When private equity firms choose their investments, they see promising potential. The entity that becomes their portfolio company may have hit a roadblock and is in need of a transformation. An entirely new strategy could be in order. Behind that strategy is a strong finance team that plays a pivotal role in helping the PE firm realize the full potential of that new investment.

Over the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to help PE firms translate strategy into financial decisions for their portfolio companies. It’s a fascinating CFO role, as there are so many unique factors at play with every company—and there is a sense of urgency, a sense of purpose. Every operating plan, every exit strategy is different. All parties (new investors, old investors, the management, the board) have a vested interest in getting the company moving in the right direction. With the right kind of finance guidance, and alignment around a well-thought-out set of objectives, the company can move where it needs to go.

The CFO in this type of scenario—whether it’s outsourced or a full-time position—has responsibilities to investors, the PE firm and the portfolio company, and is entrusted with improving the company’s operating performance, uncovering efficiencies, boosting productivity, executing the game plan and, ultimately, unlocking value.

The following activities are critical:

Setting up a strong governance foundation: Jumping in to lead the finance function at any time requires leadership skills, technical know-how and an action-oriented mindset. There are a lot of moving parts, and it’s important to focus on alignment toward the goal, creating the right set of performance-based metrics and compensation, and setting up the right practical processes to aid in decision-making.

Laying a strong foundation of financial operations: Timely, accurate financials are essential for understanding the state of the business. These are made possible when accounting systems and processes are up-to-date and internal controls are set. A robust finance function will help the company meet its compliance and regulatory requirements, ensuring the private equity firm can stay focused on the overall strategy and feel confident that the company is progressing rapidly. When the pace of business is fast—as it tends to be in the private-equity world—underlying data needs to be accurate for effective decision-making.

Victory lap
Sure, the transactions make the headlines, but what excites me is the transformation of a company to meet the PE firm’s strategic objective. Every journey is different and sometimes the timeline is several years. The wheels put into motion vary considerably based on the situation. If you do it properly, your efforts will be rewarded and your investors and management will have realized significant appreciation, and that’s exciting stuff.

Terry Gibson heads up RoseRyan Private Equity to help PE firms extract more value from their portfolio companies. A founder of Steel Partners Corporate Services, he has been focused on serving the PE industry for over 15 years. He was the CEO of CoSine Communications and BNS Holdings, and he oversaw the finances at Calient Networks and served as controller at Lam Research.