Seven tips for interim CFO’s of PEG portfolio companies; part 4 of 7

This is part four of a seven-part series of tips for interim CFO’s at companies in the portfolio’s of private equity groups.  These tips are intended for financial professionals who already have the skills and experience to be a successful CFO at a typical mid-market company.  They specifically address the differences between being a CFO at a typical mid-market company and being an interim CFO at a growth-oriented mid-market company in the portfolio of private equity group.

Tip#1:  Be an ambassador

Tip #2:  Be the advance team

Tip #3:  Know the exit strategy

Tip #4:  Get to know the portfolio

The strategy of a company in the portfolio of a PEG may be related to other companies in the portfolio, so get to know the other companies and their CFO’s.  Situations that present a win-win situation for two companies in the same portfolio are particularly advantageous.  Do not hesitate to help the other sister-companies when requested or to seek assistance from the other companies when needed.   Opportunities range from sharing advice on vendors and customers, or sharing policies and procedures to sharing employees, cooperative marketing or even joint ventures.

Help other employees understand how the portfolio may impact the company’s strategy and how helping the sister companies can help their company and even benefit them personally when their efforts are reciprocated, which they usually are.

Seven tips for interim CFO’s of PEG portfolio companies; part 3 of 7 – Understand the exit strategy

This is part three of a seven-part series of tips for interim CFO’s at companies in the portfolio’s of private equity groups.  These tips are intended for financial professionals who already have the skills and experience to be a successful CFO at a typical mid-market company.  They specifically address the differences between being a CFO at a typical mid-market company and being an interim CFO at a growth-oriented mid-market company in the portfolio of private equity group.

Tip #1:  Be an ambassador

Tip #2:  Be the advance team

Tip #3:  Understand the exit strategy

Most companies make money on the bottom line.  As CFO’s, that is ordinarily our obsession.  PEG’s primarily make money by buying and selling companies. Obviously, improving the bottom line is one way to boost the value of the company, but it is not the only way.  The strategy should always be in the long-term interest of the company, but also in the short-to-mid-term interest of the shareholders.  Building the company in a way that will fetch the highest price at exit sometimes leads to a different strategy than a company might take if it is solely concerned with the bottom line.

For example, adding new customers may in some cases reduce your gross margin percentage and do little for your bottom line, but it will diversify your customer base (reducing risk) and might increase your top line enough to “move the needle” for prospective strategic buyers.  Another example is a particularly risky product line that is currently profitable may discourage prospective buyers when trying to sell the company, or distract the focus from the product lines that are the most marketable to potential strategic buyers.

As the interim CFO, make sure you understand the exit strategy and any related confidentiality issues.  Help other key employees understand this so they do not get frustrated when they see decisions being made that do not seem to contribute to the bottom line.

Seven tips for interim CFO’s of PEG portfolio companies; Part 2 of 7

This is part two of a seven-part series of tips for interim CFO’s at companies in the portfolio’s of private equity groups.  These tips are intended for financial professionals who already have the skills and experience to be a successful CFO at a typical mid-market company.  They specifically address the differences between being a CFO at a typical mid-market company and being an interim CFO at a growth-oriented mid-market company in the portfolio of private equity group.

Tip #1:  Be an ambassador

Tip #2:  Be the advance team

Picture yourself on the Starship Enterprise, about to be beamed down as a key member of an advance team whose mission it is to make the first contact with an alien planet.  As the interim CFO, you need to be the advance team for the incoming permanent CFO and possibly also the incoming CEO, or other key employees.

  • You need to determine the company’s top priorities.  Do not assume the priority list Capt. Kirk gave you is complete.  Do not disregard your instructions, but use your own judgment as well.  Get as many of the top priorities completed as possible during your time and tee up the others for the incoming team.  Make it so, Number One!
  • Build a Starfleet Galactic Memory Bank.  You need to obtain information and organize it in a way that will allow efficient access. Microsoft Sharepoint and Dropbox are two of the tools I recommend.  You may need to dig to obtain the missing information.  It may take you weeks or months to assemble and organize all the pertinent information (corporate documents, leases, contracts, tax records, employee files, sales history, etc.) but when you are done, the new team will have all it all at their fingertips.  They will not appreciate you for it, but don’t take it personally.  They didn’t fully appreciate Mr. Spock either, and he was awesome.
  • Document things:  the monthly close procedures, the GL structure, threats and opportunities, unfinished business, vendor assessments, etc., etc., etc.  If you think your verbal instructions will be retained, you are sadly mistaken.  The incoming team will be overloaded with new information and they will forget so much of what you tell them, you will wonder if you were speaking in Vulcan.  Put it in writing.  Keep a copy for yourself.  Be prepared to refer to your own notes when they contact you with questions long after your mission is complete.

When you have determined the priorities, completed as many as possible, and organized the information that will allow the incoming team to hit the ground running, you can prepare to be beamed up.

Seven tips for interim CFO’s of PEG portfolio companies; Part 1 of 7

This is part one of a seven-part series of tips for interim CFO’s at companies in the portfolio’s of private equity groups.  These tips are intended for financial professionals who already have the skills and experience to be a successful CFO at a typical mid-market company.  They specifically address the differences between being a CFO at a typical mid-market company and being an interim CFO at a growth-oriented mid-market company in the portfolio of private equity group.

Tip #1:  Be an ambassador

Think of yourself as the U.S. ambassador to a foreign country where the PEG is in the role of the U.S. government and the company is a developing nation.  The citizens of this country (aka the company’s employees) will think of you initially as an imperialist American pig or, in other words, an extension of the PEG.  You need to convince them you have dual citizenship.

  • They will be a little nervous and they have good reason to be.  They know some of them will lose their jobs or will be reporting to someone new.  They need to understand that it is also a tremendous opportunity for career advancement.  Communicate the following points:
    • The company will be growing rapidly and careers can grow with it.
    • Key employees who make the cut and demonstrate the ability to make a difference often get equity participation or other financial incentives.
    • PEG groups are very well connected to lots of great opportunities and reward good people, even if they leave the company, provided they exit on good terms.
  • They will be defensive.  Don’t ask them why they did something the way they did.  They probably did it that way because it seemed like the best idea at the time.  Instead, pitch alternatives to them and let them know how much you appreciate their input.
  • They will be eager to learn.  Teach.  People are highly motivated when they are learning new skills every day.  Share what you know.  You are there for a short time and your direct impact is limited, but if you leave your knowledge and experience in the hands of the key employees you leave behind, you can have an unlimited impact.
  • Help them understand the differences between a PEG portfolio company and a typical founder-owned business, which is discussed on this website and will be further explained in steps 3-5 of this series.