Critical Items on a CFO’s Checklist to Success

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    By James T. Emmerson Jr.

    A successful CFO is the right hand of a successful CEO. They work seamlessly with the CEO and should be able to step in for them if needed.  A successful CFO builds strong relationships with the Stockholders and Board of Directors.  They earn their trust.  Successful CFO’s  are excellent collaborators who work closely with all levels of the company and provides support to the entire team through strong reporting and proactive discussions.  They do not exist a silo. Following is a short list of items that a CFO must address to achieve a level of success:

    The CFO must understand the goals that the Board of Directors or stockholders have determined the company needs to achieve in profitability, growth, and valuation. In order to determine how these goals can be achieved, the CFO must discuss and get agreement on the expected annual revenue increases for current revenue streams, as well as growth of number of new units and additional new revenue streams through sales of new products or new services.  Expected net operating income and EBITDA must also be agreed upon. Market share should also be considered in these discussions.

    The CFO needs to create a roadmap to determine how the company can achieve these expectations. This roadmap determines the timeline to accomplish the expected goals and will ensure that investment dollars are available by developing capital budgets, cashflow and financial projections. 

    The CFO must also ensure that the company has the appropriate human resources available.  If not, what will it cost to recruit and train the needed staff, as well as how long will it take to have them functional.  The CFO must also ensure adequate systems are in place to support this growth. Again, what will it cost to identify specific system requirements, as well as how long will it take to implement and what additional technical staff and expenses will be needed to support these new systems.  Another item to ensure is that there are available marketing dollars, as well as marketing systems to deliver the results.  Your technical and marketing teams may need to utilize 3rd party consultants or systems to achieve the results in a timely manner.   

    Another critical item is to ensure that you have buy-in from the department leads. These are the team leaders on the ground that will perform the tasks to deliver the expected results.  If the team leaders do not believe that their team can deliver the expected results, the CFO in collaboration with the CEO or COO needs to resolve this problem.  Potential adjustments to the goals may be one resolution, as well as potentially making personnel changes at that level.

    Finally, the CFO must prepare detailed 3-to-5-year projections.  These will support the expected results as well as providing the assumptions which support the numbers.  The CFO may also prepare best and worst scenarios to present assuming certain goals may not be achieved.

    Another critical function the CFO must manage is cashflow.  Weekly projections should be performed as far out as at a minimum 12 months. Actual receipts and expenditures of expense and  capital projects should be included in the projection on a weekly basis, thus updating the future projections.  Changes to projects or goals must be reflected in the cash forecasts.  This document is consistently evolving.  It is one of the most important tools that a CFO has.  Cash is one of the most important assets that a company has and needs to be well managed.  The 12 month or longer projection will identify low or negative cash positions and allow for a proactive response.

    A successful CFO must ensure that the assets and intellectual property of the company are protected.  Ensuring  the security of these items can by created by establishing appropriate internal processes that include independent  controls/reviews, as well as creating audit processes for payroll, commissions, expense reimbursements, health benefits, sales, receipts, all types of expenditures, purchasing, fixed assets, financial book keeping and other critical at risk areas.  It is essential to develop approval levels for authorizing various expenses, purchases, executing contracts and agreements, hiring personnel and banking transactions.

    Another critical area that a CFO manages is ensuring that local, state, federal tax and filings and payments are performed on a timely basis.  It is also imperative that providing timely required information to federal agencies, banks, lenders, landlords, stockholders/ Board of Directors or other required recipients are performed timely.

    These are a few of the many items on a CFO’s critical checklist for success.   A CFO should not only be the keeper of the books, but an important player in the company’s executive decision making team.  The CFO (also known as the Chief Future Officer) should have a view of the future as well as an understanding of it’s past performance.  The CFO needs to have  a voice in the development of a company’s strategy. They need to have the ability to manage risk and know the levels of upside or downside may be expected with every decision.  


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    Jim Emmerson
    Jim Emmerson
    James T. Emmerson, Jr. is a distinguished executive renowned for his expertise in finance, operations, and technology, particularly within the franchising, retail, and distribution sectors. As the CEO of JTE Advisory, LLC, he leads franchise advice, consulting, and fractional CFO engagements, boasting accolades such as being named CFO of The Year by NJ Biz in 2018 and CFO Studio in 2015. With a remarkable 24-year tenure as Chief Financial Officer at Huntington Learning Centers, Emmerson played a pivotal role in steering the company through challenging times, preventing bankruptcy, and orchestrating a successful reorganization in 2001. His financial acumen shines through in optimizing gross margins, cash flow, and operational efficiency, while his strategic leadership is evident in board memberships and oversight of various corporate departments. Emmerson's dedication extends beyond the boardroom, with active community involvement and mentoring roles, reflecting his commitment to excellence and community engagement.