Let me tell you a story about Post-It Notes™.
Back when I was working for a medium-sized management consultancy, well on its way to becoming a large-sized management consultancy, one of our top finance guys made a big splash in the firm. His claim to fame? He had just played hardball to negotiate a truly excellent deal on Post-It Notes.
Not that it’s not important to save your company money wherever you can. In fact, his recognition was deserved, because that’s what our company expected from its finance guys at the time. But those were the days when your choice in Post-It Notes was yellow, yellow, or yellow. The little sticky pad has evolved since then, and so have businesses’ expectations of their CFOs.
When we interviewed the CFO of an international consulting firm (not mine) for a research project, he told us this: “The CFO should not just be a person who reduces everything to financial terms, but the person who understands the business really well and is able to independently form judgment on the direction that the industry is taking. The CFO is a person who is able to look at new developments which will have an impact on the industry as well as on the company, and so will have some views on how we should proceed.”
If all you expect from your CFO is that the supplies get ordered, the bills get paid, and the books get put in order, then you probably aren’t drawing on the deep well of expertise and insight sitting in front of you. In describing what he saw as the ideal CFO, the finance chief at the consulting firm insisted that the CFO is part of the leadership team. “You definitely need to view the organization’s purpose as well as the strategy of the organization from a financial angle,” he said, “and that is what the chief financial officer should provide.”