Beyond the balance sheet

Oct 15, 2023

Modern chief financial officers have evolved from controllers to multi-faceted strategic catalysts.

What is the role of today’s chief financial officer? (Hint: there’s more than one.) Historically, CFOs were more like controllers, focused on closing the books, making sure that a company was compliant for audit, paying taxes, and distributing the financial statements. The role has evolved. The responsibilities of today’s CFO have expanded, requiring financial leaders to be grounded in all operational and performance elements of a company. That doesn’t override the value of corporate finance basics, but it does mean CFOs are increasingly required to be well-versed in the strategic administration and management of the company. This wasn’t necessarily the case five or 10 years ago.

CFOs are now expected to be strategic catalysts of company growth. This means I’m considering questions like: What are we doing to make sure we’re adequately positioned from a cash perspective? What are some of the avenues that we’re looking into in terms of M&A, geographical expansion, and business diversification? Are we looking at new business lines or new service offerings that we don’t currently have in our suite of offerings and what does it take to do that right?

I know that to be successful, I need to have an awareness of what’s going on across the organization and collaborate effectively with all of the applicable stakeholders. At Garver, I cultivate that awareness by evaluating business line performance; making sure HR strategies align with not only the business lines but with finances and growth; integrating IT strategy from a financial perspective; reaching out to our communications team to make sure we’re effectively communicating the firm’s strategic financial objectives; and working closely with legal to minimize risk and ensure that all of our contracts and payments are in compliance with the law as well as with client expectations. You don’t have to be an expert in these different sectors, but you do have to ask the right questions.

For example, at Garver specifically, we have a relentless pursuit to provide the best employee experience. That costs money, so it’s not just a human resources issue. I have to ask, are we only profit and shareholder driven or can we do both? At Garver, we’ve done a good job of doing both, while also being good stewards of the communities we serve. We’ve figured out a way to do it all. When you sit in this seat you have to balance what makes the most sense and take a long-term, pragmatic look. As I’m planning for the next 20 years, I’m thinking about how we maintain the qualities and core values that make us great.

Since Garver is an employee-owned firm, I also have to focus on how to transition ownership effectively and how to identify and work with the next group of owners. This involves constantly evaluating talent and performance and making sure that the mechanisms are in place to transfer that ownership.

I also closely work with our general counsel to evaluate any risks. If we don’t check all the boxes, the consequences can be very serious, putting the organization at risk and jeopardizing our right to operate. It’s imperative to have well-trained people in place who have the necessary tools to do their jobs effectively and to institute best practices.

Perhaps the most important shift in the role of the modern CFO is one of perspective. It’s a more forward-looking mode, as it should be. I can’t change what happened in the past, but I can ask how past performance sets us up for the future. 

Kyle Lawson is chief financial officer for Garver. Connect with him on LinkedIn

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