two automatically and wechat via manual posting. Because I link my blog to LinkedIn, I try and keep it as professionally appropriate as I think is needed. That does not mean that I am afraid to talk about my hobbies and interests there, but I do limit political and social commentary posts.

It is becoming more and more common for future employers to check your social media. I am not incredibly fond of that, but I understand the reasoning. I also am looking for a new job now, so public image and presentation are important as I want a senior and very responsible position. That means that even if there is a temptation to more broadly broadcast my personal views, I am careful.

It started out with the very first blog I wrote in this site, where I said that I would avoid commenting on China. My reason there is not some abstract self-interest where bashing your hosts is bad manners and some countries can take it even more seriously and put your visa at risk. It isn’t even that solar projects can take a lot of government cooperation and talking badly about the country you want to do business in is bad for business. The reason is simple, I honestly feel that I do not understand the country enough to make a post that is informed. I can talk with confidence about doing business in many countries. I can talk about what happens with standard business processes as you cross country boundaries. I think that if I am going to write something here that my audience is going to spend the time to read, I need to offer something that is relevant and useful. As my mandarin is limited and I have only really spent time in the greater Shanghai and Shenzhen areas, I do not think I can effectively comment on the country.

The same thing applies to many subjects that I see other people discussing online. I see so many obviously misinformed comments on political, legal and business topics that I wonder why the people writing them can say it. Your professional reputation and your reputation with your friends is influenced and built by what you say, and posting online means it lasts forever. Off the cuff and obviously wrong statements cannot help.

One common error is see is some fact or story repeated to make some sort of point. You see the same picture or text over and over and you know it is wrong. A recent example for me was about a tip that Bill Gates and his daughter left where the daughter left a big tip and Bill left a small one with the punchline that she is the daughter of a very rich man but he is the son of a woodcutter. Anyone who cares about Bill Gates other than he founded and was CEO of Microsoft knows that his father was reasonably well off and that he was not a woodcutter. I see memes and stories like that continuously and 1 minute fact checking via Google or snopes.com would reveal the problem. Before I make such a post, I always check. You want to present yourself as a credible source of information.

Another issue is see is the posting about drug use or other illegal activities. I have it easier as I do not use drugs (without getting into the debate of alcohol and coffee and such which obviously can be considered to be drugs and I do drink them), but I am puzzled at to why anyone would want to advertise illegal activities that they do, especially on professional media like LinkedIn. The pot industry is starting to become legal in some states, and I can see the rationale why people in the industry would advertise it, but I see little upside otherwise and lots of potential downside. This only increases as you move up the ranks.

I made the choice a long time ago to not make my Facebook account my public face, especially for professional matters. So my actual Facebook friend list is small and almost all are actual friends or at least people that share an interest with me that I know personally. When I do want to post on a personal view, I do not post a blog entry, I post a Facebook entry. Now these can be shared by friends on my Facebook and some have super-wide distribution, so it does get broadcast, but it still is a more personal distribution method. I do not have particularly radical political or religious views and my moral center is certainly firmly in suburban middle class, so there is not much danger in even those views being spread, but I would not post them on LinkedIn or here as I automatically link posts in my blog to other social media and because this is a public and freely available site.

Even on Facebook, I think a little before I post something. An example is a post of a picture of a martini glass or a wine glass. I like martinis and I like wine with a meal and I will post a picture to go with a check-in when I go out. Some writers recommend keeping your social media media completely clean of any sign you drink at all and any sign that you go out. To take it to that extreme seems weird to me and I am not sure I would want to work somewhere that takes exception to employees having a normal social life. However, posting odes to ISIS and discussing overthrowing the government is something that would make me pause in a hiring decision. I would think these sorts of things are self obvious not to post, but people do it anyways.

Political views are always a hard area to discuss. Suppression of political views is counter to the spirit of democracy and I hesitate to argue that anyone should not express their views there. It is always a delicate balance, but even CEOs of large companies campaign for specific parties and candidates. I would say be moderate and reasonable in expression of political views and unless appropriate, keep them out of your business public face. The USA is split about 50/50 in political party support and you always risk alienating potential customers when you take a political stance. I would say for any business related so local media, you should treat it like a social gathering where you do not know the people and where normal etiquette dictates moderating discussions on politics as it is not socially acceptable because of the potential conflict it could cause. In your personal social media, I would only suggest that you take a careful look at what you are posting and make sure it reflects your views in a way that you intend to be public. A good rant may make you feel better, but if you consider yourself an advocate of a party or candidate, does it reflect well on them?

Religious views are similar. The social party rule applies. Some people are deeply religious and their faith is very important to them. I think expression of the views should be moderate in business settings as on average most people do not consider it an appropriate place to discuss religion. Personal social media should just be subject to the test before you post of does this post serve my God well and is it in line with His/Her teachings? If you really think yes, then you should feel secure in posting it.

Both politics and religion are very hard subjects. You can find many people saying not to post about it at all, even in your personal social media and I certainly see lots of scolding in social media when people bring it up. Our society will be a sad and bland one if we suppress and self edit such important things. As long as you feel your post is knowledgeable and in good spirit, I would not recommend not posting it. I would suggest that you should consider a private message versus a public posting and if that is more appropriate, but express your views if it is what you feel you must do, even if in public.

Sexist, racist, or overly sexual and graphic posts always will reflect badly on you. There certainly is room for people to make a living posting about these types of subjects, but an external blog site like this is probably the best place to talk about it, especially for business social media where it may not be appropriate at all in pretty much any circumstances. My reasoning is simple, readers need to make a choice and click a link to go read what you wrote and at that point the reader needs to take some responsibility. I think that sexism and racism belongs nowhere, but some people find it even in posts where you do not intend it. I try and write with gender neutral pronouns and business titles, but I slip up every once and a while.

Profile pictures should be appropriate in that they make you look good but are not overly sexualized. I guess if you are a lingerie or bathing suit model for a living or sell those products as your main business, then you can use different types of pictures in your business posts, but in general a vacation picture in a tight speedo is not the best way to advertise yourself for a CFO job. I personally hold that dumb comments addressed at “pretty” or “handsome” profile pictures are the fault of the people making them, not the account owner who puts up the profile picture and those responses are an example of bad decisions by the poster.

The world certainly is more complicated now because of social media and the global outreach it has, but the rules you should follow are really not that much different than the days before social media. Getting drunk at an office party and slurring your speech while kicking a puppy on stage was bad news before social media and it is still bad news. Do a little self editing before such a post is made.

I also see a potential backlash against increasingly invasive practices in screening candidates. If something is actually public already, then there may not be much right to complain, but requests that company representatives be added as “friends” or that private social media accounts be opened up is more than what I think is fair. And social media posts when you were 18 probably are not a good reflection of you at 40, so I see some small sense in the “right to be forgotten” laws that exist in Europe.

Business Partnership

I often describe to people how I have fixed broken teams at places I have worked at by increasing or implementing business partnership. Every once and a while, I get a request to explain what I think good business partnership between Finance and other functions is and what I do to make sure it happens.

First, the whole reason why a good partnership is important is because it amplifies the ability of all of the people involved in the partnership and is a key element in the art of strategy. Strategy, as I have discussed earlier in my blog, is the art of winning (https://mgpotter.com/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-strategic-cfo/). To go back to the master of strategy, Miyomoto Musashi and his Book of Five Rings, I will show how the importance of people is a main focus of strategy.

From the Earth scroll, there are two important passages:

“The master carpenter learns the structural pattern for building a tower or a temple and knows the construction plans for palaces and fortresses. He builds houses by making use of people. In this way the chief carpenter and the chief warrior resemble each other.”

In this paragraph, Musashi make sit clear that warriors, strategy masters, are very similar to master carpenters as they both employ people to reach their goals and deliver their objectives.

“In using men, the master carpenter must know the qualities of the carpenters. In accordance with their high, medium, or low ability, he must assign them different tasks, such as construction of the tokonoma; of the sliding doors and the shoji; or of the sills, lintels, and ceilings. It is appropriate to have support framing done by those with not much skill, and wedges made by the most unskillful. If one is able to discern the qualities of men in this manner, work progresses quickly and efficiently.”

Musashi continues on this point by saying that the carpenter has to know his people and divide the work being done to the right people based on their skills. If this is done well, then the job progresses smoothly.

And then Musashi concludes on the importance of knowing others in his description of what is to come in the wind scroll:

“Without knowing others, one cannot really know oneself.”

It may sound like Musashi is talking about directing or ordering people around. The master carpenter is the job boss and he assigns and supervises the people working for them as they do their assigned tasks. That does not sound much like partnership. However, when he talks about knowing others, he means it in the same sense that he means all of his instructions. He personally and expects students of his Way to practice and ponder the results of his practice. His life story is not one of a stern general barking orders and expecting obedience. He certainly cared for the people in his life and used them more than just as tools. Even in fighting well with swords, which is the heart of his Way, he tells his students that the Way is more than the tools, more than the swords themselves or however you flourish them.

Building a proper business partnership between functions is exactly like that. It is rooted in helping each other via your personal skills and then amplifying the ability of the whole group to complete your goals.

The foundation for a good partnership is trust and then mutual respect. You cannot enter into a partnership inside your firm without trusting the other people and you need to respect them. The structure of the partnership may exist, but without the proper foundation it will be just a framework with no substance and weight behind it.

In any sort of a company that requires a turnaround, there will be a disconnect between Finance and the other functions. Usually Finance is not part of business decision making and shunted off to the corner as been counters, but sometimes it is the other extreme and Finance is too powerful and everything is being run as a cost center with cost cutting and control being the only goal. Neither way works well and both result in sub-optimal results. You’ll need to bridge that gap and repair any damage done.

The first step is to clear your own mind of the conflict and issues that caused the problem to begin with. It is easy to build an us versus them case in your mind and start getting emotional about it. This does not help. The other parts of the company are all filled with people all trying their best. Put away your heart at war and put on your compassion and brains. Keep your ego in check as you will be. Setting an example for your staff. Go through your staff list and decide who are good fits in experience and temperament with the different business leaders within your company. Meet with your staff and make sure they understand that you are aiming for a partnership and that means they will be working for other functions more directly.

Once your staff understands what you want to accomplish, approach the business or functional leader or leaders you want to partner with and offer them dedicated staff that will work with and for them. Make it clear that they will have a major influence on the annual rating of the Finance staff assigned to them and they will basically become their resource. Make very sure that the assigned staff keep appropriate confidences work for their newly assigned function. Hopefully, if you picked the right person for the right fit, both sides should quickly start benefiting. The function gets access to financial analysis and advice before and while they are making decisions. Finance gets to see changes o the business sharpening before they are complete so that they can be properly planned for and accounted for. It really is a force multiplier when smart people with different skills work together as partners instead of working in silos.

You will know that the partnership is working when two things start happening. First, the business will start improving. By working together on common goals with the spirit of cooperation inside your company instead of defensiveness or unnecessary competition, better and faster decisions will be made. The second thing that will start happening is that you will “lose” staff into the businesses or functions you partnered with. The is about the ultimate compliment and a great recruiting tool because you can show actual progress and growth from Finance not only upwards within Finance but out into the business as well.

I have not had many bad experiences doing it this way, but there are some people that are so closed off that they cannot work with other functions or teams and want to be both secretive and controlling. They can be very difficult to work with and to convince that they should partner with you. It doesn’t matter how hard they make it, you need to. Find a way for the company to win. If the leader is not receptive to partnering, get your staff to try a layer or two down below them. Be friendly in meetings that you are in with the more difficult peer. Regardless of the reception you are getting, you should not be them and set yourself to fight instead of help. Get ahead of the decisions that need to be made and get that leader the information and analysis that you can do to help. Meet in private with them so they do not have to have anyone see them getting advice from you in public. It is not the best situation, but you are one of the top executives and you need to make it work.

Being a partner does not mean abandoning your integrity or not having Finance perform its traditional control and cost control roles. It is about making those objectives important outside of Finance so they are not just Finance goals. It is about embedding your skill set and advice into the company where finance gets to be proactive, not reactive. It is about teamwork and doing what it takes for the team to win, even if you do not get all the credit you may deserve.

It is about winning and making all the people you work with winners too.

Website with an online, free copy of The Book of Five Rings

The Book of Five Rings

Books, either in paper or on Kindle (all links go to Amazon.com)

The version I quote here:

The Complete Book of Five Rings

The Complete Book of Five Rings – Kindle version

The translation I first read

A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy – Kindle Version

An account of Musashi’s life

The Lone Samuari: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi

Fictionalized versions of Musashi’s life

Musashi

Musashi – Kindle version

Samurai Trilogy [blue-ray]

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