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  • Matthew Duckworth

What are the personality traits to look for in the best fractional CFOs?




As more fractional CFOs (Chief Financial Officers) and other types of fractional executives become available, it is important that you know the traits to look for in fractional CFOs. The more informed you are about fractional CFOs and how they operate, the easier it will be to locate the perfect one for your firm.

Personality Traits of Great Fractional CFOs

If you need a fractional CFO, what should their personality be like? A driver-pusher? A systems builder? A visionary? Deal maker? A stickler for the details? Great manager?

All of these traits can be important based on what type of business you're in, but - unfortunately - they don't exist in a single person. As a result, assessing which type of CFO you need is important to your company's long-term success.

There are a few traits that are non-negotiable in a fractional CFO no matter what stage your company is at.

TABLE STAKES TRAITS


Truth-teller


Great fractional CFOs challenge your thinking. They will always tell you the truth, even if it hurts because they do not want to see your firm fail.

Fractional CFOs who are weak at being a "truth-teller" will hide bad news from you or fail to deliver it full force with all details included. This type of misinformation can cause you to move slower or to under-prioritize certain things and, ultimately, cause damage to your company.


Grit


Fractional CFOs who are weak in the grit category will not be able to see an issue through. They will make decisions based on their own mood at that given moment and, when something is out of place or does not go according to plan, they will try to fix it with whatever easy option is available rather than working hard for the long-term solution. Ultimately, this weakens your culture and can lead to bad habits of your other people. Without grit, it's difficult to build a company that can withstand the inevitable road bumps that come as you grow.


Results-Oriented


Fractional CFOs who come from a highly standardized, corporate environment or whose experience is mainly accounting-oriented can be excellent maintainers of your systems and can be effective in many situations. What sometimes happens, however, is that success becomes equated with following a set of tasks. For example, if the real goal is to get financials closed by the 10th of the month, we've noticed that task-oriented CFOs and Accountants -- when faced with a situation where they cannot get the information they need to close on time -- will not take full responsibility for getting the information. Instead, they say things like "I emailed him twice about that document and he never responded, so it's not my fault." In addition, it's this same personality type that often has trouble translating your financial statements and the input from your people into practical actions that drive results.

CFO ARCHETYPES

There are three primary archetypes of CFO that each has their place in the world of business and each varies in its vision, leadership style, attention to detail, and skillsets. The three primary archetypes are:

  1. The Operational Leader

  2. The Systems Builder and

  3. The Dealmaker

The Operational Leader


The Operational Leader is an in-the-details, knows-where-every-penny-is-going CFO who will seek to create exceptionally clean, timely financial statements, keep all the company's documents and records organized, and stay ahead of tactical challenges like renewals of lines of credit, cash flow management, and software updates.


Strengths:

  • Attention to detail

  • Tactical execution

  • Fraud is exceptionally difficult when this person is in charge

Weaknesses:

  • Struggles to see larger opportunities

  • Can micro-manage if not aware of their own personality

When to bring in this CFO:

Bring in this CFO when your business requires tight cost control in order to compete. This is an excellent CFO for slower-growing, low-margin businesses like construction, retail, restaurants or commodities manufacturing.


The Systems Builder


The Systems Builder shares some traits of both the Operational Leader and the Dealmaker. This archetype is ideal for entrepreneurs who want to take their company to the next level. People with this personality have strong system-building abilities that aid in the identification and elimination of mistakes while also optimizing processes and adopting best practices while preserving a solid grip on financial output. They are not afraid of change but are capable of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture when necessary.


Strengths:

  • Building scalable systems & processes

  • Ability to tie day-to-day execution to long-term strategy

  • Understands the big picture

Weaknesses:

  • Less intense focus on the day-to-day accounting

  • Needs to partner with a visionary founder in order to have a clear direction

When to bring in this CFO:

Bring in this CFO when you want to scale quickly or are in a state of significant organizational change. This is an excellent CFO for venture-backed technology companies.


The Dealmaker


The Dealmaker is a big picture thinker - much like an internal investment banker or hedge fund manager - who is less focused on the accounting details and more focused on compounding capital by making very shrewd, often bold decisions. This archetype is ideal for business owners who are trying to navigate out of a mediocre business, sell a business, or are in a good business in a very young industry that needs leadership. The Dealmaker CFO is best when partnered with an experienced visionary CEO and strong day-to-day accountant.


Strengths:

  • Identifying opportunity

  • Challenging the status quo

  • Negotiating deals

Weaknesses:

  • Less intense focus on the day-to-day accounting

  • If not highly disciplined can struggle to complete more mundane tasks like records management, paperwork, etc.

When to bring in this CFO:

Bring in this CFO when you want to grow through acquisition or need to completely reinvent your business. This archetype can also make a great advisor.


Where do you go from here?

So there you have it. Every business is unique and requires specific people with specific experiences to do specific jobs. It's our hope this article has given you some specific traits to think about as you're talking to CFO and fractional CFO candidates.


After you've fully thought through which traits you need, feel free to reach out to us to see if we can help you with your business. We can help you find the right fit and help you build a process to identify them.


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