Straight Answers to Real Questions
Question: I own a $35mm environmental remediation company and I’m in the market for a VP Finance to replace the incumbent who’s leaving for greener pastures. I was thinking about using an executive search firm to do a search for me but before I actually did anything about it I’ve had someone referred to me. This person is a CPA, and seems to have some pretty solid experience as a VP Finance in auto parts manufacturing. This person was referred to me by a mutual friend who speaks well of him and although so far I’ve only met with him briefly over coffee, he seems like a good guy and I’m tempted to just run with him and forgo the time and expense of the executive search process. Any thoughts?
Answer: Being an executive recruiter who specializes in recruiting CFOs for owner-managed companies, of course my first thought is that you should use me to conduct the search. But since that may seem like shameless self-promotion, let me give you the argument for doing a full blown search.
If you and I sat down and did a deep dive into your business – your current situation, your plans for the future, existing and anticipated threats and opportunities, etc., we would come up with a very specific list of criteria that any prospective candidate would have to have in order to be truly successful in the position. These criteria would encompass systems knowledge, cash management and financing, business and financial analysis etc., in addition to direct industry experience and expertise in any special projects you may have in mind such as expansion plans, systems conversions or major capital expenditures.
It’s possible that the person you met has most of those criteria, but it’s not probable. That’s not to say that person would do a bad job, they probably would do quite a credible job for you but they won’t be the best hire you could make. This has nothing to do with the quality of the candidate per se, it’s just that at this level, there can be a big difference in the value-add equation from one CFO to another, depending on the experience they’ve had over the course of their careers.
I understand the allure of a ready-made candidate at hand when you’ve got a job to fill. However, over the long run, having the right person in the CFO chair as opposed to the expeditious candidate will make up for the incremental expenditure of time and money many times over.