Wah, wah, wah…
Ok, it’s our job. We don’t get any secret thrill from giving CEO’s bad news – really. We do it quite often, so it may seem like we’re happy as clams being the Debbie Downer of the company. Nope – we don’t. In fact, we feel a great sense of pride and happiness – yes, happiness – in covering your back Ms. or Mr. CEO! It may feel like we continually tell you everything that’s wrong and it may feel like we’re being critical and judgmental, but we’re not. A good CFO explains challenging financial positions with as little emotion as possible. We stick with the facts, only the facts, and orchestrate assumptions for the future based on historical data, data supported by sound external or industry metrics and information from the team. Then there are the options: Option 1, Option 2, and Option 3. We present options to the CEO. These options are usually weighted 1 – 3ish, based on the CFO perspective. Does that weighting always align with the CEO – nope. Our role must focus on protecting the financial, and other, assets of the company, and minimize risk. We are not the gunslinger – the CEO is. They must evaluate our options based on the larger corporate schema, regardless of risk. They are on the front line taking all of the industry bullets fired at them and determining the proper risk/reward ratio for the company. We report to them and try to cover their back while they’re dodging industry bullets constantly fired at them.
What we should know:
CEO’s tend to come from sales backgrounds. Revenue always precedes back office build. Sales, sales, sales…that’s how they’ve built or run a business – their key motivator, as it should be. Driving sales teams and tactics is not where we CFO’s live (I’m grateful every day of my life for that). It’s an entirely different mentality and approach. We, CFO’s, have to work hard to present information considering our audience: concise, easy for the eye to review, and with specific action items associated with the information. Keep it as simple and high level as possible or you’re going to lose your audience. The best hard-driving sales CEO I know had a financial review shelf life of about 45 minutes – max. Even before the 45 minutes was done, I got at least two yawns and a visit from Mr. Sandman look in his eyes. Now, imagine presenting an issue that they don’t want to hear…you’ve sunk enough money into the new division (or start-up) and it will suck the resources of the main company dry if you don’t do something. PLEASE, don’t say that. You need to put together a proforma showing the future “suck the resources of the main company dry” scenario in concise, specific terms with very simple, objective and quantifiable assumptions. And present this with as little emotional backdrop as possible. Otherwise, you’ll be throw into the category of Worry Wart or, yep, Debbie Downer. It’s their decision; they’re the ones walking down Main Street at high noon. And if they disregard your advice and get a bullet in the leg, you may have to help get it out and bandage the wound while smiling.
“Experience breeds wisdom, and wisdom breeds vision – Dalai Lama XIV”