The Progression of the CFO Role

September 30, 2021 Lydia Adams

cfo thinking about role progression

The CFO role is one marked by constant progression. Not only have the expectations for the position evolved dramatically in recent years, but to succeed as a CFO, you must be willing to evolve, too, in order to meet the shifting demands of each growth stage your company passes through or the complexities of international business.

Success doesn’t come to CFOs who sit still and our latest guest proves it: Rick Smith is a CFO experienced in leading high-growth VC- and PE-backed companies with revenues in the $20M-$300M range, who has led multiple companies through successful exits. Rick’s background spans a variety of industries, including SAAS, EdTech, healthcare services, advertising/marketing, and retail.

Having been a Controller, FP&A leader, and CFO, Rick’ expertise spans all areas of accounting and finance, including day-to-day accounting and processes, financial systems, buy- and sell-side M&A, financings, capital raising/recapitalizations and international operations. Additionally, Rick has extensive experience managing areas such as Human Resources, Facilities, Data & Analytics, Project Management, and Technology Infrastructure.

The Progression of the CFO Role

Decades ago, the CFO role was primarily an accounting job. Folks would go to school, get an accounting degree, join a firm, then rise to the role of CFO. But over the last decade or so, that role has changed and evolved.

cfo progression quote

A role that was once off to the corners, doing basic office accounting work, now is front and center. The CFO and team are driving value, synthesizing information for the entire business and helping to collectively make decisions.

The CFO Role Across Growth Stages

As a company goes through growth stages, the role of the CFO will naturally have to evolve. The role of a startup CFO looks drastically different than the role of a Fortune 500 CFO.

Venture stage companies often have a conundrum. And that is they can't afford a quality CFO. They might not have enough work to occupy a full-time CFO. Really, what they often end up doing is they just try to get by with a bookkeeper, and this is a mistake. Big accounting mistakes are made when you have a bookkeeper doing the work, because they’re not really focused on doing the accounting.

At the venture stage, if possible, at least invest in a part-time CFO who is highly skilled and can oversee the details to make sure the accounting is being done at a high quality level. A lot of venture firms are willing to invest in that because it helps protect their investment.

rick smith cfo

At a minimum, a company will need different CFOs at the VC and early growth stage. Once you get to the high growth and buyout stage, it becomes much harder to find a single person who is best in class at each stage.

If you want even more information about the role progression of the CFO, it’s evolution over time, and the specifics of the CFO when it comes to international markets, make sure and check out the whole episode.

For more interviews from the CFO Weekly podcast, check us out on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.

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