by Lisa Yoon

Small Biz Giving New Respect to CFOs

Oct 28, 20113 mins
IT JobsIT Leadership

It seems more small businesses are seeing the value of hiring a CFO.

It seems more small businesses are seeing the value of hiring a CFO.

An article in today’s New York Times — “When Should a Small Business Hire a Chief Financial Officer?” — says that a finance chief’s six-figure salary is usually what stops smaller firms from hiring one full-time. But as companies grow, and their finances become more complex, many find it well worth the cost. The Times quotes several small-company CEOs on why they hired a full-time finance chief. “Not every company needs a CFO,” Alan Masarek, chief executive of QuickOffice, says. “It depends on how dynamic the business is.”

Interestingly, a similar article — “Small Business CFOs: Do You Need One?” — appeared two weeks ago in the Huffington Post. Janine Popick, CEO of VerticalResponse, describes an experience in which she became overwhelmed by the finance function as her company grew. Only then did she decide to hire a bona fide CFO. The finance-function responsibility, she says, “was just getting too big for me, especially considering the fiduciary duty I had to my shareholders. I felt I really needed someone at that level I could trust as a ‘partner’ and fill in where I lacked capability, as well as issues that were over the accounting manager’s head.”

What’s notable in both articles is the distinction between the function of accountant or controller, and that of a CFO. “I like to say that a controller is always looking backward in their role of financial reporting and closing the books,” QuickOffice’s Masarek tells the Times. “But a CFO is always looking forward, someone who will…also get involved strategically in how we handle things like debt and equity and how we finance the company moving forward.”

As more small companies consider shelling out for a finance chief, finance managers looking to jump to a CFO role may well be finding more options with one of the corporate first-timers. But it’s important to note that with the increasing appreciation for the value of a CFO comes an expectation that the CFO is worth the money.

It used to be that small-business CFOs were often merely one-person finance functionaries. Not so these days.

“My expectation from a CFO tends to be high,” Brendan D. Anderson, a partner in Evolution Capital, tells the Times. “I almost view the CFO as the next step to the CEO in that they understand everything and can communicate verbally and in writing how the business is performing, how the plan is coming together and also forecasting where budgets and projects are headed.”

As VerticalResponse’s Popick notes in her piece: “In my opinion, a great CFO walks around and talks to employees, understands customers’ needs and understands where the business is going. They do not sit in their office only crunching numbers; they should have a feel for where those numbers come from.”