The Social CFO – Leading Through a Global Pandemic

The Social CFO - Leading Through a Global Pandemic

By Ernie Humphrey, CTP

In previous blogs in the Social CFO blog series, I have shared what it means to be a Social CFO. A Social CFO invests in building and managing relationships with his or her Finance Team, fellow company leaders, key customers & suppliers, banks, and technology partners. This is done by understanding what drives each business partner’s performance and working with these business partners to get them what they need when they need it to deliver results. The tools and mindset that a Social CFO leverages for success include compelling storytelling, employee engagement, a quest to optimize business agility, learning is a way of life, listens with intent, and facilitates a continuous improvement culture. The Social CFO has viewed the challenge of leading through an ongoing global pandemic and the associated business dynamics as an opportunity for his or her company to get better and build a competitive advantage. Insights of exactly how a Social CFO is doing this are shared by Jeff Johnson, CFO, Smart Care Equipment Solutions, in an episode of the Finance Trends & Disruption Podcast, Delivering Success as a Finance Leader in the Next Normal.

A few of the most impactful exchanges from my conversation with Jeff include:

Ernie Humphrey:

Customer relationships are key. And sometimes I feel like CFOs have been a little hesitant to be involved with customer relationships, and have been looked at as the arbitrator of disputes rather than as a partner by customers.

How have you worked with your CEO to maybe engage your customers and see, is there going to be an AR disruption, or have you just a little bit kind of stayed back. What have you been doing to keep your customers engaged and feel like you have them engage at the right level now?

Jeff Johnson:

Yeah. Well, the first thing we did, was we revisit all of our accounts receivable because the world had changed back to having to work with limited information. And we almost had to throw away things like Dun & Bradstreet and historical trends and rethink who do we think the winners and those who would not fair as well and resort our risk analysis for our customers. And then what we did is stacked up personal conversations with each of the riskiest, all starting with the riskiest all the way down, talking through what they were seeing, what their business was seeing, where they thought things were going to go. We also then provide some options for how to potentially pay for them. Maybe the receivables they have, whether it’s a credit card or kind of rethinking it. But we had to really go one on one with a resorted view to what a receivable looked like.

Ernie Humphrey:

Okay, great. Let me kind of shift to something that I have been talking about a long time. We can call it the evolution of the CFO. You’ve now been a CFO for some time, I’m just curious, back when you first became a CFO, what are a few things that you thought as going into your first role it took to be a CFO? And then how has that evolved over your time as a CFO?

Jeff Johnson:

It’s certainly evolved a great deal. When I first started as a CFO, I saw it more as, I don’t know, an in-evolved controller, kind of a “souped-up” controller who really knew the numbers but could provide a few insights. As I have grown and evolved in the role. It’s very apparent that the CFO is very different than the controller. Financial context and options are absolutely critical. It’s almost an HR role, in some ways. One definition, I often tell people is, a pragmatic futurist that nudges the organization along while also saying no a lot. So you’ve got to be very people-oriented. I spend a lot of time, talking, explaining, testing ideas, sharing. Someone at one point in life had even told me that the CFO was the loneliest job in the company. Now, I have some CEOs who disagree with that particular statement. And considering I talk with a CEO on a regular basis, it does seem ironic, but there’s a lot of truth to that because as you’re a bit of a gatekeeper for ideas, resources, and capital and human resources, and therefore everyone wants your ear, everyone wants to get you to buy in on whatever they’re investing in, whatever they want to cut in, whatever it might be. And you need to listen to all of that, I had not yet formalized my CENTER framework for the most important lessons learned in working through the COVID-19 pandemic when I spoke with Jeff.

  • Communication – more communication is always better.
  • Engagement – companies and managers have been forced to get a bit creative in terms of engaging their teams. 
  • Networking – Finance leaders would do well to re-embrace the concept of an online community for Finance professionals.
  • Technology – many companies have learned that during a crisis can be the right time to invest in technology.
  • Experimentation/Innovation – courage to not fear failure and to take chances to create competitive advantage in any environment will serve any company well going forward.

It was clear after listening to my conversation with Jeff again that he was a key inspiration for me in that endeavor. Thanks Jeff!

Listen to my entire conversation with Jeff.

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