Fayetteville, Ark. – For many leaders in architecture, engineering, planning and environmental firms, a finance chief’s job goes beyond managing finances.
When editors of The Zweig Letter asked for comments on the topic for an article published in the July 25 edition of the weekly management publication, all agreed that a successful CFO displays strong leadership capabilities and plays a major role in the strategic positioning of the company’s interests, ultimately contributing immensely to growth.
Woodard & Curran, an engineering, science, and operations firm, based in Portland, Maine, cites the desire for a strong, vested senior executive who could help the firm manage its growth strategically as the primary reason for a recent CFO transition, CEO Douglas McKeown told TZL.
“One risk to watch out for with CPA-trained CFOs (which I think is important) is the tendency to let their audit background creep in to the point where they are telling you what you can’t do vs. what you can do,” McKeown said. “I think they are conditioned to find what might be wrong against a prescribed audit process and to report that vs. looking for what might be possible. But that skill— when managed right— is very valuable. It just can’t dominate their perspective.”
Carl von Hake, CFO of JBA Consulting Engineers in Las Vegas, Nev., comments on this phenomenon, “I think the reason why many accounting folks tell people what they can’t do is because the accounting staff becomes the keeper of processes, policies and procedures. When these are violated, the accounting staff tries to keep it from happening and, on the back end, becomes the snitch,”
“A finance chief has to be a trusted advisor and not just someone who puts numbers into reports,” von Hake added.
Beyond the given technical ability to juggle the numbers, empathy was among the most attractive CFO traits listed by leaders.
A fear or unwillingness to share bad news, closed-mindedness, and operating with a closed-door policy are additional undesirable penchants, as well as providing data in a way that cannot be easily interpreted, said Herman Thun, principal architect for LZT Architects, Inc. in Austin, Texas.
“Our CFO is doing a great job because she keeps me informed regularly of our cash flow needs, our aged accounts, our yearly budget, our direct vs. indirect percentage, and she keeps on top of the invoicing cycle,” he says. “She is also knowledgeable about various projects, is open to discussing invoicing issues on projects, is very approachable, understands the business of architecture, is friendly, keeps an open link with other CFOs, is honest, and is willing to change course in the middle of the stream.”