Key Ingredients for the Right CFO: Interview with Karil Reibold

Interview with CEO Karil Reibold

by Rudi Scheiber-Kurtz, CEO of Next Stage Solutions, Inc

Thank you Karil for taking the time to speak with me on this important subject of how to define the RIGHT CFO for your business.  We get this question quite a bit of just what should the expectations be of a CFO.  CEOs know that Accounting and a CPA are no longer adequate from the Head of Finance.  I thought there is no better way to get some take-aways than from a dynamic CEO.

  • In your past CEO role of a fast growing business, what were the key ingredients you were looking for in finding the right CFO?

I think the most important ingredient that I look for is a business partner.  Some of the key attributes are:  strategic, open minded and able to think out of the box, but must be hands on at the same time.  A CFO, who isn’t afraid to learn the business and understands and supports the catalysts to growth (spending money on the right things).   Also, critical is their ability to develop and manage people.   This needs to be coupled with a strong sense of fiduciary responsibility to the corporation, its investors, partners and employees.

  • How important was it to you to have a CFO partner who supported and augmented your position in the board meetings?

To me the CFO has a dual reporting structure to the CEO and the board.  Their role is to ensure proper governance and financial reporting.   I think healthy collaboration and disagreement of ideas within the executive team belongs in a staff meeting or strategy meeting.  I encourage that interaction.  But, I feel strongly that those debates should be resolved prior to a board meeting.  The executive team should provide a unified and clear message to the board.  That isn’t to say opinions are not welcome from the executive team, it just means we don’t second guess our decisions at the board level.  This means no surprises.  The board has two roles.  The first role is they provide fiduciary oversight for all stakeholders of the company.  I define stakeholders to be investors, partners and employees.  The second role of the board is to challenge the strategy and provide feedback to the executive team on the vision, mission, goals and progress against those goals.  So often, I see executive teams bring problems to their board without a well thought out solution.  This is a slippery slope.  From the CFO perspective their role is to support the CEO and the rest of the team with well vetted financial models that ensure the strategy works.

  • Efficiency and Effectiveness are always top of mind. What are your expectations for a CFO to successfully achieve a best practices organization?

Once the business model has been validated, it becomes all about velocity.  It starts with a clear vision and a set of goals.  These goals translate into roles and responsibilities within the organization.  Automating and process mapping are essential to efficiency and velocity especially in rapid growth businesses.  This needs to be a continuous improvement loop because times change and people get stuck in doing what we always did.  I am also a strong believer that a broken or missing process is usually the issue when the “blame game” happens in an organization.  The blame game is usually played cross functionally where dependencies from one group are impacting the other.  Usually people are blamed, but I always look to what is wrong with the process.

  • What are some of lessons learned in not having the right CFO and how did it affect your business or business that you have worked with?

I think the number one lesson that I have learned and encountered is that there is a perception that a CFO isn’t needed until a certain point in a company’s life cycle.  By not bringing them in soon enough, the CFO is faced with getting up to speed quickly in a rapid growth environment without the necessary infrastructure or employees in place.  I think the perception comes from a number of factors.  The first is a preconceived idea of what the CFO’s profile should look like.  With many potential outcomes for the business, CEO’s struggle to figure out what is the right resource for some point down the road and do not realize the challenges right now.  I think the second factor is that CFO’s need to bring a balance of being strategic, hands on and have the ability to learn the business and manage multiple stakeholders.  No small task.  The CFO needs to think broader than just the financial.  They are not counting cash but providing strategy and leadership and value to the organization in other ways than just the perception that they are the fiduciary stewards.

  • What recommendations do you have in terms of expectations setting for your future CFO?

Be strategic, yet fiscally responsible, understand the business drivers, don’t just be the “no” guy.  Look at what the business needs, anticipate future funding and cash flow and see around corners.  Figure out where to invest resources to achieve huge success.  Be open to learning and collaborating, and developing a solid team. And don’t forget to roll up your sleeves.

Karil Reibold’s Bio

Karil Reibold has over 20 years of experience as a results driven senior operating executive helping companies define their organizational strategy and how they execute to achieve results that drive stakeholder value.  In her career, she has raised in excess of $300 million in debt and equity financing.

Most recently, she served as the CEO and President of Whaleback Managed Services were she was responsible for creating a culture to deliver a best in class managed service offering which drove revenue growth for over 16 consecutive quarters. Karil’s work as an Executive in Residence at Norwest Venture Partners allowed her to work with portfolio companies to define the right go-to-market strategy, build the right team and drive shareholder value.

Karil has a passion for innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity and a strong sense of commitment to her community and the investment in future generations.

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