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How CFOs Play a Key Role for Growing Startups

The CFO role continues to expand, particularly at fast-growing, VC-funded startups. These companies lean on the broadening position to scale their operations and bring a data-fueled, strategic view to the business. No longer centered around accounting matters as the years-ago CFO was, today’s CFO responsibilities have grown from oversight of the finance function to frequently also overseeing HR, IT, operations, legal matters, risk and IT security management. At the same time, the CFO’s long view and expertise help the CEO and the company make smart decisions at critical moments to steer it toward successful milestones.

While the role can greatly vary from company to company and even from year to year, depending on the startup’s exact needs, the CFO handles the following as a matter of course.

1. Take the long view.

The market may change, demand may change, and expectations from the Board and investors may change. To keep up with all the shifts, a long view approach is vital. What are some of the future steps for the company and what can be done today to get there? It’s a constant question. Accurate and reliable financial reporting make it so the company can keep the various stakeholders informed and make better decisions.

A CFO’s mindset is strategic at all times. Close attention is paid to historic trends and current data points, to inform what moves to take. The CFO is prepared to execute quickly at critical moments by planning out potential expansions and investments, exploring scenarios and exit strategies, and determining how the company can prevent growing too fast or not fast enough.

2. Value top talent.

The finance function is not always fully formed at many startups. Certain skillsets may be missing. A certain level of expertise may be needed to move forward—but a full-time hire is not yet in the cards. Filling in the right layers through a CFO full stack team is a highly efficient way to address the talent gaps, with the right skills and expertise brought on only when it’s needed.

3. Oversee the capital structure.

Debt and equity financing falls under the CFO’s purview. As the advisor on the company’s capital needs, the CFO leads fundraising missions and converses with prospective investors to show them the company’s potential. The role extends to interacting with current angel investors, VCs, and the Board to go over the company’s priorities and any plans for transformative transactions. Simultaneously, the CFO keeps watch on smart spending, often with a controller’s support on budgeting and monitoring spending.

4. Tell the real story behind the numbers.

There’s a connection between the numbers and the narrative that can be shared with investors that only the CFO can meet. Understanding what the numbers say is one thing—but then being able to communicate them in a way that investors can understand and appreciate is a special skill.

5. Refine the business model.

The CFO’s analytical skills and understanding of business strategy steer the company toward growth milestones. There could be detours along the way. Startups need a CFO’s keen eye in analyzing revenue streams, key resources, activities and partners, and cost structure to make the right decisions on picking the right model.

6. Use technology strategically.

The CFO has a firm handle on the tech solutions that will keep not just the finance function running smoothly but the company’s operations as well. Evaluations of available systems will change as the company grows—rightsizing is a priority. The goal is to not overinvest in systems with all the bells and whistles that could overload the tech spending budget and not be used to their full capacity for some time.

Within the finance function, the CFO looks for opportunities for innovation and efficiencies. Automating core processes achieves both goals while ensuring the team accesses more reliable, timely data and freeing up their bandwidth to focus on more strategic matters. That’s when opportunities open up to explore how advanced technologies like AI can lead to a better understanding of client usage patterns, enabling the company to predict what will be in demand.

Today’s startup CFOs are also frequently chartered with managing the IT function. In that capacity, they manage IT security, handle IT compliance, to mitigate data breaches and cybersecurity risks. The right IT systems support proper workflows, helping to ensure the integrity of the company’s financial information.

The CFO Role Varies at Every Startup

What startups need out of the CFO role varies and can be met with a CFO full-stack team. Special skills can be brought in at just the right time and a part-time finance team might be best. Overhiring does not have to be a risk to take on as the company scales. The right people, processes and systems are a work in progress in the early days of a fast-moving company, and CFO expertise helps to ensure the right decisions are made every step of the way.

Tracey Hashiguchi heads up RoseRyan’s Emerging Growth Solutions area, which focuses on delivering all areas of finance and accounting that VC-funded companies need to go further, faster. This practice area delivers both the strategic and operational finance that growing companies need through its dedicated team of savvy consultants. Tracey develops RoseRyan’s strategy, programs and consulting team for helping startups get to the next stage of growth. Before joining RoseRyan, Tracey worked at Deloitte.

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Managing through rapid growth takes smart, deliberate finance moves

If the startup stage is all about surviving, the next phase of a company’s lifecycle, when it is time to really grow, is all about scaling. Once you’ve made it past the viability test, you’re riding the momentum of rapid growth. The company has come out of the gate firing on all cylinders, putting the entrepreneur’s brilliant idea into action and trying to scale as it continues to raise funds, connect with customers, hire talented people and establish its worth in the marketplace. There’s pressure to move quickly, to get noticed and fend off any competition, but there’s also risk in this pressing need for speed.

A major part of maturing and progressing smartly out of the start stage is managing resources to support the growth. Building an infrastructure for growth that doesn’t materialize can spell disaster. A young company with all the potential in the world can skid off the rails if they’re letting loose with spending. Overly confident that sales will come in—some day, any day now—the company could end up with bloated inventories, mismanaged resources and employees with nothing to do.

On the flip side, underestimating growth can be equally calamitous. Not having enough inventory on hand will send customers running to the open arms of the competition. And not having the people needed to properly process orders, support much-needed upgrades and meet customer demands will require an extremely difficult recovery to your good name. By applying the right set of finance smarts and business acumen to manage and predict growth with intention, the company can minimize the risks of burning out employees, setting up unrealistic expectations with lenders and investors, and losing sight of their cash flow amid conflicting revenue and spending goals.

Senior-level financial leadership can bring some much-needed order to the company so that it can progress at the right growth trajectory to match the strategy and end game. They can also direct focus onto the future, laying the groundwork for whatever is in store for the company. It is usually at this strong growth stage when a company brings in more reinforcements to supplement the finance team and hires its first full-time CFO. A seasoned finance pro can help steady the ship, to keep the company moving at high velocity but with a plan in place that is thoughtful and deliberate.

NatureBox, the Silicon Valley company that delivers smart, delicious snack packages, was moving at lightning speed when we sent in an interim CFO and an accountant to shore up ranks. At the time, its fledgling finance team was understandably struggling to keep pace with the explosive growth underway. And demand for NatureBox’s products was fierce. We helped out with extra hands to keep up with day-to-day accounting and also got them ready for the future, putting practical processes into place, prepping them for their first audit and providing strategic insights into key areas of the business.

Once set up properly, the finance team at a fast-growing company is poised to provide the full perspective that’s needed to successfully advance. Until then, the decision-makers may have had disparate vantage points, focusing only on their piece of the puzzle. The well-led finance team can put it all together and dig into the meaning of all the numbers and how they are connected. With a cohesive view, the direction of the company can become clearer and the company can prepare for what’s next, whether that next move is an IPO, an acquisition or whatever is behind door #3.

Avoid erratic moves that force the company into the slow lane. Bring some order to the chaos. Be realistic about the growth rate of your company and make solid plans to support it.

RoseRyan helps companies across the lifecycle, from when they are starting out, growing like gangbusters, expanding through M&A or IPO, and evolving as a public company. To find out more about the lifecycle stages, go here.

Pat Voll is a vice president at RoseRyan, where she mentors and supports the dream team, and heads up client experience, ensuring all our clients are on the road to happiness. Her article about creating a winning culture in the midst of the talent war was recently published in Accounting Today. Pat previously held senior finance level positions at public companies and worked as an auditor with a Big 4 firm. 

What makes a winning finance and accounting team: Look to the Giants for inspiration

Any fan who watched the San Francisco Giants win their third World Series title in five years could see why this team pulled off such a feat. Throughout the season, the Giants overcame adversity, they acted cohesively, and the star players came through whenever necessary.

While marveling at the Giants’ success, we also saw a parallel between their latest title run and what makes a great finance and accounting team perform their best. After serving clients in Silicon Valley for over 20 years, we have great finance teams on the brain and lots of insight to go with it. Imagine if you had a team like this:

Bruce Bochy as CFO – Every strong team needs a strong leader. As manager, Bochy helped steer the team through the typical ups and downs of a long season. CFOs similarly have to keep a steady ship while navigating their team around the challenging business climate that changes on a quarterly basis. How consistently they lead determines whether they have an average year or can win it all.

Gregor Blanco as VP Finance – All teams need a leadoff hitter who sets the tone, from his first hit, to his strong patrol at center field and his ability to get on base when it’s needed most. Finance teams need this position too. The VP of Finance manages the breadth of the staff functions and provides strategic and tactical support for everyone in the organization. That was why Gregor stood out: He provided key offense and the defensive plays that backed the Giants all season.

Hunter Pence as Director of Finance – Most teams have that Energizer Bunny type—the one who tends to make the big plays at critical times or gets everyone around them pumped up even during tough times. Hunter is that guy as he patrols right field. He’s like the Director of Finance, who helps ensure timely and accurate financial statements and reports that fall under GAAP. Just like Hunter’s key hits, the Director of Finance must deliver in high-pressure environments.

Buster Posey as Controller – The catcher provides the foundation for the team, working with various pitchers and watching out for baserunners. Like most Controllers, Buster keeps the operations of his team rolling along smoothly. He makes sure that all records (and performers) are in order. Without Buster’s steadiness and leadership, the Giants probably wouldn’t have won the trophy.

Pablo Sandoval as Chief Operating Officer – The third baseman has to hit for power, field his position well and handle the “hot corner” with precision. He could have been a COO, known for keeping a steady hand across multiple areas of the business to ensure smooth interdependence between various disciplines within the company. It helps to have someone as popular as the “Panda” in this role to work out the inevitable tough issues that arise.

Michael Morse in an SEC Reporting role – The left fielder hits for power.  Those who have experience and knowledge of SEC reporting are similarly playing with power against unwanted intrusions (inquiries by regulators). They do this by always making sure filings are timely, accurate and compliant.

Brandon Belt in the Accounts Receivable/Accounts Payable team – The first baseman is the rock of the infield, by handling difficult throws, holding runners on base and backing up outfield throws. We saw this time and again with Brandon. He could be trusted to give a consistent performance and to keep members of the infield informed on what he needed from them. A true team player, Brandon would fit right in as part of an AR/AP team, which always needs to be diplomatic and post payments and receivables in a timely manner.

Brandon Crawford as a Technical Accountant – The shortstop has to cut off throws from the outfield, handle difficult grounders in the gaps and turn the double play. Brandon is an inspiration for technical accountants who must deal with the ever-changing world of revenue recognition, equity compensation and audit requirements. They are masters at pivoting when necessary and so was Brandon, who gave top-flight defense throughout the season no matter what was thrown his way.

Joe Panik as an Accountant – Every team has that solid go-to guy. Joe was as steady as they get at second base in the World Series, delivering the key play that helped drive the Giants to the final game win. If he ever needed a second career, he could be an accountant, who supports everything from journal entries to supporting audit requirements. They will do anything to support the team, just like Joe.

Madison Bumgarner as the finance org’s Hero – Every team has a hero, and this is a star pitcher who delivered the key leadership, skills and attitude that delivered a heroic series for the Giants. Accounting teams have similar “heroes” who seem to do the impossible on a regular basis. They meet audit deadlines, get SEC reports out on time and support key accounting projects with quality work. They are the true heroes that help their team win!

We hope you are as excited about the Giants’ World Series champs as us. Their talent, determination and great teamwork made it all possible. Let’s revel in this inspiring win.

Chris Vane is a director at RoseRyan, where he leads the development of the finance and accounting firm’s cleantech and high tech practices. He can be reached at [email protected] or call him at 510.456.3056 x169.

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Red flags in the finance org: The one simple question every new CFO should ask

So you just walked through the doors as the new CFO. You’ve already met the key players, you understand your role, and you have a pretty good understanding of the company. Only when you become part of the company can you get a real picture of what goes on in the finance organization.

While you have many responsibilities in front of you — which can include IT, facilities and possibly HR — your primary focus should be on the finance team and getting to know its inner workings. This is the team that is vital to the greater organization, and you need to understand its ins and outs.

Here’s how to get a grip on your new finance organization without wasting another minute. Ask this question: How long does the finance organization take to close the books? The answer reveals a lot.

Seems like a simple question, right? But there will be no simple answer, despite what the first person you come across tries to tell you. Most likely, after some digging, you will discover some issues related to the close process. A slow-to-close team will reflect poorly on your leadership if you don’t find a way to speed things up, but it’s also a key way for you to see where the skills deficiencies lie within your new team. They could be with just one person or a few, or there could be something that needs to be fixed — or significantly updated — within the systems and processes the organization has been using. The real answer to the question — based not only on what people tell you but what you can see for yourself — will go a long way toward letting you know exactly how strong a team you have, their ability to get things done and their level of commitment toward getting things done right.

Ask for details
Let’s say you have a five-day close, but your team is working 18-hour work days to get it done. That’s a  clear warning sign something is amiss. Or you have a 20-day close, and you wonder what the heck everyone is doing all day. Under either scenario, you may discover inefficiencies related to process flow, duplication of effort or lack of skills. Just one person who doesn’t have the requisite training to execute a task can make the entire team suffer from this inefficiency, either because of effects of dependency or errors that need to be fixed.

Your discovery of deficiencies should also have you looking down the path of technology. Are the current systems effective for the task, do they help the team or hinder the team in getting the job done? Your team may be suffering with a system that is older than they are. Or your team may have the latest and greatest but still don’t know how to use it effectively one year after the go-live date.

Use your early days in the new job to interview the team members individually, to get to know them and the details behind how the books get closed. As you listen to others walking you through the process, you will likely hear inconsistencies and questions about who is responsible for what. Ask about when things have gone right and when they haven’t, and how issues get resolved. Who is monitoring these issues for resolution? Are the issues being resolved based on how critical they are to the organization? Someone needs to be accountable, and if it’s not you, then who should it be?

Beyond helming the finances, your role as CFO includes the staff’s morale and motivation. It’s not always top of mind, but when it’s done well, you will see the effects. If you can get the month-end close process down to a well-oiled, repeatable process, then you have created an environment where the day to day becomes smooth sailing and the adventure of growing the business can then be enjoyed by all finance employees as they become true business partners within the company.

Salena Oppus has been a member of the RoseRyan dream team for over 15 years. Her specialties are system planning and implementation, cost accounting and forecasting. 

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5 qualities every public-company CFO needs

I have seen a wide range of public-company CFOs in my work at RoseRyan and I’ve been one myself, having spent 13 years at Nasdaq-listed companies between 1997 and 2009. So when a RoseRyan client considering an IPO recently asked me what qualities are vital for a public-company CFO, I came up with the following list:

Experience. Nothing beats it. Having a CFO who has gone through the demands of public-company life is so important. This type of CFO knows what he’s getting into and will have the confidence to get started from day one. I don’t mind admitting now that when I first became a CFO of a public company, it was a huge step up. I had been the corporate controller of the company, so I knew the underlying accounting well, but nothing I had done previously could help me with the new experiences of strategic direction, public-company investors, and public-company boards and committees. It was the same company but a new world. It took me a year to get comfortable handling the new responsibilities. The bottom line was that I let the company drive me in that first year as opposed to me helping drive it. In my view, I did not add anything close to the value that a more experienced CFO would have done. I am all for training, but for this key role, you always want someone with experience.

The ability to multi-task. Most of my CFO roles have involved managing finance, IT, HR, operations, investor relations, and legal. You need someone who can juggle many balls in the air at the same time. If your CFO can’t easily switch gears between the different business areas and give a fair amount of attention to her many roles, she will sink and be ineffective – and your business will feel the consequence.

The resourcefulness to work constructively with the CEO. Most chief executives are very driven individuals, with a flair for marketing or product development but not finance. It’s up to CFOs to work closely with the CEO and get their viewpoints heard and inserted into the decision-making process. If they can’t do this, they will fail, critical decisions will not take place, and problems will arise. When I was CFO, I liked to think of the CEO as a peer, not as my boss. I preferred to think of the audit committee chair as my boss.

The resilience for handling investor relations. One key role of the CFO is the ability to market the company. They have to be salesmen, notably when they are on a roadshow or an investor call, but they can’t oversell at the same time. Finding the right balance is a fine art. Investors rely on a CFO’s every word and how it’s said, and they expect a lot. So the CFO has to fully understand the company’s products, market opportunity, and direction, and be able to handle a tough audience. More than any other executive, CFOs get grief when the stock price falls, or executives sell stock, or the company doesn’t meet investors’ expectations or preferences. When this happens, CFOs have to be professional and move on. They should not take it personally – it just comes with the territory. If your CFO cannot market or handle the tough calls, you have the wrong CFO.

The desire to manage the finance function. I have seen CEOs bring in CFOs who want to concentrate only on investor relations–related matters and ignore the finances of the company, the finance team, and the internal controls. That is the worst type of CFO. Finance chiefs are ultimately responsible for the financial integrity of the entire organization, and they should never forget it. Thus, they need to continually understand the numbers and actively manage their finance team. So often you see companies that have to restate their financials or that get dinged for internal control weaknesses because the CFO did not consider either to be important until it was too late. Don’t let that be your company.

Stephen Ambler is a director at RoseRyan, where he manages the development of the firm’s “dream team” of consultants. His interim CFO stints at RoseRyan have included a social media company and the management of the financial integration process at a company acquired by Oracle. He previously held the CFO position for 13 years at Nasdaq-listed companies.

2014 will be a busy year for finance teams

It’s New Year’s Eve—as so many people do, I’ve taken the time to reflect on 2013 and look ahead to the next year.

2014 should be a good year—the economy is improving, a lot of bigger companies are preparing for growth once again, and things are going really well for early-stage companies. But it’s definitely not like the dot-com boom, as some are saying. The market may be picking up, but it’s doing it in hiccups—and many companies aren’t feeling it yet. Our clients are getting traction, but they’re working really hard to make progress.

We’ve been diligent at RoseRyan too—we’ve been following our own advice to invest during the down times. We’re seeing starts and stops and ups and downs in our clients’ business, and we’re putting things in place so when the market uptick goes full-on, we’ll be ready. We’ve expanded the management team, and we’re investing in our products and services, and making sure we have up-to-date tools and technology.

We are also investing in our consultants, deepening and expanding our bench strength so we have the right talent for our clients as well as the services they need. I feel confident that we’ll be able to tackle just about anything that comes our way.

And 2014 is looking to be a very busy year. Revenue recognition will have a huge impact on our clients (this train is coming whether we like it or not), and the new COSO framework is at the top of many to-do lists. The proposed changes to lease accounting are also potentially big, but it’s not on the near horizon.

Finally, private companies have the opportunity to simplify their accounting, but I think most companies looking to go public one day won’t take that route. It does make sense if a company has no desire to go public but needs audited financial statements.

I see three big challenges for CFOs, and they have nothing to do with rules. The first is the endemic talent shortage. It’s affecting everyone here in the Bay Area.

The second challenge is the ongoing shift from a portfolio of accounting and finance projects to also providing business savvy to the organization. What exactly does it mean to be a strategic CFO? A lot is written about this and discussed at conferences, but the piece that always gets overlooked is the need for a strategic team behind the CFO. Among other things, they need to understand analysis and provide the right information to all stakeholders—the SEC, the C suite, other departments, investors—in a way that resonates with them. CFOs get it, but I’m not sure the rest of the departments are there yet.

The third challenge is the pace of change. It’s not going to get better, and finance organizations need to keep up. I think that’s why the bigger companies struggle; they’re just not as nimble as smaller companies. 

I’d love to hear from you if you have ideas about how the CFO can meet the challenges facing finance organizations in 2014.

Happy New Year to you!

Booms, busts and finance upheavals: RoseRyan’s CEO looks back on 20 years

When I cofounded RoseRyan (then known as Macias & Ryan) in September 1993, the Internet was just taking off. The word “global” had a different connotation. Cell phones (if you even had one) were the size of bricks. The “cloud” was in the sky. In many ways, it was a simpler time for accounting and finance.

In the 20 years since, we have weathered two economic downturns and countless changes in accounting rules, governance and oversight. Corporate abuses gave us Sarbanes-Oxley, AS2 and AS5, the PCAOB and the Dodd-Frank Act. Business changed, and continues to change, at exponential rates of speed. We have a truly global economy, blazing technology advancements and exciting new ways of doing business.

This all means that the staid and boring world of accounting has become anything but. We have addressed changes with far-reaching implications in the areas of stock-based compensation, accounting for derivatives, business combinations, fair value measurements, codification and accounting for leases, and we’re now facing brand-new ways to look at recognizing revenue. (FASB promises it will be final any day now.…)

CFOs and their teams have had to step up their game. In addition to understanding and implementing new and complex accounting principles, they are rightfully taking on a more strategic role as leaders in the business. No longer are CFOs expected to be just the keepers of historical financial statements and budgets; they also need to understand their business and market trends, and strategically and systematically increase the value of their company. Not easy tasks, but certainly challenging and exciting in today’s dynamic market.

While the finance needs of Bay Area companies have changed, the fundamentals of RoseRyan’s business have not. As in 1993, in 2013 we are dedicated to attracting and retaining top-notch professionals, and to providing an environment where our consultants are challenged but also able to enjoy a personal life. This allows us to provide exceptional finance and accounting solutions to our clients, giving them the right people with the right skills at the right time.

No matter what the level of their assignment, every RoseRyan consultant rolls up their sleeves to get the job done—and they look beyond the cubicle to provide best practices, advice and objective opinions derived from their years of experience. We call ourselves “gurus” because we strive to be leaders and mentors for our clients and one another.

We’ve worked with more than 700 clients at RoseRyan, and they have made for an exciting 20 years. It has been a great time to work with companies in the technology and life sciences industries, participating in the myriad of changes that have taken place and watching companies go up and down—and sideways. What’s most exciting is that we are often with clients through their corporate life cycle. For example, I started with one client as CFO when they were in an incubator. We shepherded them through two-plus years of fast growth as their outsourced accounting department. We later helped them with revenue recognition issues, stock-based compensation and audit support. Finally, as they neared their exit, we helped with financial forecasting, due diligence and integration with the eventual acquirer. We were with the company for over eight years, and it was rewarding to understand their business, walk with them through the ups and downs, and celebrate their successes.

RoseRyan would not be where it is today without our amazing clients or our consultant gurus. I am very proud of all of them, and I am pleased that RoseRyan helps both clients and our employees thrive. They are a huge part of why I think the Bay Area is a great place to work, to learn, to live. I give heartfelt thanks to all who have made the past 20 years possible. We’re looking forward to the next two decades!

Do a rebuilt foundation and embedded values make you more strategic? We think so

Silicon Valley is a great place for reinvention. But sometimes the way to stay successful is to shift your great idea to a different foundation, one that supports even more strategic thinking and sets parameters for risk taking. During the fallow period of the financial crisis, RoseRyan did just that. CEO Kathy Ryan shares her thinking about the changes in four short videos based on material first produced for the Build Network series, Building the Strategic CFO.

How we embed values at RoseRyan
Learn why RoseRyan used the financial crisis to rebuild its very foundation, basing it on an embedded values program that guides employees in day-to-day activities and more importantly, through times requiring critical judgment and risk.

How RoseRyan is preparing for growth
Love to accomplish projects but find it challenging to work on initiatives that require continuous attention? Get over it. We did, launching three growth programs during the recession to be ready when times get better.

Building a stronger team
Want to build a better finance team? Ryan’s top advice for CFOs: make values your glue.

Keys to success
How important is making the finance function highly strategic? Pretty important, especially during uncertain times.

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Real-time data driving businesses—and changing the CFO role

It wasn’t long ago that real-time financial information was available only to those who worked in companies with expensive data collection and analysis systems. CFOs of less-wealthy companies had to make decisions on the basis of historical information (or hunches, never a good idea). Lacking timely information, they had to forgo decisions that could have increased revenues, improved inventory management or otherwise helped their companies, because in the absence of good information, certain decisions were just too risky. The default was to make no decision, and that’s what most CFOs rightly did—but at a cost to their business.

Today, real-time information is inexpensive to obtain, and the role of CFOs has changed as a result. Having access to real-time information allows CFOs to make appropriate business decisions without the risk that used to exist. Many CFOs are taking advantage of that fact—and nowhere more than in Silicon Valley, where many businesses are driven by real-time data.

I’ve become part of that trend as a consulting CFO for some of the Valley’s up-and-comers. One of them is a social media company with data gathering systems that detail sales volumes and revenues every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The company’s accounting systems allow the executive team to see the financial status of the company in real time, at all times. As CFO, I can access this information from anywhere around the world and help the company make appropriate decisions that will immediately affect its business. For example, if we see revenues dropping, we can instantaneously initiate a promotion, sale or other activity that will drive revenues back to the target, at which time we can instantaneously cease the activity. We can see the drop and recovery all in real time and keep sales on track with the overall business plan.

What I am doing with this company is now the norm in Silicon Valley. We can expect to see more and more CFOs of businesses outside the Valley follow the same path.

The growing availability of real-time data is forcing a shift in the role of the financial executive. Today’s CFOs need to understand where to get the data, how to interpret it and how to use such real-time information to drive a business forward. If they don’t, they risk becoming a statistic themselves.

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Team leadership: a key ingredient in the CFO sauce

I’ve read a number of articles lately regarding what makes a great CFO. They list key attributes, such as business acumen and the ability to lead the business with the management team, but one attribute that’s consistently missed is that a great CFO needs to be a strong leader of her team.

At Ernst & Young’s Northern California Entrepreneur of the Year Award gala event, each award nominee said that the honor would not have been possible without the dedication and support of his or her team. The same applies to a CFO: in today’s world, a CFO’s responsibilities go beyond the debits and credits to include oversight, regulatory filings, HR and IT, as well as being a key member of the management team. Obviously, a CFO needs to hire and retain top-notch performers in order to meet all of her responsibilities.

So how does a CFO build an outstanding team?

First, understand—and acknowledge—your strengths and weaknesses, and hire people whose skills complement yours. In fact, hire people who are more talented than you. We recently worked with a CFO whose strengths lay in M&A and business operations, so he hired a VP of finance with strong technical accounting and operations experience. He also brought in others to handle work that his team was either too stretched to handle or lacked the skill set to complete.

Second, be a mentor. Sharing your knowledge and experience can give valuable insights to key players on your team and increase productivity. In my business, I know where the landmines are. Sharing this knowledge with my team helps them be more productive and make better decisions, which is a win-win for everyone. In addition, don’t underestimate the insight you can gain from those working for you. Younger employees can teach us old-timers how to operate effectively in today’s social media environment, for instance—and though their work styles can be quite different, we could learn a lot from them about teamwork.

As your company grows, it’s important for you and your team to keep learning. Keeping up on today’s ever-changing rules is a no-brainer, but it’s also critically important to stay on top of the context for business operations, like the changing global economy, market shifts and technology advances. This is key: increasingly, CFOs and their accounting teams are moving away from being mere gatekeepers and scorekeepers. Ongoing learning is essential for taking on a more strategic role in a company. And applying critical thinking to decisions and their impact on the business—not just the impact to the financial statements—can be both challenging and rewarding.

Third, remember that communication is important. Everyone says this, but I’m amazed at how often CFOs don’t practice it. Keeping everyone in the know about where the business is heading, your vision for the finance function and how the team can add value helps build a stronger team, among other things.

Last but not least, give credit where credit is due. I’ve seen great teams fall apart largely because they felt undervalued. Openly rewarding top performers not only gives recognition to the person or team, but also sets standards by example and inspires loyalty and a desire to go the extra mile (or miles) when required.

A great CFO needs a great team supporting her. Creating a learning environment, encouraging team members to stretch and grow, recognizing success and communicating your vision will go a long way in helping you be a great CFO.