REDIRECTED Interim CFO – what to look for when hiring this critical role

One of the biggest mistakes private equity funds make when searching for an interim CFO for their portfolio company is looking for someone who can do everything a full-time CFO would. Searching for this diamond-in-the-rough candidate ends up taking just as long as it would take to find a full-time candidate, and in the meantime, the portfolio company is without a strong financial advisor.

Instead of wasting time and money looking for an interim candidate who can do everything, PE funds should concentrate on the three most important things they want their CFO to achieve in the two to six months that they’ll be at the company. Do you need to push through key changes in specific business areas? Do you need to identify internal control shortcomings and their associated risks? Choose the interim CFO candidate who can address your most pressing needs.

 

The Four Qualities of a Successful Interim CFO


While an interim part-time CFO may not be the agent of change that a full-time CFO will be, they should have qualities that allow them to quickly onboard and effectively solve problems in the short time they’re with the portfolio company. Characteristics to look for in an interim CFO include:

  • Strong Collaborative Skills—An interim chief financial officer needs to build a strong relationship with both the PE fund and the portfolio company leaders. They also need to build trust with the portco’s in-house finance team. This requires transparency and a willingness to collaborate.
  • Ability to Adapt Quickly—Since they’ll be with the portco for a limited time, a temporary CFO needs to hit the ground running. They should work with the PE fund to quickly define goals, requirements, and deliverables for the company’s transition period. Ideally, the interim CFO should have experience in the portco’s industry so that there isn’t a steep learning curve.
  • Desire to Solve Immediate Problems—An outsourced CFO should be someone who’s excited to jump in and solve the three most important, immediate challenges that the PE fund has identified. The CFO should recognize that they may not see the full results of their efforts before they leave, but that they’ll be making others on the portco’s team look good.
  • Excellent Communication Skills—An interim CFO should be adept at interpreting financial data and presenting it clearly to the leadership team. Strong communication skills will help the CFO quickly establish credibility with their team and smooth the transition post-acquisition.

Narrowing Down Your Interim CFO Candidates

As you narrow down your pool of interim CFOs, review each candidate’s career moves carefully. If a candidate has a new job every year but isn’t a professional temporary CFO, that could be a red flag. If they are a professional CFO consultant who has worked with many different companies, see what experience they’ve had in your portco’s industry and with similar challenges.

When interviewing your final candidates, ask for references. Tell each candidate which references you want to see rather than just taking the ones they give you. When you talk to their references, ask them how the interim CFO addressed their most pressing issues. You should look for a candidate who has completed the same types of goals that you have identified as being the most important for your portco right now.

Finally, don’t waste your own team’s time going down rabbit holes as you search for an interim CFO. BluWave can connect you with custom-fit interim CFO candidates and vet each provider to narrow down the field. Our research-intensive, private equity-tested approach can get you better outcomes and save you thousands on direct opportunity costs. Set up a call with us to learn more about how we can help you find the right interim CFO for your portco.

In The Know: Interim Executives

As part of an ongoing series, we’re sharing real-time trending topics we are hearing from our 500+ PE firm clients. In our most recent installment, one of our Managing Consultants, Keenan Kolinsky, talks about one of the ways private equity firms are responding to The Great Resignation – Interim Executives. He shares why the need for interim executives is rising in private equity, how they can be used, and why they are beneficial especially to PE firms.

Interested in learning more about interim executives, how our clients have utilized them, and how we help? Check out our Interim Executives Hub to find case studies, scorecards, and more.

You can also learn more from Keenan in the video below.

Interested in connecting with an interim executive? Contact us here or click the “start a project” button above. We would be happy to promptly begin assisting you.

 

 

 

Event Recap: PEI Ops Partner Forum: What makes a great PE talent partner?

Last week, we had the pleasure of participating on the “what makes a great PE talent partner?” panel at the PEI Operating Partners Forum in New York. The panel was comprised of human capital leaders – including, Merche del Valle of Grain Management, Alice Mann of Blue Wolf Capital Partners, Ashley Day, a former Chief Talent Officer, and Michelle Nasir of Arsenal Capital Partners.

It was great to be in person with over 200 leading PE ops partners and to have a discussion with those that are talent-focused about what their jobs look like, now that talent operating partners make up 34% of all operating partners, versus the 3% that comprised the PEI ops partner forum 3 years ago.

We have seen the increase in human capital importance firsthand, with our proprietary data showing human capital initiatives increasing to 39% of PE activity this quarter compared to 17% in Q1 2018.

In addition to the increase of importance that has been placed on human capital initiatives in PE, data has shown that they have also become wide-ranging, covering everything from interim leadership to exec assessment diligence.

Given this context going into the panel on what makes a great PE talent partner, the below are some of the topline takeaways:

  • Talent roles vary widely across funds:
    • When talking to other panelists, we discovered that some of their talent roles are more internally focused on HR within the PE firm itself, and some are exclusively externally focused on portco executives only. It was also discovered that roles vary additionally by how and when they get involved.
  • Working with the deal team:
    • The panelists all agreed there have been changes in the amount of time available to fully execute on all of the responsibilities that may have fallen on talent in the past. They said that with this change, funds need to be more regimented and prioritized in terms of how and where they spend their talent team’s time.  In terms of executive assessments, interestingly—some assessments have become less comprehensive.  BUT, funds have also become more creative with deploying assessments given the tight market. Many are giving offers that are contingent on assessments and background checks going well.
    • For work with deal teams—the primary takeaway is that the earlier involvement, the better.  Roles amongst our panelists truly varied as to when they got tapped and for how comprehensive a remit, i.e. “do this assessment” vs “ride along on the deal execution to help us spot red flags.”
  • Pressurized market:
    • Funds have become more regimented due to Covid.  They have discovered efficiencies in the process that were developed during the times when everyone was remote and are now helping funds keep up in a highly pressurized market. These playbooks and scorecards have been developed for both internal hiring and monitoring the health of various portcos from a human capital perspective, i.e. turnover, depth of exec bench, etc.

If your firm needs human capital help, we can help make the job easier by connecting you with exact-fit interim executives, HR diligence providers, executive assessment providers, and more. Contact us here if we can be of help and check out our Interim CFO Hub to learn more about how interim executives can benefit you.

PE Human Capital Event Recap

Every quarter we bring together top PE HR and talent executives to discuss current industry topics and to offer leaders in PE Human Capital the chance to gather, share intel, and decompress with one another. In our most recent event, we discussed many topics and listed our top takeaways below. 

These forums are invite-only and follow Chatham House Rules, so listed below are high-level takeaways only. Are you in private equity and interested in joining fellow leading PE professionals during our next Human Capital Forum? Please contact us at events@bluwave.net. 

Hiring Portco Execs   

  • Hiring the “perfect fit” executive for portcos is taking much longer, and many search firms and recruiters are tapped out.  Firms are getting more proactive—even engaging specialist recruiters before the deal closes.   
  • Many shared tips including focusing on the journey of a candidate—ensuring every interaction involves selling the value of your company and assessing the skill set of the candidate.  And when they find the right person, they are moving quickly.   

Attracting and retaining internal PE talent  

  • To find people (particularly at the senior associate and VP levels), funds are considering hiring off-cycle and considering non-traditional (non-banking) backgrounds, and committing to onboarding and training. Firms are offering mentorship opportunities with VPs or MDs and regular check-ins—proactively soliciting feedback from junior team members to unearth previously un-voiced concerns and providing them a “safe place” in which to do it.  
  • Many are leaning into the culture within the firm.  Branding has become even more important for both fundraising and attracting talent.   
  • Some firms are leaning into further defining career paths for juniors versus the historical opacity.  Junior talent will get poached if you are not clearly communicating how they stand within the fund.   

Lessons learned from hybrid and remote arrangements 

  • Hybrid flexibility varies by firm—some are full-time in-person, some are requiring in-person on certain days, others offering full hybrid with the expectation of in-person during a prescribed number of times per month.  Flexibility is the current perk du jour.  Try the best model for your office, and regularly reflect on whether it is working. It is ok to revisit your model and make changes if needed.   

We appreciated this latest session bringing together leaders in PE Human Capital, enabling peer-to-peer discussions on current industry hot topics. During our last quarter, Human Capital projects comprised 40% of our overall project mix, so we are well equipped and ready to help you with those needs. 

Interested in learning about how we can help you instantly access PE-grade specialized recruiters, organizational effectiveness advisors, compensation study providers, interim talent, and other custom fit human capital resources you may need? Check out our case studies here. If you have an immediate need, contact us here and one of our team members will be in touch shortly, we’ll be happy to help.

Interview With Forrester’s CMO Executive Partner Sheryl Pattek

As Forrester’s Executive Partner serving CMOs and Chief Experience Officers, partner, Sheryl Pattek regularly works with senior-level marketing executives to advance their major initiatives, with a special focus on creating customer-obsessed strategies that drive business growth. She has been named “CMO Whisperer” and “One of 18 People in Marketing You May Not Know, but Should,” as well as “one of the thirty most influential women in marketing technology.” Prior to joining Forrester, Sheryl spent over 30 years leading global marketing organizations for both Fortune 500 and early-stage companies in the logistics, transportation, software, software-as-a-service (SaaS), technology, and telecommunications industries.

Are you impressed yet?

Candidly, as a career marketer, she is both inspirational and intimidating at the same time; but gratefully acknowledges she is continually learning and transforming just like the rest of us. When I requested an interview recently, she graciously accepted and dropped knowledge in areas ranging from how to measure marketing success to why interim CMOs are more important now than ever.

Kyle Johnson: Why is due diligence in digital marketing important?

Sheryl Pattek: When you are doing M&A it is imperative to dig in to see what is really there, versus what you are being told on the surface. As today’s consumers and business buyers prefer to engage in digital channels, it is important to understand the tech stack and get a picture of what products are currently used to manage overall customer engagement. It’s also extremely important to know what the data looks like (is it “clean” data or does it need extrapolation) and who owns the data. To create a connected customer experience in today’s digital environment both a strong tech stack and robust data are critical. Customers will accelerate decision-making if they have a good experience, and if not they will “vote with their feet” (and go right out the door) as the saying goes. So, digging into both areas to ensure they are solid is vital to achieving the value a specific M&A is looking for.

KJ: How do you measure the ability of a company’s marketing function?

SP: In terms of its ability to drive growth, the first thing I look at is the business plan and the marketing plan to determine if they are aligned. In a B2B environment, marketing is seen as a driver of growth, owning part of the pipeline and new customer acquisition, in addition, to cross-sell and upsell opportunities. So, alignment between the business and marketing plan ensures that the marketing team will deliver or exceed expectations. Next, I look at the KPIs to see if they map to business outcomes: I want to know the length of time it takes for a customer to make a buying decision, how many “touches” until someone buys, what the ROI looks like, and if they are doing attribution in a way that is actionable. Once I understand the baseline, I try to assess whether or not the existing marketing team has the core capabilities in place to implement go-to-market plans, customer acquisition strategies, or continuous improvement processes. Beyond that, do they have the ability to make data-based decisions and a 360-degree understanding of their customer base.

KJ: Is interim/fractional CMO a thing? Are you seeing this trend post-Covid?

SP: It is definitely a thing and a model that is growing quickly for several reasons. For midsize companies, the interim model is an efficient way of covering a tremendous amount of ground in a short period of time. Typically, as you likely know, it takes at least four to five months to find a full-time marketing executive. Then, once they are on-boarded, understand the business, and start having an impact, you are talking at least six to nine months. Even then, you don’t really know if you have the right fit.

The fractional model allows you to hit the ground running with very specific deliverables in a short period of time. It enables you to then iterate quickly. If you are midsize to a smaller company, you may have a marketing organization of doers in place. An interim CMO can quickly provide strategy and some leadership to kickstart results and accelerate growth. Then, you’d have the flexibility to bring in a fractional CMO episodically, as needed.

KJ: Any insight for hiring a fractional CMO?

SP: If you’re a CEO looking for interim talent, my number one suggestion is to not do it on your own. By tapping into experienced, robust networks, you can find a resource that fits culturally, skills-wise, industry knowledge-wise, and many times even geographically. The typical CEO is not going to have a deep well of interim experts at their disposal.

KJ: What is marketing’s role in creating value for a company?

SP: First and foremost, building and driving a growth engine. Second, bringing customer understanding to the c-suite so decisions are made from the outside in. Third, typically marketing is thought of as owning the company brand. But I prefer to think about the value marketing creates as going beyond just the brand. It’s marketing’s role to link together the brand’s value, the customer’s experience, and employee’s experience to provide the necessary underpinnings of the growth engine.

KJ: Last but not least, what is one marketing trend you’re seeing emerge in 2021.

SM: There are quite a few, but the one companies need to adjust for now is related to data privacy and the changes being made with regard to third-party cookies. These sweeping changes underscore the importance of first-party data. In short, companies who own their own data will win.

The year of specialized work and continued recalibration

What better way to kick off 2021 than with some age-old wisdom from the most outstanding figure in medicine, Hippocrates: “Persons in whom a crisis takes place pass the night preceding the paroxysm (spasm) uncomfortably, but the succeeding night generally more comfortably.”

In other words, if last year was the “uncomfortable paroxysm” then this year should be markedly less so, as most of us have adjusted to the new normal. Yes, things are still a little shaky, but at least we aren’t at the height of the disruption. In fact, in many cases it seems companies are embracing the changes and shifting their hiring practices and organizational frameworks to include more remote workers.

According to a recent World Economic Forum report: “41% of companies plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work” and as a result of the COVID-19 recession, “day-to-day digitalization has leapt forward, with a large-scale shift to remote working and e-commerce, driving a surge in work-from-home arrangements and a new marketplace for remote work.”

Another interesting insight based on a four-year projection by the authors, “by 2025, the time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal. A significant share of companies also expect to make changes to locations, their value chains, and the size of their workforce due to factors beyond technology in the next five years.”

However, despite these shifts and focus on technology, it still holds true that “despite the current economic downturn, the large majority of employers recognize the value of human capital investment.”

As far as the future is concerned — namely for those willing to innovate, get creative, and adapt — opportunities abound. Furthermore, specialized workers and the demand for expertise will continue to grow as companies recalibrate. The intended result: workforces and an economy that comes back stronger, more resilient, and better equipped to adapt to future disruptions.

 

To read the full WEF “Future of Jobs Report” click here.

How We Did It: Interim CFO Case Study

Leveraging our founder’s 20 years in private equity, we have extensive frameworks for assessing PE-grade interim CFOs. So, when a private equity firm purchased multiple I.T. managed services provider companies with the intention of integrating them into one streamlined platform, they turned to us for their immediate need: finding the perfect fit, interim CFO. Crucially, the candidate they were looking for both understood the I.T. MSP environment and had a proven track record of successful financial integrations.   

For the full story, read the case study here. 

How We Did It: Executive Search Case Study

Finding specialized executive search firms is an area PE funds often seek our assistance, because instead of spending countless hours trying to find the right fit we can quickly match the funds with a series of vetted candidates. So, when our PE fund client acquired a founder-owned business that provides services to the niche power solutions market, they needed deep network connections beyond its immediate purview to source a highly capable CEO with industry experience. 

For the full story, read the case study here.

How Companies Can Leverage Interim Leadership for a World in Flux

A rapid transformation of the global workforce has been taking place, fueled by digital transformation, specialization, and an increasingly on-demand labor pool. This transformation will only accelerate in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. Your company can’t afford to be paralyzed. In fact, when the world starts rotating again, now more than ever you and global workers need to proactively embrace these changes and be ready to act.

Just look at what’s happening at the government level: a task force appointed by the President in order to tackle COVID-19. These experts have backgrounds in healthcare, infectious disease, economics, and infrastructure. Within a few months, they will have done their duties and will likely be off to fight the next battle. Perhaps a few will stay on longer-term to help rebuild critical healthcare infrastructure that was so clearly lacking.

In other words, having a leadership team that’s dynamic and flexible—given the rapidly changing needs of businesses—is going to be more important than ever within the next three to six months and beyond. The emerging alternative work arrangements are a win-win for both businesses in need and interim leaders with specialized skills. Highly trained professionals will embrace the opportunity to stay relevant, add value, and keep their options open while the economy comes back to life, and companies will be able to stay agile and bring in exacting expertise. Both will be able to see if a longer-term, full-time role is mutually attractive without the expectation and challenge of making a commitment in a highly fluid environment.

These interim leaders can focus on having the maximum positive impact on the company for however long they’re in their role. And the good news for organizations: as everyone is becoming more equipped to work virtually, you don’t have to wait for these people in person. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you leverage interim leaders in the coming months.

Have a specific idea of what you want interim leaders to accomplish
Companies shouldn’t measure the performance of interim leaders in the same way as full-time employees. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have high expectations (you absolutely should), but it’s essential to recognize how their roles are unique. The first principle with interim leaders should be: do no harm. No matter what, you want the ship to keep moving forward and not disrupt momentum, which means having a tight focus on what you want done within a specific timeframe. For example, what are your top three goals within the first three to six months? By emphasizing well-defined tactical targets instead of overarching strategic goals, you’ll be deploying interim leaders as efficiently as possible.

Transparency and accountability are two of the most important traits for interim leaders, which is why interim leaders and their managers should have an open discussion about what goals they’re trying to accomplish right at the outset. When interim leaders help their colleagues develop a set of concrete outcomes to pursue and metrics for measuring success, this won’t just increase performance – it will also improve morale by giving team members a clear idea of what they’re working toward.

According to Gallup, “mission-driven workgroups suffer 30 percent to 50 percent fewer accidents and have 15 percent to 30 percent less turnover.” However, only 40 percent of employees “strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their job is important.” This is why it’s vital to outline what the mission is and what steps the company is taking to accomplish it. If anything, interim leaders are under even more pressure to outline exactly what outcomes their teams are trying to achieve – they’re hired with specific targets in mind and they typically have to rigorously adhere to set timeframes.

Without establishing well-defined goals, it’s impossible to hold interim leaders accountable. The alternative workforce is built around accountability, for both independent workers and the companies that hire them. Just as companies want to know if potential leaders have a proven record of finishing projects on time and under budget, good leaders want the ability to prove what they’re capable of by pointing to what they’ve accomplished.

Treat interim leaders like full-time teammates
Interim leaders are recruited because they offer a specialized set of skills that a company’s current workforce can’t provide. To be as effective as possible, however, these leaders should work within the existing protocols and expectations – as well as the current structure and culture of the company – to be as productive as possible without becoming disruptive. They should be treated like full-time resources.

Many organizations hire interim leaders with the expectation that these professionals have specialized expertise and thus should know what to do or will require little management. This approach doesn’t work with full-time executives and will also not work with interim leaders. You still need to manage them with care to enable them to support your organization’s success and achieve desired objectives.

According to Deloitte, despite the fact that American employers are increasingly reliant upon alternative workers, only 28 percent say they’re “ready or very ready” to manage these types of workforces. While just 8 percent of companies report that they have “established processes to manage and develop alternative workforce sources,” almost a quarter have “little to no processes.” The rest are somewhere in between.

This means interim leaders will also have to step up to address this lack of capabilities and processes by proactively engaging with permanent team members right away (asking what they need and what major obstacles they face, for example), starting conversations about reasonable goals and how to achieve them, and familiarizing themselves with the company’s culture and operations as quickly as possible. Companies will be on a steep learning curve with the alternative workforce for years to come, so alternative workers themselves need to equally take responsibility in the meantime.

Why flexibility should be a top priority across the company
The most common mistake people make when they think about the alternative workforce is to reduce it to the gig economy. A surging number of highly trained specialists like the flexibility that alternative work arrangements provide. CFOs, CTOs, and other members of the C-suite want to be more selective with the types of work they do and are open to moving from project to project while waiting to find the right long-term opportunity. This allows them to expand their skill sets, network, and secure long-term positions that will ultimately be better for them and the companies they work for.

And this demand for flexibility extends to other workers as well. According to a 2019 survey conducted by FlexJobs, 80 percent of employees said they would be more loyal to their companies if they had flexible work options, 65 percent said they would be more productive if they could work from home, and almost one-third reported that they had actually left a job due to a lack of flexibility.

None of this will come as a surprise to interim leaders – after all, they likely decided to join the alternative workforce for similar reasons. This is why they should be especially sensitive to the changing demands of American workers and do their best to provide flexibility wherever possible. This could mean any number of things – from providing remote work opportunities to instituting intelligent flexibility that allows for less rigid scheduling while not sacrificing productivity.

Specialized leaders from the alternative workforce are uniquely positioned to address the new normal that will require on-demand expertise in rapidly changing environments. If they combine their needed capabilities with an outcome-oriented mindset and the ability to merge their talents with a company’s existing culture and operations, they’ll be a powerful productive force for the future of work while simultaneously helping to rebuild the global economy.