“CFOs’ outlook for the future has finally emerged from the depths of the recession.” – John Graham, Professor of Finance, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business
According to a quarterly Global Business Outlook survey conducted by Duke University and CFO Magazine, CFOs in the United States and Asia are more optimistic this quarter and expect to see an increase in hiring.
873 CFOs from global and public companies participated in the survey which has been conducted for 64 consecutive quarters and result in the following findings:
Additionally, there is a stronger employment outlook. “The expected increase in employment is a welcome improvement over last quarter’s 1.5 percent forecast growth rate,” said Kate O’Sullivan, director of content development at CFO Magazine. “It indicates that national unemployment should fall below 8 percent in 2012.”
The CFO Connection is pleased to announce the expansion of service to the state of Florida – the following news release went out this week:
THE CFO CONNECTION ADDS DAVID SCHLOTTMAN
Expands Presence to Florida
Naples, Florida – March 5, 2012 – The CFO Connection has added David Schlottman to its growing team of part-time CFOs serving companies with extensive financial and business management expertise.
Based out of the Naples/Ft Myers area, Schlottman expands the presence of The CFO Connection to the state of Florida.
The CFO Connection is a national firm that provides part-time CFO services to small and mid-sized companies in North and South America. The addition of Schlottman to the firm’s team comes as The CFO Connection ramps up operations to meet increased demand for innovative CFO services that deliver value at reasonable cost. The CFO Connection meets this market need through the part-time CFO model. This model pairs smaller organizations that cannot justify the expense of a full-time CFO with the expertise of seasoned CFOs who provide services on a permanent, part-time basis.
“Dave’s experience steering numerous companies toward more profitable growth makes him the kind of CFO our customers are looking for,” said Bob Thompson, founder and CEO of The CFO Connection.
Schlottman brings more than 30 years of experience to his new role. Before joining The CFO Connection, he served as CFO for a national distributor and manufacturer of custom formwork and shoring equipment. There he helped the company increase its borrowing capacity, implement a cash forecasting system, and set new prices to optimize profitability – all as part of a campaign to facilitate growth and transition from distribution to manufacturing. The following year the company grew by 40%.
Schlottman has had similar success elsewhere. Working with the largest electrical subcontractor in Florida during a time of rapid growth, he put the company on a sound financial footing by introducing strict financial controls and reporting mechanisms. He also implemented a purchasing system that saved the company millions of dollars. And his analysis and ideas to overcome the impact of crushing increases in copper prices allowed the company to continue to grow.
As the CFO for one of the fastest growing burglar alarm companies in Florida, Schlottman also managed 30 acquisitions ranging from $100,000 to $12 million. This enabled the company to grow its account base from 10,000 to more than 72,000 – while increasing revenues by more than 600%.
“I’ve never met a company that doesn’t want to grow,” said Schlottman. “And my focus has always been on helping reach their highest possible potential. I look forward to helping my clients in Florida manage their finances to open up new opportunities and optimize long-term business performance.”
When you work with The CFO Connection, you get a dedicated CFO that acts as an integral member of your executive team – helping you make decisions and drive initiatives that move your company forward. The model is not project-by-project. To the contrary, the relationship is designed for enduring business continuity and value. Your CFO, provided at a reasonable cost, remains connected to your company, building relationships within your organization that pay off in the near and long-term alike.
After twelve years of delivering CFOs according to this model, The CFO Connection knows that it works. On more than one occasion throughout our history we have successfully replaced full time CFOs – delivering more value at less cost to our business partners. We have never been told that we do not give enough support.
The model is based on a combination of on-site and off-site support. This includes visits throughout the month coupled with off-site connections throughout the course of the relationship, either by telephone, email, or remote desktop support. While on-site, we review and set things in motion. While off-site, we monitor and direct. This allows us to have a continuous influence on your organization on a daily basis. It also delivers to you the expertise of a permanent, highly experienced CFO at a fraction of the cost of a full time executive-level position.
Strategic planning is a concept that many businesses embrace only with a sense of wariness. This is because the process is often rooted in “feel good” language and visionary aspirations. The typical CFO prefers a little more meat on the bone.
So how do we put the “plan” back in strategic planning? This is done by focusing on the customer and adding the concept of profitably to the process.
Starting with the customer is important. If you do not define your customer well, then you won’t know what resources to employ, how to go to market, or what business to accept or reject. If you try to be all things to all people, then you make no one happy in the end.
Defining your customers and their needs helps you position your products and services. Keep in mind that what you identify as a customer need may not necessarily align with your customer’s buying criteria. For example, many customers will evaluate you not so much on how you meet their needs, but by how you compare to the competition. If you offer something that is too much better than the next guy, you could price yourself out of the market. The point, of course, isn’t to settle for mediocrity. Rather, when positioning your products and services, simply spend some time thinking about what your customers need and what they think they need.
Once you have your customers down, it’s time to focus on profitable growth. Start with long term objectives – perhaps five years out but maybe shorter. Next, define what you need to do in the short term to realize these objectives. Both long term objectives and short term activities need to be realistic, easy to communicate, and measurable. For example, let’s say your long term objective is to double your sales in five years. This may be ambitious, but it’s doable, clear, and easy to evaluate. Your short term objective in such a scenario might be to expand your sales force by 10% in the first quarter. Equally doable, clear, and easy to evaluate.
Of course, a 10% increase in your sales force over several quarters doesn’t automatically translate into a doubling of sales. And even if it did, you have to consider the impact of the cost of the sales force on profit margin. Which brings us to the importance of reporting.
To realize your goals, you need to put a solid reporting/feedback mechanism in place. By defining your activities well, you can better understand their costs and judge whether or not they’re realistic. If they’re not, then reset your sights. Good reporting highlights both your opportunities and vulnerabilities. It also tells you where to put your resources and when to re-evaluate your strategy.
The purpose to this approach is to put quantifiers and measurements on an otherwise highly visionary and therefore qualitative exercise. If you remain realistic and set at least some of the measurements for your objectives in P&L terms, then you can put yourself on better footing for profitable growth.
Remember when the idea of lean manufacturing hit the business press in the 1990s. It seemed to spread like wildfire. Today it’s firmly rooted in the zeitgeist of the business world.
Part of its success has to do with the power of the idea itself. According to Wikipedia, lean manufacturing is “a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination.”
As far as business logic goes, that’s close to unassailable. Try sitting in a meeting and arguing to the contrary: “I think we should waste a lot of time and money on products our customers don’t want. Can I have my promotion now?”
One measure of an idea’s power is the extent to which it can be used beyond its original context. Here lean manufacturing pays off in spades. Lean procurement, lean construction, lean logistics, lean software development – even lean government. For the business world in general, the important part is not so much “manufacturing” as it is “lean.”
Lean principles can also be applied to corporate roles – and for many companies, the role of the chief financial officer (CFO) is a perfect candidate. Some companies need to trim down: perhaps they have a CFO but they’re not getting the value they need. Others need to beef up: perhaps they need a CFO but don’t have the resources to add one as a full time position. Either way, the lean CFO can help.
According to the Wikipedia article cited above, “lean is centered around preserving value with less work.” This describes the essence of the lean CFO idea – though I would replace “preserving value” with “adding value.” The lean CFO adds value both at the accounting level and at the strategic level – helping companies to get their financial house in order while also helping to define priorities and take financial action to realize business objectives. This runs counter to the idea of the CFO as an executive-level bean counter whose primary responsibility is to rein in spending. Fiduciary duties and financial risk mitigation remain a vitally important part of the lean CFO’s job description – but these responsibilities are approached with a mindset that asks: How can I help increase performance, enable innovation, support growth and improve overall business health?
Oh, and did we mention that the lean CFO works on a part-time basis – perhaps just a couple of times a week? That’s the lean part. For small and mid-size companies, this is a proven model – one that I‘ve been using for years. The CFO Connection has many clients with relationships that extend more than a decade. The simple fact is, many companies need the financial acumen and strategic vision of an experienced financial officer. What they don’t need is someone to attend endless meetings, engage in office politics, cruise the cubicles, and figure out how to use the office copier. And they don’t need the salary overhead. What they do need is more value with less work – and that’s what the lean CFO delivers.
Stay tuned for future CFO Connection blog entries. We will be exploring other aspects of the lean CFO as well as a wide range of issues relevant to the world of business and finance.
The CFO Connection
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For two hours he had listened to tales of the great things his company was doing in the marketplace to increase product awareness. He had also carried on at length about the wonderful ways his CFO suggested of taking advantage of an inconsistent economy. By the end of the evening he realized just how wide the gap has become between big companies that can afford to hire top-notch talent and smaller firms that can’t.
Resolving to find a way for his small business to get access to the type of talent usually employed by top firms, he did some homework and found that it is possible for small companies to hire high-level executives ― provided that there is a willingness to hire them on a part-time basis.
The part-time executive provides a combined continuity and expertise that is difficult to duplicate for the price being paid. Bringing skills that specifically suit the business needs, and usually with a minimal learning curve, the part-time executive works for a set period each month (usually a couple of days on-site) and is available for limitless discussions by phone or email. The individual is paid a set monthly retainer. Staff and senior management have a rare opportunity to learn from someone who has a wealth of professional knowledge and is “out there” learning from other professionals.
So is working with a part-time executive a better way of operating than other avenues available to a business? Not necessarily. Frequently a company’s senior management has the expertise to function at the high level in the marketing, financial or operations area. In that case it probably makes more sense to bring a consultant in to deal with specific issues.
The part-time executive is an idea whose time has come! Before you do without or write that next “Help Wanted” ad, consider bringing in a part-time executive instead. Like our friend Jim, you’ll find your business growing much faster than you expected and with considerably lower overhead.
Originally published in Productivity Report, 2002