Philadelphia 1 

The role of the CFO has expanded significantly in the past decade. Now more than ever, organizations need strategic, collaborative and versatile CFOs – executives who truly understand how the business works and what financial strategies best support it. 

So what are the skills that we as CFOs need, and where should we focus our development? In September, The CFO RoundTable Philadelphia presented “The Habits of Highly Effective CFOs,” where our panel of CFOs, CEOs and investors shared their insights and experiences on how truly great CFOs have been able to make a positive impact in their companies.

We reviewed how an effective CFO:

#1: Seeks To Understands Their Business

Our speakers
Craig Ey, Editor in Chief, Philadelphia Business Journal
Craig Ey,
Editor In Chief,
The Philadelphia
Business Journal
Mike Celano
Mike Celano,
CFO, DrugScan
Kathy Crothall, Aspire Bariatrics
Kathy Crothall,
Ph.D., President,
CEO and Chairman,
Aspire Bariatrics
Aamir Husain, KPMG
Aamir Husain,
Partner, Leader,
IPO Advisory
Practice, KPMG
David Proctor, Milestone Partners
David Procter,
Partner, Milestone

Seeking to understand the business not only includes the understanding of the financial and technical metrics, but also the human drivers (your people) that propel the company forward.

Our panel urged our CFO attendees to get out from behind their desks to build great rapport with managers and non-managers. This includes talking to customers, talking to people on the manufacturing floor, and always focusing on building trust with all teams through good communication skills and follow-through.

Further, sit down with your peers and dive into their goals – work with your sales team to understand the sales cycle and cash floor. Sit with your marketing heads and understand how they build pipelines. Work with customer support to understand where they need the most help. Help everyone understand the drivers of the business, and how they can work as a team to help grow your organization.

Of course, it’s not always positive. According to our panel, a critical part of seeking to understand the business is having the confidence to ask the questions that no one wants to ask. After all, if the CFO doesn’t ask the question, the board and shareholders will.

#2 Uses Metrics and Data to Strategically Grow The Business

In using metrics, our speakers advised CFOs to take a ‘shareholder perspective,’ or, seek to understand the metrics that are driving the valuation of the business.

For example, one panelist shared a story of the recent Samsonite IPO on the Hong Kong Exchange. That CFO looked at every component of the business that built luggage. His team worked to manage costs and negotiated with its supply chain, instituted new manufacturing processes, and even built a new quality control department. All of this was done before the IPO in the effort to boost the value of the business.

The panel did recognize that one of the biggest challenges for CFOs today is in grappling with the surge of data that permeates every part of their business. After all, the finance function is no longer just the accounting function – it’s the hive of the business that collects, analyzes and interprets massive amounts of data, all in the effort to present timely information that can help grow the organization.

With that in mind, the panel advised that CFOs make it their business to understand the variables of their company. Talk to your peers to understand the key drivers of other business units, and understand the data that goes into those variables.

Further, if data analysis is truly turning into a challenge, the panel advised that CFOs take classes, or work with their vendors to understand the data. In fact, many firms such as KPMG are investing heavily  in big data analytics, and are actively training their clients, and even your ERP providers are upgrading their systems to include big data capabilities.

#3 Builds A Solid Foundation For Growth

An intrinsic part of growing the business successfully is being able to rely upon a solid foundation that scales along with the needs of the business. This is the area where the panel agreed that a CFO can play to their greatest strengths and make the most impact.

For example, if you are a pre-IPO CFO, you are always thinking 1-2 years ahead, and the path that you need to get to an IPO. This includes excellent, audited financial statements, controls that demonstrate good corporate governance, board building to support an IPO, etc.

In this foundation building, panel advised that CFOs pay attention to two key areas that often throw their finance teams off the mark, including:

  • Philadelphia 2 Our panelists shared their advice and real-world
    of truly effective CFOs

    Revenue Predictability – The panel agreed that effective CFOs pay attention to this every day. After all, if you don’t have top line growth, you’re not going to be profitable.

  • Investing in their teams – the panel agreed that most CFOs have to serve as an example to the rest of the company, which means operating with a lean team. However, in any time of real growth, you cannot afford to have below-average people on your team. The panel advised CFOs to build up a lean, high-performing finance team that can support you through your growth periods.

#4 Are Adaptable In Times of Need

Ultimately, the panel agreed that the best CFOs they’ve worked with are flexible, and are able to insert themselves into any business unit or position to aid or grow the area.

For example, our panelists stated that their CFOs often take on additional responsibility within their organization, such as business development and sales, IT, investor relations, operations, and more. It all depends upon the needs of the company at the time, and can change as the company grows.


Our panel advised that CFOs:

  • Network with their peers – understand what’s happening in the market and community around them.
  • Be proactive in challenging yourself – after all, the most dangerous thing is not knowing what you don’t know.
  • Never underestimate the value of a good mentor.
  • Always focus on building trust in your relationships – when times get tough (and they will), this trust will be the path to help you work through it.

Our thanks go out to our fantastic panelists and our moderator, Craig Ey, Editor-in-Chief, The Philadelphia Business Journal, for sharing their time and advice with our attendees.

We’d also like to thank the members of our CFO RoundTable Philadelphia leadership team who built and produced this program, including Randy Cramp, David Duch, and Chip Bernhardt.

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