The role of the Interim CFO is challenging since we are often engaged during very serious business crises. Clients frequently engage CFO Insight LLC during periods of high growth, or perhaps major financial losses and declining revenues, instability in the finance or business organization, or CFO turnover. In such situations, our role is critical, in both content and the way in which we perform services.
In such situations, our primary contact at the company is often a major investor, the Board of Director’s or the CEO. We are retained to provide highly qualified, unbiased financial management experience – fast, objective senior leadership to avert a crisis. Our role is to apply unbiased insight to critical business challenges using executive judgment and not a cookie-cutter playbook developed by experts, but applied by inexperienced personnel. As a CFO Insight LLC executive, we have a minimum of 20 years business experience, and a minimum of 5 years as Chief Financial Officer.
We provide immediate, tangible results by quickly assessing the business environment including available resources as it relates to the established goal, developing and prioritizing possible solutions, and ultimately planning and executing to the solution. During this process, we maintain open communications with the primary contact, while maintaining prudent business relationships with the constituencies inside and outside the company. Our officer role often extends beyond the company, since we are frequently responsible for dealing and negotiating with independent agencies, banks and other organizations.
We assume the CFO role as an employee to ensure that we have the authority to deliver results through decision-making and execution, and we avoid being merely a consultant, in which our role would be advisory and much less effective.
Approach to an Interim CFO Assignment
Through discussion with the primary contact, we thoroughly understand the engagement goals and initially frame a solution. Engagement roles may range from that of a caretaker during CFO vacancy, to a highly active decisive executive role to guide the client through a desperate situation.
As a caretaker, we will make minimal change to the organization, business processes, reporting, and communications, to preserve the environment, while providing the executive guidance to maintain a smoothly functioning, properly managed financial environment. Maintenance provides the executive guidance and reasonable judgment to an organization but with minimal intrusion into the strategic business process.
If we are engaged to change business process in a crisis, we quickly analyze, plan and execute corrective action, all the while closely coordinating with our primary client contact and the management team. Our independence allows us to avoid some of the non-value-added process and structure that often clouds and slows decision processes. Our rapid assessment process engages those within and outside the organization to quickly execute the necessary change to reach the goals as effectively as possible. Often these business crises require extensive experience in both the industry and the unique business crisis.
Regardless of caretaker or crisis executive role, we use the same process – assess the needs, plan solutions, and execute. The difference between caretaker and crisis manager will dictate speed, intensity and results within the organization.
Since our Executives have more than 20 years experience, we have experienced several complete business cycles that range from over-exuberance to downsizing and market contraction. Our broad industry experience, which likely includes the client industry, allows us to tailor a solution that we have implemented earlier in our career to their unique situation. Our careers include various roles during these cycles –perhaps from staff accountant to controller to CFO – and we understand the impact of crisis and rapid solution on the entire organization.
Our approach is simple - using the analytical tools, systems experience, and extensive management experience, we engage those constituents critical to the process. These participants include employees, contractors and outsourced agents, customers and vendors, as well as the expertise of the owners/board members, and major investors as judgment requires.
We rapidly assess the problem using unbiased, yet proven analytical tools, develop a primary plan with a high probability of success and contingency plans when appropriate, and working with the organizations, develop a plan to achieve the immediate business goals. Throughout the assessment and planning process, we establish a rapport with the constituents, and maintain a continuous dialogue with the client contact.
Assess: As time permits and executive judgment dictates, we complete an initial situational assessment that includes people, process and technology. We work with the client contact and designated executive team to assess the challenge and to establish goals. In each element of our process, we understand the “As Is” situation and the expected “To Be” goals, available resources, and the gap that must be addressed to be successful.
People assessment can extend to the organization structure, number and strength of personnel, and relies on executive experience across numerous industries and a variety of small to large complex global industries. Our ability to access business forums and expertise through a broad business network provides industry specialized (business trends, investment requirements, profitability and performance metrics) and organizational information (e.g. salaries, bonus structures, employment contract information, benefit programs). We can identify non-standard industry trends to assist in solution development.
Our broad experience and time-tested judgment allow us to effectively assess business process. During the 20-year’s + of experience that our executives have, we have led business process improvement programs such as Total Quality, and Just-in-Time or Lean. We draw on elements of each of these programs to selectively apply tactics to the crises. Years of executive experience allow us to evaluate numerous alternatives and select the most effective process to achieve the client goals. Whether increased profit or accelerated cash flow, elimination of non-value added activities to improve customer service, improve processes to raise return on equity, or restructure the balance sheet to reduce business risk and improve overall stockholder returns, we execute solutions. Process flowcharting, reviewing for value-added assessments of activities, integrating each of these activities with the business strategy, and planning will result with creative solutions to the business challenges that exist in these interim assignments.
Technology assessment may be required as part of the interim CFO solution. Client technology may be outdated, misapplied, or ineffective due to an improper system application. Our experience allows our executives to assess, plan and execute an IT solution that is most suitable for the business.
Plan. Once the goals are established, we agree on a communication process with the client contact. In a collaborative way with the business executives, we will brainstorm possible solutions to the crisis. Financial reporting, planning and financial management control changes are often required, since company business metrics do not reflect current business needs. Reporting and planning may be refocused on critical metrics - i.e.DSO, Accounts Receivable Aging, pricing and profitability analyses, manufacturing reporting, and capital spending. These metrics will be a basis for performance measurement and planning.
Effective planning requires independent thought to ensure that meaningful and achievable plans are developed and executed. Plans can be either short term, focused on critical needs (e.g. cash flow, profitability, project management and so forth), or longer term. Plans are more effective with the review of an experienced executive. CFO Insight LLC executives work as part of the team, not as an outside consultant, to execute a solution.
During the planning process, we establish laser-like focus on the critical goals, identify the resources necessary to complete the task, evaluate the resources available, and properly allocate the resources to achieve the required results
If we are engaged to prepare near term plans, we also consider the strategic implications to sensitize the leadership team to additional risks and opportunities. As a result, companies avoid costly investments that may be abandoned in the near future. We provide a balanced approach to the planning process.
As we plan the business future, we may also train/mentor others on the staff as to the best approaches to lead the business. In all cases, we establish communications channels up and down the organization, and establish rules of governance to manage more effectively.
Execution will require diligent effort, relentless application of good management practice, and close cooperation with other constituents. Our relationships with other staff members and those outside the company are periodically enhanced since we have no bias to perform certain activities. Our primary role is to establish and execute plans that directly deliver the goals of the owners/board of director’s etc.
Management reporting may be improved to include daily, weekly, and monthly reporting with improved metrics, and delegation of authority throughout the organization. Our experience allows us to more effectively delegate through the organization and carefully manage the process. Many small, entrepreneurial organizations depend on our experience to establish governance, rules for delegation, and business processes to establish reasonable control while allowing the freedom to succeed.
One of the keys to successful turnaround of an "Underperforming Business" is to understand the source of discomfort... the source of the pain. Work with the stakeholders to identify their expectations, and the reason for their 'underperforming' assessment. And who are the stakeholders? Well, they could include the equity owners, or major debt holders that have operating leverage. Once clearly understood, define some objectives that satisfy their concerns. For example, underperforming could be simply a dividend policy that is far too conservative. Their observations may be based on the overall market, the industry, or specific competitors.
Whatever the case, once identified, develop a high-level straw-man proposal that resolves their concerns.
Once the straw-man proposal is developed that satisfies the stakeholders concerns, review the proposal with key personnel in the organization. I use the Executive Workshop format to embrace all the executives in the problem solving. Ideally, there will be a presentation describing the challenge ahead, the stakeholders' concerns, and possible solutions. And ideally, the attending executives will creatively challenge the straw-man proposal, create a consensus decision, and align the company resources to achieve the company goals.
Simple high-level checklists will help you understand the key issues when either buying or selling a company. The checklists are based on a business template that considers People, Process, Plant/Assets, Product and Market. The master matrix includes all the elements of any smoothly operating business or organization, and forces executives to self-assess their strategy and readiness to undertake a sometimes business-threatening action. Buying or selling a company can destroy value if not completed effectively.
CFO Insight LLC