What makes a successful Interim CFO – Dani Bayly

Dani Bayly is an accomplished senior finance professional with considerable experience with both Interim and permanent CFO roles. Dani has a unique way of getting into a business and quickly establishing value. We took some time to hear some insights from Dani about what makes her successful in an Interim CFO capacity.

What do you enjoy about the unique nature of an Interim CFO role within a business?

As someone who thrives on shaping and driving the change agenda, I enjoy the variety of different industries and organisational cultures, each of which presents its own unique set of dynamics we get to influence and leverage to create value as finance leaders.

It is a fantastic opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, broaden your skillset and challenge your thinking – every experience is a learning opportunity we can leverage in future engagements and to grow as finance professionals.

Working in different environments also helps expose any unconscious biases or ways of working that may have become ingrained from previous experiences. Businesses require different approaches depending on their maturity, culture, and market dynamics.

It has also helped me become more aware of approaching commercial decision-making with a broader lens, where commercial returns need to be weighed against other cultural, social, and political factors.

What are your key priorities in your first week/ month as an Interim CFO?

The success of any new engagement or role always begins and ends with people. As typically A-type, result-driven professionals it is easy to dive into action mode. I have learnt that slowing down, and asking questions creates the trust and support from key stakeholders I need to achieve successful outcomes.

In an ideal world, I will adopt the following approach:

  • Working with the CEO/board to ensure we are aligned as to the mandate and deliverables while building an understanding of the strategy (if one exists), company values and culture. This overall context helps me frame and plan the approach in identifying and forming relationships with key stakeholders and building the execution roadmap.
  • Building an understanding of how the business is performing across all dimensions of the strategy (financial, customer, operational, people and culture), the status of key initiatives and projects, external threats, or opportunities etc. to determine if there are any impending cash flow or compliance issues, or initiatives which need re-prioritisation or remediation. Based on this review I will check in with the CEO to ensure we are on the same page and highlight anything that might be a surprise so that we can get in front of the narrative with the board/investors.
  • Connect with the business to reassure staff and build relationships, ask questions, and actively listen to feedback to ensure people feel valued and heard, confirming I properly understand the bigger picture and key issues before diving into problem-solving and execution mode.
  • Review the talent in the finance team, as well as overall enterprise capabilities to understand whether we have the resources and capability to deliver on the strategy and drive outcomes.
  • Identify where I will need further help and support, either from external advisors or the CEO if there are gaps in my skillset – we can’t be experts in everything!

What tips do you have to establish trust and engage with your stakeholder group?

 Trust is traditionally cultivated over time, being earned from different stakeholders as a byproduct of our consistency and transparency. As interim CFO we often have a brief period to establish trust and credibility, often in the face of a major change and conflicting stakeholder requirements.

Authenticity – My approach to creating a culture of trust is by walking the talk – leading with authenticity and integrity, engaging in open and honest conversations, being an active listener, and ensuring customer, employee or investor feedback is reflected in our actions and results. Stakeholders will quickly lose confidence in leadership if their actions are inconsistent with their values or messaging. A culture of trust is a critical asset to the business for value creation.

Competence – Demonstrating capability or competence by understanding how value is created for the organisation by providing timely, transparent reporting that talk to how the organisation is delivering on its promises to employees, customers, or investors against the strategy.

Ethics, honesty, and transparency – As finance professionals, we are the arbiters of ethical and professional business practices. To inspire trust, we need to tell the truth and provide transparency, even when people are reluctant to hear it.

What are the critical skills required if you are considering a move into the Interim CFO space?

  • A strategic mindset – the ability to understand and articulate the bigger picture and drive alignment to the vision.
  • Effective communication and stakeholder management – the ability to navigate and manage complex relationships and conflicting priorities and interests.
  • Change management – depending on the nature of the engagement, a sound understanding of change management and how to deliver transformation and strategic initiatives.
  •  Adaptability and flexibility – the ability to juggle conflicting and changing priorities (stating the obvious here, sorry). Be clear on what is achievable and set realistic expectations with the CEO and board.
  • A sense of humour is also helpful!

What key questions do you ask at interview stage to ensure you get a clear picture of a new role/ environment?

  • The reason for the role and the key deliverables i.e. caretaker, establishment of the CFO role, transformation, sale etc.
  • The strategy and how the organisation is tracking against this.
  • Board composition, experience of the CEO.
  • Understand the business model and funding – are there any cashflow, compliance or legal issues I should be aware of?
  • What are the key opportunities and challenges for the organisation?
  • Timeframes for appointing a permanent CFO.
  • Level of organisational readiness or maturity i.e. people capability, technology, processes, governance, strategy, culture, values, and leadership etc.

What are some learnings from the senior Interim roles you have now completed?

Approach each opportunity with an open mindset and expect the unexpected – each organisation will have various levels of organisational readiness and maturity.

Establishing a great working partnership with the CEO based on clear expectations is critical – ensure there is clarity and alignment with regards to where the organisation wants to be at the end of the engagement with regular check-ins to manage expectations.

 Obtain a clear understanding of what has been communicated to the organisation regarding your appointment and the purpose of your role. Change is unsettling, be prepared for tough questions – having an aligned story will minimise confusion and reassure the organisation.

 Don’t be too precious, be prepared to get your hands dirty and remember to pace yourself!

Where do you think the role of Interim CFO can add the most value to a business?

An interim CFO is uniquely positioned to provide an apolitical or independent view of the organisation, making them extremely valuable in situations where the board or CEO needs someone to provide a straight answer or transparency from an external perspective.

We can offer a fresh perspective with the ability to bring an element of positive disruption and challenge assumptions.

Having performed the interim CFO role, we can add insight into what the finance and broader organisation structure and enterprise-wide capabilities need to look like to deliver the strategy i.e. outsourcing vs in-house transactional finance, CFO vs broader COO role, digital transformation requirements etc.

What advice do you have for businesses who are thinking about taking on an Interim CFO?

If there is uncertainty or lack of clarity regarding the longer-term requirements and skill set of the CFO role, an interim CFO is a cost-effective, lower-risk option for filling the gap and supporting the organisation through its transition to the next phase.

Keep an open mind with regards to the shape of the role and the broader organisation, and strategic priorities. As interim CFO’s we can offer a breadth of experience in driving change and creating the organisational readiness (people, technology, culture etc.) to maximise value.

What advice do you have for any Accounting and Finance professionals looking to make a move into the Interim CFO space?

 If you are making the transition from a permanent senior leadership role, an interim CFO role can be a great stepping stone for building experience, as well as identifying where your interests lie in terms of industry and cultural fit. It also opens opportunities to step into a permanent role or try something on for size before committing to the unknown.

 It is also a great option for those change agents who thrive on helping businesses grow and transform, particularly SME’s which generate a quarter of NZ’s GDP and employ a significant percentage of the workforce. It can be hugely rewarding to help these businesses innovate and achieve financially sustainable growth vs being a small cog in a large corporate.

Spend the time working out what you enjoy and researching organisations whose purpose and culture are aligned to your values to make sure the engagement is a good fit.

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