4 Rules for The Modern Day CFO

September 07, 2023

By: Uzma

In today’s business climate, the role of the CFO is changing rapidly. CFOs can no longer only spend their time crunching numbers and talking to…

During our recent F Suite summit, Brian Weisberg, Head of Finance and Business Operations at Tidelift and John McCall, Senior Vice President at Newfront sat down for a fireside chat to discuss why and how the role of the CFO is evolving, how CFOs should evolve with the change, and ultimately, how CFOs can go beyond the numbers and evolve as a business partner.

Below are the three main takeaways for modern day CFOs:

Perfection is the enemy of good

Many CFOs step into their roles with a background that’s heavily focused on number-crunching, whether that was as an accountant, banker, or another profession. In today’s CFO role, that precision mindset won’t work, and you’ll need to learn quickly that getting your financial model perfect will hinder your performance and cause you to miss business opportunities.

“Prior to being a CFO, I worked on many financial models and set aside a lot of time to make sure everything was just right. In one of my previous CFO roles, I was still heavily focused on perfecting the business model, but it took me a week and a half to roll it forward into the next month. That’s a quarter of a month gone, which doesn’t work at all in a fast-moving startup.”

Models are only as useful as your ability to make an informed decision. As a CFO, you need just enough information to make decisions that you can believe in. Traditionally, finance spent a lot of their time looking backward at business performance, but in today’s work, you need to be able to look forward nearly all the time, while only looking backward occasionally when you really need to.

To be a successful CFO, you only need to be right most of the time, not all of the time, and trying to be right 100% of the time will only slow you down and hinder the business.

Investing in cross-functional relationships is key

10 years ago, it wasn’t rare for a CFO to join a team and then spend their time locked away in their office crunching numbers with the door closed. Those days are long gone, and you’ll need to invest a lot of your time in building relationships with key stakeholders on your team such as heads of product, engineering, marketing, and sales.

Building relationships will not only make it much easier to position yourself as a leader and partner in the business, but will also help you translate information from other departments into your financial models.

Furthermore, having established relationships with other leaders in the business is key when you need to have tough conversations. When you have to deliver bad news and broker a conversation about how to move forward, you won’t be entering the conversation as a CFO who’s in their office separated from the business – you’ll be seen as a business partner and teammate.

A good relationship with your CEO is a non-negotiable

There are multiple personality types when it comes to CEOs – sales-focused, engineering-focused, etc. – and you’ll need to understand what type of leader your CEO is if you want to build a good working relationship with them.

For instance, if you’re working with a CEO that’s sales-focused, they're likely already selling things that haven’t been built yet, and you may need to hit the brakes with them occasionally to bring them back to reality. Having a solid relationship with your CEO and understanding how they think allows you to have those conversations constructively so that your feedback is heard and received.

If you have a CEO who can’t take feedback and is always 100% locked into their vision, you won’t be able to succeed in your role. And if that happens, sometimes it’s ok to walk away and find another opportunity where you can contribute to the business and thrive.

“You can’t sacrifice yourself for the business. Always be proactive about your career.”

Approach your career with a growth mindset and tap into your community

As a CFO, you should view your career as a journey where you’re constantly learning as much as possible.

“The most exciting thing about the CFO growth role is that you can have an extremely vertical growth curve. When things felt slow or steady, I got bored and left. For me, it’s been a continuous journey.”

Finally, don't forget to build relationships with other business leaders and CFOs. They’ll help you learn how to excel in your career and get through tough times.

Enjoy the ride – it’s rocky and bumpy but a whole lot of fun. And don’t panic when things get tough, because there’s a great community of CFOs that you can engage with and network with. Don’t forget to lean into your community and lean on them.”

Want to build relationships with your peers and leverage the knowledge of a community of world-class CFOs? Request an invite to join The F Suite today.