The Growth Company CFO – What Works and What Doesn’t

06/03/2013 09.05 EST

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This article originally ran on CFO.com.  To view it, click here.   Over the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of assisting in the selection and placement of a good number of Chief Financial Officers for a diverse set of clients.  Throughout this experience, I’ve seen senior financial executives make successful transitions from industry to industry, from public to private companies and back, as well as adapt to wildly different cultures from company to company.  By and large, top-notch CFOs are a smart, flexible and pragmatic group of professionals.  However, in my experience, there is one divide that very few seem to successfully bridge – the transition from a large company to a small one.   By “small” I generally mean a growth-oriented company, usually backed by venture capital or private equity, which has designs to grow exponentially (i.e. not $25 million looking to grow to $50 million, but $25 million looking to grow to $500 million or more, usually followed by some type of exit via sale, IPO or some other transaction).  These companies present a unique challenge to a large-company CFO: they require not only a high level of financial and business sophistication to handle the complexity of managing rapid growth but also a high degree of self sufficiency and a strong hands-on orientation.   Regardless of how well these companies are funded, their resources are constrained relative to the level of support a big company CFO is accustomed to.   Therein lies the rub.  Finding...

How Are You Preparing for Your Next Interview?

08/31/2011 10.53 EST

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I coach many candidates before they interview for a position.  I do it as part of my role at Salveson Stetson Group and as a favor to help others, and, frankly, I just enjoy doing it.  I often find that candidates are underprepared for an interview and are essentially “winging it.”  But sometimes, it’s the opposite – candidates are over-prepared to the point that their presentation can seem canned or even insincere.  If you are coaching others on the job hunt or you, yourself, are interviewing, I’ve outlined a few suggestions that may be helpful.  Some of this information is common sense but worth mentioning:    Do your homework before your meeting.  Does the hiring executive have a profile on LinkedIn?  Review the company website, gather information from news sites and talk to others who have worked for the company in the past. Make a strong first impression.  Smile, make eye contact and firmly shake the person’s hand.  I know this is something that your mother and father have told you time and time again – but it really is important! Turn off your cell phone, completely.  Don’t put it on vibrate. There is nothing more irritating than to have someone’s cell phone ring or vibrate during an interview.  It is distracting and sends the message that you are not fully engaged in the conversation. Come prepared with specific examples of accomplishments that relate to the needs for the role.  You should be able to provide a...

Interviewing Star Candidates

07/06/2011 02.40 EST

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Given the number of interviews I do on a weekly basis, it’s easy for them to blend together.  Not that I get candidates mixed up with one another; I take good notes and do my best to be focused in every interaction.  But it’s hard for a candidate to stand out in a calendar that may contain 15 to 20 interviews, but the “stars” do.   In my opinion, what differentiates stars in an interview setting is their ability to engage their interviewer.  Typically, they are focused and succinctly describe their strengths. Accomplishments are linked to results.  They have an engaging style and as a result, I rarely look at my watch or even wonder what time it is – the conversation flows naturally.   This notion of brevity is worthwhile for every executive-level candidate to consider.  The human attention span is short, even under the best of circumstances.  The more concise you can be in an interview while still driving your point home, the more likely you will be to engage the person on the other side of the table.  I find that star candidates have the ability to provide specific examples that sound more like short stories than novels.  The novelists, on the other hand, often lose track of the questions they’re in the middle of answering, as do those asking the questions.   Other distinguishing traits include bringing a focused energy to the conversation and an observable passion for one’s work.  These qualities shine...

Questions I Have Stopped Asking

06/22/2011 11.31 EST

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This is a second installment in which I am reflecting on what I have learned and observed while interviewing more than 1,000 executives as candidates for senior-level positions in our client companies. Conducting interviews with potential candidates over the past 15 years has allowed me to develop a standard list of questions to ask and avoid. I have stopped using a few questions, because they either elicit “canned” answers or just don’t get at the information I am looking for. Here are two examples. “How would the people who work for you describe your management/leadership style”? This sounds like an obvious question that should elicit useful information, right? Think again. Nearly 90 percent of the people asked this question give some version of this answer: “I work with people to set clear goals and then get out of the way and let them do their jobs. I am available to them when they need me but I don’t micromanage them”. How do I know this isn’t really true for 90% of today’s leaders? All I have to do is talk to people about their bosses and their corporate cultures. I seldom hear that management style description. When I get the predictable, vanilla answer described above, I ask a second question: “What is it about your leadership style that drives people nuts on your team? What would they change about you?” Believe me when I tell you that, again, 90 percent of the people I interview are completely...

Shorthand Notes: What Your Job Interview Says About You

05/31/2011 02.42 EST

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As a retained search consultant, I spend a lot of my time interviewing executives. Sometimes I am speaking with general managers; other times it’s with HR executives, sales leaders or financial executives. They may be in my office, sitting with me in an airport, in a restaurant or on my computer screen. I haven’t done the math, but I’m sure I have interviewed well over a thousand people in the past 15 years.Interviews are funny things. I believe that putting people at ease allows me to have the best chance of seeing someone’s true personality – but I also have to ask challenging and, at times, sensitive questions. Sometimes I am very direct in my questioning and other times I ask much more open ended, almost vague questions. It all depends on the search, the candidate, the company culture and the situation. People being people, executives bring their own agendas, expectations and hopes to the interview. Sometimes they are anxious, sometimes too relaxed. Some are over-the-top enthusiastic and others are sleepy. I’ve come to learn that I should expect pretty much anything to come out in an interview.But despite the wide variations I find in interviews, there are a few things I see so often that I have developed shorthand notes for myself to document them. Unfortunately, they describe interview styles or executive characteristics that are not very positive. In the spirit of sharing my observations for the benefit of all, here are my top three: TTM:...