Job Description: Multi-Dimensional

The rainy first Saturday in June conveyed a message: deal with the closets. It had been two years since we moved in. The unopened boxes were still there. Clearly, nothing that they contained was critical to our daily living. It was decision time.

Annie and I at one time had a lot of stuff, mostly good stuff. You can accumulate a lot in 37 years together, starting with what your parents passed along. But we’ve downsized twice now and what’s left, at least by our definition, is mostly treasure. (Which is not to say that what we got rid of was trash!)

Among the treasures were pictures and albums, something that the digital-aged future generations will not have to deal with. And among the albums, we discovered yearbooks – bound, hard-copy, heavy. I couldn’t resist. I had to pause and look…back: Melrose High School Class of 1959.

Good grief!

I was into everything in high school – sports, music, writing, drama, school politics. I must have had A.D.D. back in the days before they had a name for it. I was busy; I don’t remember much down time. But it was good times; I have positive memories of high school.

“As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined.”

Fast forward fifty-plus years.

An email message received from a prospective new client this week said “I am in general agreement with your proposal, but I have a question: in the proposal, it is stated ‘Other functions that might come within the responsibility of a Chief Financial Officer are available as a supplement to the basic package of services.’ Can you provide a few examples of ‘other functions’ that other clients have requested? I want to make sure that I’m not missing anything.”

The basic services that I had proposed to him are described on the Services page of my website, and they resonate with most experienced small company owners and presidents (ref: introductory paragraph above). My effective direction and oversight in those areas fills a critical need for a lot of firms. But it’s the other “stuff” – the product of thirty years of serving as a part-time CFO for more than 200 companies – that provides a lot of additional value for my clients and makes my professional life really interesting.

I wrote back to my prospect with a further description of my broadly-defined part-time CFO’s role which, to a greater or lesser degree, applies to most full-time CFOs:

  1. Helping to identify and recruit outstanding candidates both for the finance and accounting area and for other, non-financial, senior staff positions.
  1. Contributing to the development of the compensation strategy, often including the CEO as well as the full staff, based on perspective gained from working with multiple clients. This includes the sales group, in particular.
  1. Sourcing and evaluating benefits packages (health care, 401K, health savings accounts, etc.).
  1. Negotiating acquisitions and divestitures.
  1. Reviewing and occasionally redrafting shareholder agreements.
  1. Establishing and overseeing the documentation of policies and procedures in finance and administration, including the Company’s performance evaluation process.
  1. Serving as a sounding board for the CEO and/or COO relating to issues that they prefer not to share with anyone else.
  1. Helping to organize the agenda for and presenting financial issues and action recommendations to the Board of Directors.
  1. Serving as arbitrator for issues that arise between employees, especially those involving application of policy; moderating discussions of difficult issues between partners/shareholders.
  1. Reviewing and editing contracts and public-facing documents, including marketing copy.

How do I do this on a part-time basis for each client? Well, that’s pretty much the same question that my parents used to ask me back in high school, rephrased from “When are you going to find time to study?”

But one of the things that I discovered in high school was that if you’re involved in everything, you become the go-to resource person for everything (hence, the old nickname “Facts”). So, too, as the CFO. Sooner or later, the financial component of most issues gets identified and lands on the CFO’s desk. The routine problems can be delegated, but the meaty ones – the ones that make a real difference – are the ones that I want to help solve. And the context that results from being involved in many facets of activity within my client companies usually contributes to the solution.

Multidimensional: it defines the CFO’s territory. After all these years, I guess it defines me, too.