CFO Chats: The first 100 days in the CFO seat

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FNB Botswana’s Luke Woodford shares some reflections on his personal 100-day plan for the CFO role.

We ask this question all the time in interviews: “If you are successful in the role, how will you tackle the first 100 days on the job?”

What usually follows is a wave of very ambitious answers: some structured and some a bit of a shopping list of things to do. It does seem that this question unfortunately often starts and ends in an interview. When the candidate starts the role, there is seldom that “stock take” on day 100 to see what they’ve managed to do and whether they are on track.

In the interview I look for a structured approach to how they plan to get things done. I always want to see that they have people as a priority and that they would seek first to understand before making themselves understood. These test for a culture fit and give insight into how they solve problems.

I’ve changed CFO roles a few times in my career and wanted to share some reflections on my own personal 100-day plans in the CFO seat.

  • Prioritise people including your team, your colleagues and your stakeholders. Any executive role requires a wide range of people engagements for success. One hundred days isn’t a lot of time, but basics like learning names and blocking out time to meet and listen is time well spent. The natural outcome of this is an appreciation of the company culture more than any written culture statement will provide.
  • Understand the rules of the game. One hundred days is enough time to get a good lay of the land; an understanding of key policies and procedures, approval mandates and generally how things get done. The CFO role includes a clear execution mandate and understanding how to get things done is fundamental to success in the role.
  • Put your finger on the pulse. We are immediately accountable for the financial controls of the organisation from day one in the job. We need a quick stock take of these controls and to understand, or establish, the monitoring tools needed so we know if something goes out of balance. More comprehensive reviews will follow, but having our “fingers on the pulse” can prevent a major issue while enhancing the existing controls.
  • Identify and obtain minimum knowledge. There are some things you are expected to know because you hold the position. In my experience, the grace period is approximately 100 days to gain knowledge parity with the role, and so it’s imperative to identify the “must knows” as soon as possible. In one of my roles, I studied the previous five years’ financial results because when meeting investors, it was expected that I’d know those numbers intimately and would have that context of the business when presenting current results. It[s not an easy task, but certainly a CFO can’t operate without context of where a business has come from.
  • Land low-hanging fruit to build early credibility. I try to avoid making significant changes until I understand the nuances of the business, but also try to find something I can land quickly. This helps to build a reputation as someone who delivers. A simple approach is to ask key stakeholders what their pain points are (the CEO or the Audit Committee chairpersons are my go-to) and then try to address these quickly. First impressions last, whether they be positive or negative.

While I still think the 100-day question is a great interview question, I think it’s an even more important question to ask ourselves as a reflection point. We need to start with a plan in mind and make it malleable enough to mould to what we find on the ground when we start. Good luck to those starting new roles!

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