Sat, Aug

Sticking to the knitting

What would your ideal finance director be like? It’s not a question I ever asked myself until the other day when I got a PDF on the topic from one of those double-barrelled super accountants.

So I looked at the characteristics of this boardroom paragon outlined in the report and asked: how many of these does my finance director have? I’ve worked with Steve for decades but he is not “a great communicator who can win the trust of colleagues across the business”. Nor is he “closer to the customer” than I’d expect him to be, and he rarely pushes himself out of his comfort zones. And for all of that I am, to be honest, profoundly grateful.

There are certain mundane things Steve does very well - he knows is way around a balance sheet, can read a profit and loss statement and has a keen eye on cashflow - and he has a useful knack of asking the sales director appropriately awkward questions such as “Why are we doing this work if we’re not making any money it?”

Without wishing to be grandiose, I was watching ‘The Godfather’ the other day and it occurred to me that good finance directors play the part of a consigliere, like Tom Hagen - the lawyer to the Don Corleone family - someone who can read the tea leaves and give me an honest assessment of how things are going. And having done that, if I disagree with him, I expect him to shut up and back me in public.

That, to my mind, is more important than him being close to the customer. For that matter, I’m not too sure how far put of his comfort zone I want him to go either. Surely his most important job is make sure the business is always in its comfort zone? There’s the old Monty Python sketch about the timid accountant who dreams of being a lion tamer. I don’t want Steve to be timid - but nor do I want him taming lions. I just want him to - and this is a bit of management jargon I haven’t heard for a while - “stick to his knitting”.

The bit of the report that Steve seized on with alacrity was the suggestion that the ideal finance director is a “CEO in waiting”. Before I threw the print out in the bin, I politely suggested that he’d be waiting a while yet.

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