INSIGHTS: A series of bite sized chats with Business Leaders
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
Welcome to the first of a series of bite size interviews with Leaders who bring insight into the many aspects of successfully growing a business.
First up, Phil Christmas of The FD Consultant. Phil is a PwC trained accountant who moved on to become a full time CFO for many years and now works as a Consultant to assist a number of growing companies.
How can a CFO help a growing business?
My take on the position of CFO is of someone who has a combination of knowledge, experience and savoir faire.
That’s not to say they know everything in every situation, but they should always be able to bring to the table fresh ideas, rooted in the financial needs and capacity of the business, which can help the entrepreneur take a less risky path, or at least take a path fully aware of the risks it might entail so that the appropriate checks & balances can be put in place.
For example, a business owner/manager is very often very much sales-orientated, as they should be, but may be less aware of the cash requirements needed in order to attain the goals they seek. An experienced CFO can offer the light, or firm, touch on the tiller which might be needed from time to time to keep the business from running aground.
A good CFO can help with processes, planning and critical thinking in addition to improving management information.
What are the benefits of a CFO consultant as opposed to a full time CFO?
Start ups, almost by definition, have many ideas and great concepts but few resources. One of the best ways to get value for money is to “pay-as-you-go”.
A CFO consultant allows you to do just that in a key area of the business. A company will often start with an agreement for a couple of days a month, often to help with cashflow and/or profit projections and perhaps to oversee the numbers prepared by the external accounting firm and, as the business grows, increase the time as necessary, implementing controls, systems, reporting, and recruiting personnel.
As projects are completed the flexibility always exists to move on to a new area or reduce the involvement of the consultant to the core tasks – something that is not so easy with a high-level full-time employee.
Why are you so passionate about helping businesses succeed?
I’m not an entrepreneur myself – I would love to have the ideas to make something useful and then bring it to fruition – but I can use my skills in a way that complements that process and hopefully helps provide those ideas with a greater opportunity to find their place in the market and succeed.
Everyone has their place, and mine is generally to help provide the information (both financial and general) necessary and bring some order, control and strategic thinking to give a business the best chance to do well.
What do you love most about being a CFO consultant?
The variety. One day you can be helping a company source ingredients for a new food product, the next reporting monthly results to an institutional investor, and the day after discussing the cost of patent registrations around the world with another client’s lawyers.
The dynamics – the change in context, the change of scenery, and the change in the people involved - for me provides a real buzz.
Can you give us an example where you've exceeded a client's expectations?
Perhaps my favourite example comes from a time when I was working as CFO on an international roadshow. One day, the colourful owner / business entrepreneur was indisposed and unable to make his presentation to some important potential investors. So I had to step in. To the amazement of the investment bankers, that day we had a higher take-up on the shares than on any other day on the entire roadshow!
More recently, I think the thing that most impresses clients is the ability to react and respond quickly – for me two days a month is in no way restricted to 16 hours over two days each month followed by a “goodbye, see you next month” – I am almost always available and will always let the client know by return if I cannot respond in short order.
What is the best bit of advice that has served you well in your career?
I think probably the same as I would now say to my young son: look, listen, and learn!
Phil is a consultant with The FD Consultant