Mastering the Soft Skills: How to “bend” time, keep the boss happy, say “no” to budget requests (gently) – and more

May 12, 2014

Mastering the Soft Skills

How to “bend” time, keep the boss happy, say “no” to budget requests (gently) — and more.

CFO Staff

Some years ago, CFO published a story on the “essential skills” that a finance chief needs to be effective — in particular, the skills that go beyond core corporate finance and accounting training. Little has changed since 2007, when the article first appeared. The abilities the story describes are rarely taught in business school or in a corporate setting. In the eyes of veteran CFOs, though, they are just as critical as the ability to forecast earnings, value an acquisition or weigh an investment opportunity.

Time Bending

Description: “Every executive knows all too well that a 24-hour day can feel woefully insufficient. Overload may be a way of life in finance, but there are ways to cut through the clutter.”

Example: Managing email. Don’t respond to any messages until the end of the day, unless they are clearly urgent. After the CEO, investors and bondholders come first in terms of priority. “Respond with a quick email just to let them know you’ll get back to them,” suggested one CFO.

Keeping the Boss Happy

Description: “The CEO connection is the single most important thing a CFO must understand and maintain.”

Questions to Ask: What are your CEO’s hot buttons? What is he or she being judged against? What is his or her value system? For dictatorial CFOs, who are often driven by fear, what are their fears and how can you mitigate them?

The Art of Saying ‘No’

Description: “CFOs are often labeled as the original ‘Dr. No,’ and in fact they may be more likely than other senior executives to put the kibosh on ill-advised plans or projects. But …  a thumbs down, or any form of unwelcome news, can be delivered professionally and with a little less sting.”

Tips: Hear ideas through so people don’t feel like they were shortchanged. Manage so that the bad ideas are weeded out before they get to the CFO level. Talk through all revenue opportunities before saying an idea won’t work.

Street Talk

Description: “A wide range of stakeholders want direct access to the CFO. Knowing what communication techniques work with which audiences can help finance shine, both within and outside the company.”

Tips: How the CFO answers questions on analyst and investor calls matters a lot. (One CFO listened in on 20 conference calls and kept a log of questions asked by analysts before he hosted his first earnings call.) Hear what investors are asking on road shows. Forgo finance jargon in favor of plain English. “Even when the work behind something is extremely complex,” said one CFO, “your audience really just needs to know the headlines.”

Leading by Example

Description: “As the head of the finance department, the CFO must lead and inspire — and know when to get his hands dirty.”

Tips: Offer the guidance and counsel of a top executive, but let employees do their day-to-day jobs. “Make other functions feel like you’re an assistant, that you’re there to make them look good,” said one CFO. When a CFO has to step into the fray, one of the best times is as a short-term project leader. And don’t forget the little things a CFO can do to lead by example, said one CFO, like getting your expense report in on time.

X-ray Vision

Description: “The CFO is in a unique position to have a window into every aspect of a company, but that’s no substitute for real vision. One of the CFO’s jobs is to see the consequences of [decisions] that others can’t see.”

Learning It: Powers of perception are honed by trouble, and the more the better. “Until things go very wrong in ways that were completely unanticipated, you don’t develop those skills,” one CFO says. To learn how to deal with a crisis, one CFO read forensic audit reports of disasters at other companies.

Source: The Essential Skills, by Alix Stuart, CFO Magazine, November 1, 2007

This story originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of the CFO Tablet Edition.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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