CFO – Fall in Love with CEO Ideas ---- Slowly.
By Dr. Rick Johnson
Tuesday, 12th March 2013
Too often CEOs fall in love with their ideas instantaneously, and then present them to the board without giving enough thought to how the board will react.

These CEOs typically fail to give the board the full context behind their great idea — whether it's an acquisition, an expansion, a potential new product, or a possible alliance. Sometimes assumptions become facts and the thrill of adventure; ego and personal satisfaction override realistic analysis and fact finding.

Asked to consider a proposition they can't possibly appreciate, directors hammer the ideas and the people who brought them. Many great ideas are lost as a result, along with executive credibility.

CFOs are in an excellent position to make sure these board meetings don't go awry. Whether an idea to jumpstart growth comes from the CEO, product development, or any other source, that idea must stop at the CFO's desk before the CEO presents it to the board. Developing a "Cost Benefit Analysis" should be a basic requirement for all new ideas and investments. The CFO should make sure the financial forecasts of a sought-after acquisition, expansion, new product launch, strategic alliance, or other money-making idea are well supported, and that the board isn't caught off-guard.

The CFO's role here goes way beyond financial calculations and modeling. The CFO needs to think of their role as the watchdog over the checkbook; the sentry at the front gate. That means being a skeptic, an emissary, and by providing presentation support and analytical data.  Internal discussions shouldn't go too far without real facts; not just assumptions or intuitive beliefs.  You must challenge all assumptions, just as the board eventually will. Ask questions about the source of the data, competitive threats, technological feasibility, and more until you're convinced the team has thought it through and you personally can not only provide validating data but you strongly support it.

Once you're reasonably convinced, you become the ambassador for the project. This means you can advance the CEO's interests by promoting the concept.  Talk to the directors, talk just enough, but mostly listen. Probe the board members for their concerns. Go beyond the numbers and absorb the directors' feedback about all strategic and tactical issues. Try to determine the potential objections so that the CEO can adjust his presentation. If you provide this kind of support board meetings will go much more smoothly; more projects will be approved. Better still, incorporating the thinking of board members into the plan is likely to produce better business results.

Remember The Board of Directors expects the CEO to have an abiding passion for growth. However, the BOD also expects the CFO to be the kind of person you hear about from Missouri – the "Show Me" State. The CFO must be able to analyze, validate and provide factual data to support the CEO's visions and dreams.

A Board of Directors, elected by ownership, can provide the kind of support necessary to take the company to the next level. No man is an island and it can become very lonely at the top. Growing an organization is hard work. The CEO of the corporation not only has to surround himself with an excellent team but he must be able to rely on another power to challenge him and his team. The Board of Directors, in exercising its business judgment, acts as an advisor and counselor to the CEO and his executive team. The Board can help define and enforce standards of accountability. Accountability that is often found lacking in a privately held family run organization. A Board can challenge and help the management team execute their responsibilities to the fullest extent in the best interest of the shareholders. This is especially true for the role of the CFO who is expected to play a prominent role on any project requiring BOD input, approval or validation.

A Board of Directors should not perform an adversarial role but a supportive role to the CEO and the management team of the organization. The right board members can be significant part of the success of the organization. The power the board has is dependent upon its charter and it's by laws. Remember, the board is elected by the shareholders. In a privately held corporation, this means that ownership determines the makeup and type of board they want to govern the organization. Successful owners, true leaders understand the value a board of directors can provide.

The CFO must establish a special professional relationship with the BOD in support of the CEO and the entire executive team.

Rick Johnson, expert speaker, wholesale distribution's "Leadership Strategist", founder of CEO Strategist, LLC a firm that helps clients create and maintain competitive advantage. Need a speaker for your next event, E-mail rick@ceostrategist.com


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