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6 Guidelines for CFO crisis leadership

Of the entire c-suite, CFOs are best-positioned to guide their companies through the pandemic, CFO Leadership Council President Jack McCullough says. From CFO Dive.

CFOs will play a critical role in relaunching their businesses in the coming months. As the member of the executive team who is both a financial specialist and strategic thinker, CFOs will play a critical role in not only ensuring a company’s survival but positioning it for the future, says Jack McCullough, founder and president of the CFO Leadership Council. 

In an interview with CFO Dive and from a recent Forbes piece, McCullough laid out a list of guidelines for CFOs to follow. 

1. Continue over-communicating

McCullough believes the CFO has the most critical voice during a crisis, arguably even more than the CEO's. "When constituents need the unvarnished truth, they turn to finance chiefs," he said. "Your employees, investors, customers and suppliers, on a daily basis, [should be] fully informed and excited by your vision for the future."

McCullough said to CFO Dive that the coronavirus has created two crises: a health crisis and a financial crisis. That second crisis is really the CFO's to resolve. "CFOs tend to be the most trusted executive in the entire company," he said. "CFOs tell the truth plainly and don’t exaggerate. They don’t believe in spin. This is a great time for them to have that role."

2. Take care of your team

In a crisis, it's easy to lose sight of the well-being of team members as you concentrate on the needs of the organization, and yet it's how you treat the people who are working together in the crisis that will really matter.

"This will have more of a long-term economic consequence than 9/11," McCullough said.

The one person whose well-being often gets overlooked is the CEO's, so McCullough advises CFOs not to forget their partnership with the CEO. "As much pressure as you are feeling, he or she is probably feeling more," he said. "Check in on the boss and let her know that you have her back."

3. Develop a liquidity plan

If your company struggles with short-term cash flow, McCullough recommends asking several questions. What is your current access to capital? Are your bankers willing to be flexible in delaying loan payments? How much revenue can your sales team generate in the next 90 days, and how much of it is collectible? Have you spoken to your suppliers about stretching payables? Are you in constant contact with your investors?

Additionally, the cheapest form of capital comes from improving operational efficiency by reducing expenses, McCullough wrote. "This might be an ideal time to evaluate your expenditures, and determine which are [vital] for survival."

4. Engage in Scenario Planning

"There’s a lot of pressure on CFOs to make quick decisions right now," McCullough said to CFO Dive. "But luckily, we’re living in a golden age of financial planning. There are great tools out there for CFOs to model scenarios and work through them."

McCullough advises CFOs to, along with the executive team, develop a wide range of possible outcomes, and from that, a financial plan that will ensure continued success.

5. Show strength

If your company has the means, now may be the time to make the changes and investments you’ve been hoping to. This could mean adopting a new artificial intelligence strategy, or hiring a group of new engineers. "It's a risky strategy, but flexing your muscles when others are showing weakness can pay dividends," McCullough wrote in Forbes.

"This isn’t applicable to everybody," he clarified to CFO Dive. "If you’re struggling to pay your employees, don’t hire any more. But if you can, you certainly should."

6. Rethink your business model

Finally, every organization will have a different business model after the pandemic ends. Now is the time to work with your heads of product, sales, and marketing, to ascertain what you want your company to look like, if you could start from scratch.

No industry is immune to changes. For instance, McCullough said, the neighborhood barber seems like the simplest business model in the world. "But that whole business model is going to change. Are people really going to want to come in? Will it be the same experience?"

Do your best to identify what customers are doing to want going forward, and change the company to meet those new needs, he advises. 

Overall, CFOs are best-positioned to help transform their organizations. They have the "leadership skills, the financial expertise, the strategic thinking and the operational aptitude" to make the best of this situation and guide their companies through.

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