Can a Fractional CFO Return to Corporate?

Last week I posted a Q&A with Todd Serulneck on his decision to take a career path as a fractional CFO. At the end of our conversation, he flipped the table and asked me a futuristic question.

Is it possible to move back into a corporate role
after several years as a fractional CFO?

It is a great question, and I’m sure he isn’t alone in wondering whether it can be done and how challenging such a move would be. Here are a few of my thoughts.

Yes, I believe it is possible.

When you bring problem-solving value to the table, anything is possible for a company who needs your skill set … which today, includes soft skills. If anything, communication, relationship management, work ethic, creative problem-solving skills may even be enhanced during time as a “business-builder.”

What can happen with a fractional CFO is akin to those of a consultant … you don’t always get to see the results of your actions. Therefore, it is critically important that you …

Keep track of your measurable wins.

Words like “improving,” “increasing,” “decreasing,” and “reducing” are meaningless without context. This challenge isn’t exclusive to fractional CFOs. In fact, it is widespread among corporate CFO candidates. Keeping track of metrics matters, and using them in personal marketing documents matters greatly.In fact, it is almost impossible to compete without them.

While your financial acumen got you to the CFO seat, it is your ability to solve problems and deliver value that is most appealing to a prospective company who is facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles, dismal growth, and/or declining profits.

Don’t lose your sweet spot.

Companies rarely hire “jack-of-all-trades, masters-of-none,” these days. Rather, they are focused on specific skill sets and experience that a CFO brings and which it needs. Even as a fractional CFO, it is important to play from your strengths.

As paradoxical as it may seem, operating from your sweet spot and taking advantage of the ripple effect that niched positioning affords only improves a candidate’s compelling value proposition.

Be visible.

Whether building a book of business or conducting a job search, it is incumbent upon each CFO to create and maintain visibility among his targeted audience. That visibility and resulting relationships could be the difference between an easier – or – more challenging move back to corporate.

Let me know if I can help!


Copyright CFO-Coach 2018


Cindy Kraft is the CFO-Coach and America’s leading Career & Personal Brand Strategist for Corporate Finance Executives helping clients understand their marketability, articulate their value, and position themselves as the clear and compelling choice. She is a Certified Reach Personal Brand Strategist, Certified Reach Online Identity Strategist, Certified Career Management Coach, Certified Professional Resume Writer, and Job & Career Transition Coach. Cindy can be reached via email, by phone 813-727-3037, or through her website at

CFO Contingency Plan

Or, Redundancy-Proofing. Or, Career Survival Plan. Whatever the name, the result is the same … ensuring that in these tough, very competitive times you don’t find yourself on the street before you start looking for your next position.

As the lead Finance Executive, you would never run your company on the haphazard basis most people, not just Chief Financial Officers, run their careers. With your company, you have systems and measurements in place, a 3-to-5-year plan, and shorter goals you work towards on a daily or weekly basis.

It’s like steering the Titanic. Slow and steady makes the turn. But if you’re inches from the iceberg (unemployment), it is impossible to do the things you need to do in order to avert disaster.

There is little corporate loyalty today. As the CFO or Senior Finance Executive, the bottom line on the P&L statement stops with you. The moment the Board is unhappy, the CEO starts leaning harder, credit / cash issues continue, or the diminished staff is less and less productive and more and more whiney, the bottom line is impacted and it is your neck that has the potential to move closer and closer to the chopping block.

–Do you have any contingency plan in place in the event you do lose your job?

–Have you reached out to anyone in your network in the last year?

–Will your personal marketing documents be ready should someone ask for them?

–Are you visible to your target audience?

–Have you even identified your target audience?

–Do you know and can you articulate your value proposition?

Several months ago I was engaged by a client who worked himself out of his last position. He told me when we started that his goal was to be employed in 2 months, but until his call to me he had done nothing else. He is in a tough industry and now wore the stigma of “unemployment.” Before we could work together, I was forced to disabuse him of that unrealistic expectation. That false expectation served no good purpose for either of us. It’s been 5 months and he has had no less than 6 potential opportunities for at least 4 of those months. However, while no one will tell him definitively “no,” each one of them is continuing to string him along while taking their sweet time getting to “yes.”

The corporate decision to hire is agonizingly slow for many candidates. And that agony is exacerbated if there was no contingency plan in place and the job loss was unexpected. Desperation forces candidates to make choices and decisions they would not otherwise make if they were executing a solid contingency plan. Remember, “he who fails to plan, plans to fail.”

Career Lessons Learned from Jack

In addition to being a crazed Gator fan (is it football season yet?), I’m also a Hallmark movie mush. Yes, I admit it.  And yesterday I caught up on a few of my DVR’d flicks, including Jack’s Family Adventure. 

Jack is an ad executive who has worked 80 hours a week for 5 years to make partner. He walks in on an office celebration to find out the “new guy” was given the title over him. Devastated and disappointed, he asks for, and gets, a month’s vacation and takes his family on an adventure. Of course, while he’s away he experiences a major paradigm shift.

I thought there were a few great career lessons for finance executives in that movie.

Priorities … His family paid a huge price for his commitment to work and he was repaid by not getting the thing he worked so had to secure. His family was no longer a “family.” It was four people who passed each other inside the house on their way to and fro. It took a blow to his ego for Jack to get his priorities straight.

Courage … It didn’t take courage for him to request a long vacation, something he hadn’t taken in 3 years. He made that request and took that action out of anger. It took courage for him to say “no” to coming back on his boss’s terms. He could only do that, though, when he – and his boss – recognized his …

Value … Jack’s value (and marketability) increased dramatically when he left and the new account that led to someone else being named partner began falling apart. Suddenly Jack held all the power in the boss – employee relationship as Jack’s contributions to the company and the account became obvious. Understanding your value, but not communicating it to anyone else, is akin to not being valuable as well as not being recognized or rewarded for your contributions.

Recruiting Game-Changers

As much as I detest pro-sports (with the exception of the “BroncoGators”) and particularly the whole LeBron hoopla, I could not pass up Dr. Sullivan’s article without commenting. If you’re a game-changing finance executive or CFO, the article is well worth the read. 

Here are a few of Sullivan’s comments, followed by my thoughts:

Google for example has estimated that a top-performer generates three hundred times more revenue than an average performer.”

The difference in salary between an average performer and a top performer can be quite large … but only if you are a visible, in-demand target with the ability to clearly communicate your value.

“… game-changers, innovators, and top performers truly are different and must be recruited in a unique manner.”

Sullivan has a list of characteristics that describe these talented executives … among them, they are not actively looking for a position, they dislike standard recruiting practices, and there is often a negative career-impacting event that moves them to begin thinking about probing potential opportunities. 

At the risk of beating a dead horse, as a senior-level executive – finance or otherwise – it is critical to proactively manage your career with the mindset that you are only ever between searches. Eventually you will move. Getting the game-changer positioning and staying on the radar screen of those people who need to know about you is a good career habit, and one that needs to begin while you are still happily employed and, in the eyes of the recruiter, the “most desirable” candidate.

“Shift to a “game-changing recruiting approach.”

Lesson #3, while written for the executive recruiter to recruit game-changers, could just as easily be a roadmap for a successful positioning / search strategy by game-changers.

If you want to play, you have to understand the rules. Game-changers hold immense power … once they understand how the game is played.

Growth Strategies … Business & Career

Sometimes the whole “managing a career” process just seems confusing, baffling, and maybe even unnecessary to CFOs. Today, more than ever, it is definitely necessary, and it does not need to be confusing or baffling. 

Run your career like you run your business. I’ve said that for years, but thanks to “Ready, Set, Grow” in CFO Magazine, let’s frame it in business terms to turn the fog into a crystal-clear 35,000-foot view. Quotes from the article are in italics, followed by my commentary. 

… How can you help them make money or save money?

This is key to your value proposition. Finance skills aside, the bottom line is really … how can make or save a company more than it will cost them to bring you on board? It’s not about responsibilities, credentials, or even education. 

… Focus on “developing products tailored to the specific needs of individual developing markets… Don't provide an American or a German solution to India; they need an Indian solution.”

The latter sentence is, in career terms, what I call the “spaghetti strategy.” Throwing your resume into any black hole and hoping and wishing for a response. Niched positioning to a targeted audience is a much more effective career management and job search strategy. 

You don’t have to be all things to all people … you have to be the right person for the right company.

"Good growth companies," says the Darden School's Hess, "tend to make acquisitions that are small and very strategic …

In proactively managing your career, you aren’t forced to do everything as soon as possible … as opposed to an active job seeker. It’s much easier and much more effective to execute a plan that is strategic and consistent.

… investing in areas that make sense for us, particularly in innovation.

Innovation! Web 2.0 technology. Online visibility. Reputation management. How can you leverage all the great new technology to stand out from other Chief Financial Officers rather than blending in with them?

Having your name on Linked In isn’t the same as having a branded, completed profile. Having a presence on Linked In isn’t the same as “networking” with people who need to know about you. 

Innovation means you already have an online reputation. The question is, will you control the message or be forced to respond to the message?

"The world has got more opportunities than issues right now. We need to make sure our organization looks at the opportunities and doesn't complain about the issues …"

Issues, from a career perspective, involve relying on posted positions. Too few postings for far too many candidates. It’s a frustrating and unfair screen out process. It’s also easy.

Opportunities abound through your online and offline networks and all the great technology available today. However, it’s not easy. So the earlier you get started, the easier a future career transition will be.

And, finally, this from one of my favorite authors/bloggers, Seth Godin

If you only pay attention to the world when you need a new job (your channel is stamps and your message is your resume) you'll spend your day differently than if you are leading a tribe, participating in organizations or giving local speeches all the time.

It’s time to give serious consideration to running your career like you run your business … today, finishing last isn’t a viable option.

Inbound vs. Outbound for Marketing YOU

Doug Haslam wrote a great blog post about inbound marketing, and he’s right, it has everything to do with your career. Here’s an excerpt …

Inbound Marketers flip outbound marketing on its head.

Instead of interrupting people with television ads, they create videos that potential customers want to see. Instead of buying display ads in print publications, they create their own blog that people subscribe to and look forward to reading. Instead of cold calling, they create useful content and tools so that people call them looking for more information.

This definition concentrates on content creation, but the real meat is the phrase “people call them.”

It’s the old push / pull marketing terms with new names. The result, though, is the same. You can either push your message to people who don’t care, won’t listen, and are happy to round file your resume … I call this the spaghetti strategy … or you can pull your target market to you with a clear, compelling, and visible brand. Which would you rather do?

Inbound marketing has everything to do with proactively managing your career and the very best time to begin is when you are happy, satisfied, and doing well in your current position. If you are a CFO or finance executive who has been missing the social media boat, it is not too late to jump on board. You have everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose. 

In CNN’s Executive Education article, "How not to ruin your next career move,” Matt Knight says this …

Executives at the top, as well as people lower down the career ladder are sometimes so desperate to leave their job that they don't plan their career moves and lurch from job to job instead of waiting for the right position.

Desperation can often become the breeding ground for bad decision-making and/or result in a very long job search. I was talking with an executive recruiter who places CFOs earlier this week and he told me one of the most aggravating parts of his job was when prospective candidates, who clearly did not meet his client’s specs, tried to talk him into believing they could do the job anyway. Desperation can also cause otherwise great networking contacts to sour very quickly.

Think of your career as Business You and begin strategizing your inbound marketing plan today.

Is Your Career Like a Leaky Faucet?

One of my Twitter CFO friends, Scott McPherson, blogged about the leaky faucet concept in businesses. It just so happened that I read this on the same morning a plumber was heading my way to fix an annoying leak in my shower faucet … so the article really resonated with me. Particularly this line …

Basically, that tiny leak had the power to turn into a huge nightmare.

Is your career analogous to a leaking faucet? It is if you just landed that new CFO position, and things are going great so why, you ask, waste time thinking about your career? Except that, it’s important to remember that you are only ever between searches. And the moment you forget that, your career can quickly become the small drip from a leaky faucet. 

The tension is palpable. The warning signs are everywhere. Good friends are caught in protracted, painful job searches. Drip. Drip. Drip …

And yet, it is easier to focus on today and the fact that you are fortunate to have a job. But what about tomorrow? Drip. Drip. Drip …

Remember the CFO I mentioned who had a great job one day and was walked to the door the next … with no inkling the end was coming when he walked in the door that morning. His drip turned into a full-fledged nightmare in less than 12 hours.

Getting proactive in managing your career can save that tiny drip from turning into the nightmare of unemployment. With a strong value proposition, marketability is at its highest when you are sitting inside looking out … and the people who need to know about all the great things you’ve done, know about them.

If you are unemployed and your search has been non-productive for awhile, perhaps it’s time to call a professional. If you continue doing what you’ve been doing, it is likely you will continue getting the same results.

Drip. Drip. Drip ….

Color Outside the Lines

Listen here … 

I swear it was my elementary school teachers who unleashed the rebel in me. They were always telling me what I “couldn’t” do rather than fostering my inner passions. And coloring outside the lines is a great metaphor for authentic personal branding … because our personal and professional lives intertwine, whether we want them to or not.

Two opposite examples come immediately to mind, and probably should never be used in the same sentence, but … Tiger Woods and Tim Tebow.

Tiger Woods tried to color inside the lines. He kept his personal and professional lives separate and apart, thinking (or possibly hoping) that no one would ever be the wiser. His brand (which was really nothing more than a facade) was clean cut, family-oriented, and wildly successful … good guys CAN finish first. It was also a complete farce. When you act one way to an adoring public and completely opposite behind closed doors, it is only a matter of time until the truth bleeds over the lines. Our personal and professional lives do overlap, and no amount of effort to keep the colors from crossing the lines will work forever. Particularly not in the Internet era.

Tim Tebow is the epitome of an authentic personal brand. Much has been written about him, both his athletic prowess and faith on the field and his leadership and faith off the field. He is who he is, like him or hate him, he is the real deal. Because he is the same person on the field as he is off the field, his lines are so blurred you can’t tell where personal ends and professional begins.

We’ve seen more than our share of brand damage to finance executives in the past few years. Those headlines seem to be almost daily, but certainly weekly. The colors seeped through closely guarded lines and for some, caused irreparable damage not only to the individual but to many companies.

Where do you fall? Do you color inside the lines … working diligently to keep your personal life from detracting from a professional facade? Or, do you blur the lines and embrace the power of authentic branding … recognizing that how you are hardwired has contributed to your successes both in and outside of your career?

Over-promoted and Over His Head

How would you like that headline to appear in the #1 slot in a Google search of your name? While this is a fictionalized story of a CFO turned CEO, could you find yourself the “victim” of digital dirt?

And here’s another potential career killer headline in Reuters … “Boston Provident fires CFO Levy for alleged theft.” Or this one, “Ex-Petters Co. CFO ‘Lied for a Living’.

I know, I know. I can hear you now. Those are a big deal and I would never appear in such a headline. Thankfully, that is true for the majority of people. But what about the small stuff? Comments taken out of context in a conversation with a reporter, a statement you made on a controversial position in a Board meeting, an adversarial comment you left on a blog … again, used out of context, or an irritated comment you left on a public forum. 

If you aren’t checking your online identity, how do you know what’s being said about you? In today’s social media world, you are who Google says you are. 

The most recent stats I’ve heard were from an ERE personal branding seminar last week … 77% of executive recruiters use search engines to research applicants and 59% of hiring managers are influenced by your online identity. On an initial Google search by recruiters, could you be confused with someone with an unsavory reputation? What if one of these CFOs happens to share your name … do you also get to carry his baggage?

Testament to how critical a digital footprint is to one’s career is the article in the Wall Street Journal … “More Job Seekers Scramble to Erase Their Criminal Past.” Again, you might not have a criminal past but someone who shares your name may. And as the article states, digital dirt is nearly impossible to eradicate. That also applies to the “small stuff.”

Failing to Plan … Planning to Fail?

A finance executive called me last week because he knew that his resume was not selling value, he struggled when answering questions about his atypical career track, and he had an important interview coming up in the next couple of weeks. He understood that without a compelling value proposition that mitigated his unusual career progression and which leveraged his market differentiation, he would always be on the defensive while being interviewed.  Smart guy. 

Except, that when his pending interview was postponed indefinitely and the immediacy of the situation gone, he put his strategic planning on hold. Without the urgency driving his steps, he would have had the luxury of time to get his positioning right … while gaining confidence and re-energizing his search. 

The reality in proactively managing one’s career is like anything else … failing to plan could very well be planning to fail. The choice to not be proactive is a decision, by default, to be reactive.