In this post, we sat down with Jairam Ranganathan, SVP of Product at KeepTruckin, for his insights on what he looks for in a CFO.
In this series of blog posts, we share feedback from executives across different departments regarding what they look for in a CFO. If you’re in the role or looking to land that top spot, here are some things to keep in mind from your peers!
Note: We use “CFO” generally and mean anyone who is the top finance person at the company (VP Finance, Head of Finance). Some questions may apply to the whole finance team as well.
In a few sentences, share more about your current role and your interactions with the finance team and finance leadership.
I am currently the SVP of Product at a company called KeepTruckin, in the fleet management space. In that role, I work closely with the finance team on many different aspects of our business such as - with the CFO on strategic resource allocation, with our head of accounting on various aspects of rev rec related to our COGS, with our FP&A lead on initiatives around margin and retention - amongst many other things.
If you were to interview a CFO candidate (or if you have interviewed a CFO candidate), what are some key points you like to address during the conversation?
In general, the product / tech orgs tend to be harder to quantify in terms of return on incremental investment given the investment horizon for R&D as well as the volatility of returns. One of the big things I have always discussed during interviews with CFO candidates is how to put a structure in place on evaluating R&D investments and how we measure success over time to hold ourselves accountable.
The other part of the equation here that I like to talk about with potential CFO candidates is their perspective on markets and metrics. There is always a trade-off involved in knowing when to focus on various metrics - margin, churn, acquisition, etc - as well as when to enter adjacent / new markets and these need to be always informed by a structured discussion around the financial implications. Great CFOs can provide deep insight into this key question that is critical for a growth company.
Is there anything specific in the candidate’s background you would be interested in? (This can be true for all candidates you interview, and not just the CFO)
When hiring into a leadership role, one thing I like to look for is whether people tend to follow the leader as they switch roles. At the end of the day, the mark of a good leader is the organizations they build and people switching companies to stay with a person is a great sign that the person is deeply respected.
What type of updates do you expect to come from the CFO and how frequently?
In my last 2 companies, we’ve always had really great exec dashboards that gave me a constant overview of the key metrics - both financial and non-financial - for the business. We also had a monthly Budget v Actual sync with the CFO and the finance team to review results and identify problem areas that we need to pay additional attention to. I’ve generally found a monthly cadence to be about right. More frequent and there is very little signal to be had, but less frequent and we can be too slow to react.
How tech savvy do you expect your CFO to be?
I am less concerned about the depth of technical savviness but I do appreciate the CFO having a good sense of the market, customers and the competitive landscape as that can lead to very interesting discussions as we bring in qualitative information into quantitative decisions.
How involved do you expect your CFO to be in financial operations tasks (e.g., equity management, vendor payments, collections, etc)?
While these are clearly critical aspects to running a healthy financial operation, I would expect the CFO to be providing high level oversight while delegating these operations to a strong leader focused on these types of areas.
What tools and processes have worked well for you and your team to communicate with the CFO and finance?
The things we find work really for us are:
Summarize your ideal experience and involvement in the company budgeting process
The budgeting process is inextricably linked to the overall company strategy and thus, I tend to be heavily involved in it. If we can ask hard questions of what we get back in exchange for every dollar of cash invested, this forces tradeoffs at both the tactical and the strategic level that are really healthy for the business.
When people are not aware of the trade-offs, people tend to take myopic views of their area’s critical importance and how it is a must have to invest more and more in their area but when they understand the levers being pulled and how it affects outcomes, people quickly make better choices. So I like to expose my entire team to this process which gives them an appreciation for the choices we make and a healthy respect for spend.
Generally speaking, is there an area of your domain (Product) you think the CFO should be more involved in?
As an IoT company, we make a mix of hardware and SaaS software. This does have some interesting dynamics in that managing our supply chain, managing inventory, etc have a pretty huge impact on cash as well as customer satisfaction. This is an area that I love that my CFO gets pretty deep on and really makes sure we have good forecasts, holds the right inventory levels, knows when to forward invest and knows when to pull back. I really appreciate my CFO leaning in here.
On the other end of the spectrum, generally speaking, is there an area of your domain (Product) you think the CFO should be less involved in?
Most CFOs do not get into the weeds of individual product roadmap choices and operate more at a meta level of product line. To me, this feels perfectly natural and appropriate.
Did we miss anything you would like to share about your experience working with CFOs or finance teams?
These questions were a great opportunity for me to introspect on my relationship with the CFO. I think we covered the key issues and appreciate the thoughtfulness of the questions here!