Stay sharp

The tone at the top of a company sets
the precedent for employees at every
level of the organization. What message does your chief financial officer send
to colleagues in the C-level suite or to
workers on the ground level who are the
core of the operation?

Employees respect a strong, communicative leader who takes time to understand
every aspect of the organization. Ultimately, their willingness to perform and
drive growth depends on this respect and
the message they receive from leaders,
such as the CFO.

“The CFO plays such a critical role in the
future success of any company that the
individual really must learn and contribute
to the organization on a broader level than,
‘Here are the numbers,’” says John O.
Heck, director of Audit and Accounting at
Kreischer Miller in Horsham, Pa.

A high-performing CFO is far more than
the archetypical bean counter or “numbers
guy.” In many companies, this leader is second in command to the CEO. The CFO
must be a thinker, an idea person, a listener and a self-starter. Most of all, high-performing CFOs share an intellectual curiosity that propels them to question processes
and understand operations. Growth-oriented companies seek CFOs with these “soft

Smart Business discussed with Heck the
attributes of high-performing CFOs.

Describe characteristics that high-performing CFOs share.

While CFOs’ duties inherently include
preparation of financial statements and
accounting oversight, a deep knowledge of
business operations is critical. CFOs must
have functional expertise that goes beyond
understanding debits and credits. This
means high-performing CFOs must leave
their offices and learn the business from
top to bottom. They must work closely
with all leaders of the company and also
engage with operations employees. CFOs
need to ask the ‘whys’ and the ‘why nots.’
This intellectual curiosity helps them learn
how the business operates.

Growth-oriented companies need CFOs
that understand mergers and acquisitions, including issues surrounding pricing,
financing, due diligence and integration.
CFOs should also know how to develop a
business plan, budget and forecast. This
requires communication with other managers and knowledge of how the company
is performing today and its capabilities for
the future. All this information comes from
asking the right questions and doing the
appropriate homework.

What other qualities help a CFO lead a growing company toward success?

Because even middle-market companies
now operate globally, CFOs must understand international issues ranging from foreign currency to taxes, exchange rates and
transfer pricing. Also, certain industries
demand expertise and knowledge of various regulations. CFOs must keep current
with industry news and understand industry dynamics. Of course, being technologically savvy is crucial today. CFOs should
know what systems are available that
could improve efficiency and effectiveness
in not only the accounting department, but
also in operations, human resources, sales
and marketing and other business segments. In many cases, CFOs oversee the
tech group in a company or, at the very
least, work very closely with IT personnel.

How can CFOs gain knowledge that will help
them to be ‘high performers’?

There are plenty of opportunities CFOs
can take advantage of to build their skill
sets in various business operations.
Industry associations, organizations for C-level individuals, seminars on key topics,
relevant magazines and periodicals are all
important for the CFO to expand his or her
knowledge. But I find the best way to learn
an operation is to talk to people. Ask them
why they are doing certain things. Find out
why a process works one way instead of
another. Learn from technical staff, engineers, the sales and marketing department,
and administrators in the office. Communicating with employees at every level
helps CFOs gain the respect they need to
be an effective leader.

How can advisers and networking opportunities outside the business improve a CFO’s

CFOs should meet with their advisers on
a regular basis to discuss current events
both inside and outside the company. This
independent perspective can be very valuable to the CFO as he or she evaluates
plans for the future. Because advisers
work with CFOs in a range of companies,
they can provide valuable third-party
insight based on their experiences.

Belonging to professional organizations
and industry groups that provide opportunities to network with peers will help CFOs
stay on the cutting edge of their business.
They can listen to speakers who address
issues CFOs face and meet others who are
confronting similar challenges. Again,
intellectual curiosity comes into play outside the office. The more questions CFOs
ask, the more strategies they will learn to
drive their company’s growth and overall

JOHN O. HECK, CPA, is director of Audit and Accounting at
Kreischer Miller. Reach him at [email protected] or (215) 441-4600.