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Retail CFOs: The Chief Executive’s New Consigliere

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

There is still a lot of misunderstanding about what to look for in hiring a good CFO. A recent article in Chain Store Age outlined the key success factors for a CFO in the retailing industry. These key factors are also very much needed in every industry (e.g., technology, services, manufacturing, etc.) here in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley.

The article highlights the ongoing trend of the need for CFOs to be multi-skilled with a broad perspective beyond just accounting and finance. As we’ve discussed before, the truly great CFO is a close business partner to the CEO and other C-suite executives in helping to improve the company across multiple dimensions. In short, the CFO needs to be a “consigliere” (i.e., advisor) to the CEO.

Here are some of the key factors delineated in the article:

“First, you want to make sure this executive has run a “bulletproof” finance department -- one without any surprises. The right information should always be available, succinct and accurate. This person anticipates problems, highlighting them early, thus providing enough time for the CEO and the Board to react. While not a micro-manager, this executive is willing to drill down into the detail to get an answer or solve a problem. “You want a CFO who embraces every function. The CFO should know how each department operates, along with its true costs and the department leader’s fiscal acumen. He/she should work hard at not appearing the “watchdog.” Rather, this person forms partnerships that discourage “filtering” information to the Finance Department. The ideal CFO walks the fences of an organization, physically visiting departments regularly — not just at budget time. “You also want to make sure this executive is driven by sustainable, viable growth and increasing shareholder value. To this person, saving money is a subset of growth — it doesn’t supplant it (assuming the business is not in crisis mode). The most successful CFO treats the assets of the business as if he/she were the major shareholder.

“And, in today’s world, the CFO has to add one more arrow to his/her quiver – a deep understanding of technology. With new technologies constantly emerging, CFOs need to anticipate future digital needs. Working closely with the chief digital officer, CFOs need to be armed with the necessary real-time data required to act quickly and ensure the company is investing in the right digital solutions to keep up with their consumers’ increasing demands and expectations.”

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