Many financial leaders are on the hunt for a new opportunity to expand their skills and challenge themselves. And CFOs who have transformed the financial environments of listed and privately owned companies may be keen to transition to a private equity company where they can take the lead on revival strategies and/or multi-year growth plans. Few career opportunities give CFOs the same chance to strengthen and transform a company for success as becoming a private equity CFO.
However, switching from a privately owned or listed company to a private equity company often comes with challenges. CFOs often have less time to reach target results. They’re often under scrutiny from investors. Borrowed capital usually equals bigger risks. And some private equity companies request frequent updates from the CFO so other business leaders can also contribute to financial decisions.
But when a CFO is new to the private equity company, and maybe the industry too, they probably don’t have relationships established with members of the C-suite team. And they probably don’t have a legacy in the company to support them. Therefore, CFOs who are new to private equity need to establish a strong team quickly so they can progress with their transformational ideas and the implementation of future-proofed initiatives.
The group and divisional CFO Gary McGaghey explains that private equity challenges are much easier to tackle when the CFO can build a strong fact base for making financial decisions, catch up with the economics at play, recognise talent gaps in teams, and lead with transformation in mind. Here, he shares four strategies to help CFOs who are new to the private equity space prosper in their roles.
1. Get Comfortable With Complicated Cash Flow Requirements
Experienced CFOs will be confident handling a company’s cash flow, debt covenants, and balance sheet. But the economics can get more complex in private equity companies. Debt usually fuels these companies’ investments, which can lead to demanding cash flow management. CFOs in private equity companies often need to report on cash flow every month or even every week.
Gary McGaghey explains that private equity CFOs also often need to spend time evaluating the details of what creates cost and what creates value in an exit scenario. They often need to analyse variable and fixed costs to identify the most important factors in a company’s operating leverage. In this situation, a deep understanding of IT systems and tools can be key to understanding critical data.
However, pre-existing data reports don’t often help CFOs understand the company’s position, especially when these reports aren’t providing a robust, consistent “end to end” perspective of the business cash model. CFOs typically need to develop their own understanding of the company’s cash levers over time while managing cash improvement initiatives and financial operations.
2. Develop an Ever-Expanding, Reliable Fact Base
It can be challenging for a CFO who starts a new role in a private equity company to build their knowledge of the company quickly. Ideally, they should develop an ever-expanding, reliable fact base to pinpoint value creation opportunities, especially opportunities that the company can capitalise on quickly. But most private equity companies lack large volumes of data and the data analysis and tracking capabilities that would allow them to make the most of value-creation decisions.
As a result, Gary McGaghey explains that CFOs need to know where and how to set up low-cost digital technologies to maximise benefits quickly. As an example, a CFO could make targeted investments in productivity-focused tools, such as cloud-based invoice-management software to save time, improve policy enforcement, and improve transparency. CFOs can make targeted investments by seeking the data initiatives that will deliver high-value quick wins and avoid sacrificing long-term gains.
3. Recruit Good-Fit Talent
Many CFOs excel at talent acquisition and people management. But recruiting the best-fit talent can be especially difficult in private equity companies, where management infrastructure tends to evolve and where investors push for quick results. Although the CFO is often an outsider, they must select candidates who can work effectively under different pressures and circumstances of the business and industry operated within.
Gary McGaghey adds that the CFO might also coach employees from other fields so that they can integrate productively opportunities within the finance team. Employees who develop a thorough understanding of the company’s financial position can become invaluable to the finance team in helping unlock opportunities to adapt the business processes which will drive productivity improvements in the business.
4. Lead the Company Towards Transformation
From a big-picture perspective, a private equity CFO’s over-arching goal should be to oversee the company’s transformation. To achieve this, they need to manage metrics through robust, although not overwhelming, strategies and clearly define key performance indicators (KPIs).
Gary McGaghey explains that the private equity sponsor will likely identify an investment thesis and assume momentum. In the meantime, the CFO should identify how the company can generate value on both the cost and revenue sides of the thesis. They should then direct resources towards the desired outcome. In an ideal scenario, the CFO would manage or co-manage initiatives to develop a showcase that models the transformation the company is progressing towards.
Prospering as a Private Equity CFO
Gary McGaghey explains that when a CFO has an in-depth understanding of how to generate value for the private equity company and has a firm hold on its finance function, they can become both a challenger and an influencer. Reaching this position enables CFOs to hold CEOs and business unit leaders to account.
The CFO should host monthly business reviews with leaders in all functions. During each review, they should analyse the factual foundation of every business activity and examine every business proposal from an impartial perspective. They should also make certain that every investment decision aligns with the shareholdervalue creation thesis and the priorities in delivering that outcome. This approach can help the CFO become invaluable to the company as they make the financial decisions and lead the strategies that generate desired results.
About Gary McGaghey
As a chartered accountant in South Africa and a chartered management accountant in the UK, Gary McGaghey is a divisional and group CFO who has helped an array of companies achieve their transformation goals. These companies operate in a range of industries, such as beverage, pharmacy, media, and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG).
Having led these listed and privately owned companies to success through impressive organic and M&A-driven growth, Gary McGaghey is now the CFO of the €1.3bn end-to-end marketing production services group Williams Lea Tag. Here, he manages the company’s carve-outs, mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, cost-restructuring programmes, and balance-sheet reconfiguring.
Gary McGaghey is also the non-executive director of Fitmedia UK, which develops children’s fitness analysis and testing solutions. Before taking on his current roles, he held statutory executive director and non-executive roles for listed companies and privately owned companies, including Robertsons, Nelsons, and Unilever.