In my role as a TEC Chair, I was meeting with the CEO TEC member and his controller, “Jim” (name changed to protect me!). They were each extremely frustrated with the other. Jim’s a great controller and the CEO’s an excellent entrepreneur. The CEO was complaining that Jim wasn’t giving him what he wanted, and Jim was complaining that the CEO was asking him for information that he didn’t need. So like any good TEC Chair/Marriage Counselor, I called a timeout and asked to see each of them separately.
I spoke to Jim first. I told him that he’s an excellent controller and is providing a lot of what the company needs—but not everything. I asked him about his career goals. He said, “Of course I want to be the CFO here when we are large enough.” I responded, “Jim, you’re an awesome controller but I don’t think you’ll ever be the CFO.” He looked stricken and said “Why not?” I told him, “Because your boss is looking through the windshield and you’re looking through the rear-view mirror.” “And, knowing your personality, I think you prefer the rear-view mirror.”
Jim wasn’t too happy with me. We talked a little more about his role, and eventually he understood and agreed. He just isn’t into looking at the future and where the business might go. He’s a list crosser offer. He’d rather have the books closed on the 10th, than analyze whether it makes sense to buy a small company in another market or open a branch. He’d rather harass the VP of sales about the excessive dinner tab with their key client, than analyze whether it’s a profitable account.
Don’t get me wrong. This company needs a controller. It’s a critical role. But they won’t grow much past $5 Million in revenue until they get an excellent CFO at least on a part-time basis.
Later I was talking to the CEO and we had a great discussion. He asked me why I thought the relationship with his controller was in rough waters. I told him “It’s because you’re looking through the windshield and Jim’s looking through the rear view mirror. And it’s a sign that you’re company is ready for a CFO. And, you need to express your appreciation to Jim for being an excellent controller, guarding your treasure and being willing to say no once in a while. And you should also to let him know that you need to bring in some additional financial horsepower to help you get to the next level.” The CEO then asked me what to look for his first part-time CFO.
To get a good answer, I went to my old friend, colleague, and best-in-class financial and operations executive John Jensen, CPA, and CEO of Jensen Consulting in Milwaukee. He put together this excellent list for us.