Lab Notes

What Makes a Great CFO at a High-Growth Company

2017 has been a big year for GoKart Labs. This year we’ve successfully launched our second office in Washington D.C. We’ve hired 12 new employees. We’ve also invested more resources and capital into our Ventures team to help support meaningful startups. And it’s only August.

And with new growth come new challenges and new priorities. As we embark on this new phase we’ve also begun searching for our first CFO. Of course this has spurred many dynamic conversations around which characteristics make someone a successful CFO at a high-growth business.

Below are the 8 things that we believe make a CFO successful during times of rapid growth at new and evolving companies.

1. Challenges the Status Quo

While the “same as last year” approach to budgeting, reporting, and planning might work for smaller organizations, it won’t work for a CFO at a company that’s growing quickly. Successful CFOs are independent thinkers who aren’t afraid to challenge assumptions, ask questions, and move towards new solutions, even if that means pushing the organization outside of its comfort zone.

2. Adapts to (and Enjoys) New Technology

Financial professionals who enjoy technology and use it to improve their work processes tend to have a leg up in the CFO role. By understanding that new technology isn’t a burden but rather a tool, CFOs who know how to strategically leverage technology are invaluable to high-growth companies.

3. Is Comfortable with the Unknown

One of the largest challenges for growing companies today is that there are no hard and fast rules. Coming up with processes often means starting with a blank sheet of paper. This is also true for successful CFOs who regularly have to act like pioneers, constantly experimenting, learning, and course-correcting to perfect their processes.

4. Understands the Business Drivers and is a Strategic Finance Wiz

CFOs should have both a firm understanding of their company’s business drivers and the underlying nonfinancial information that may affect finance decisions. By being able to see the broader picture and offering a strong, strategic POV, a successful CFO can be a key changemaker in a growing organization.

5. Is Innately Curious

Successful CFOs are hungry for new experiences and fresh perspectives. They ask questions, make connections, and push themselves and others to solve problems. They don’t think they already know everything and have nothing else to learn.

6. Leads People Masterfully

Great CFOs think and behave like owners. That means guiding, inspiring, and enabling teams vs. policing or regulating them. By earning the respect and trust of their coworkers, CFOs are better able to serve as the catalyst for change that high-growth companies need.

7. Has Exceptional Communication Skills

At a time when people are increasingly skeptical of organizations, the best companies embrace transparency and constant communication with employees. Great CFOs excel in this type of open environment.

8. Has a Strong Sense of Integrity

Lastly, having a strong moral compass and sense of integrity is important to being an exceptional CFO. At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to make sure the company’s finances are kosher and having a strong moral compass alongside a strategic mind and strong grasp of the law are all imperative to working effectively.

Clearly there are many important characteristics that make one a successful CFO at a company in the midst of significant growth. What other traits do you believe are important? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you think that you or someone you know would make a stellar CFO at GoKart Labs, please apply here.

A stirred—not shaken—cocktail of cool calculation and wild creativity, Don is the high-beam examination of all things we create, build and release to the world, keeping us on-task, on-budget and all of our work on-point. He’s also a freakishly fine musician, as well as the spark that ignited an online education revolution.

  1. Great thoughts and job posting! A commitment to customer first (internal or external) tied only with employee first. Develop and challenge the organizational talent and they will pass it along to those the serve (customers and team).

  2. A great CFO also not only operates with a balanced scorecard approach but also invokes others to operate in a similar capacity. Status quo in not an option. Everything is open to review all the time. The ability to develop environments that embrace a continuous improvement philosophy is a must.