39 Generalist or specialist – what to look for when hiring a part time FD

Back in the nineties, interim managers were selected for their broad business experience, managerial ability and agility.  One writer on the subject even went so far as to suggest that successful interim mangers were generally thinner and more athletic than the norm.  While you can’t get away with such sweeping generalisations about the BMI of business professionals today, there was more than a grain of truth in the idea that good interim managers had broad business experience.

Move on a decade and we have an over-supplied market in which part time and contract work becomes almost indistinguishable from permanent.  Being an industry specialist becomes an essential selection requirement because it can be.

An SME without an FD, but considering taking one on part-time, would be well advised to forget about the industry specialist knowledge and look for someone out of that old interim manager mould.  If the business has been successful in its field it won’t be in spite of a lack of specialist knowledge in the finance department.

Many specialists think their business niche is unique and outsiders can’t possibly understand the nuances of its contracts or how to manage the delicate customer relations.  The truth is we all learnt at some time and a seasoned FD will take all that on board and bring much more besides – from experience gained in other fields of commerce.

Specialist knowledge might tell you how carbon off-set pricing works, but it is general knowledge that enables a good FD to: work effectively at board level; analyse the numbers and challenge the management team; run a strong finance department; develop a robust financial model and deal with banks and investors; keep HMRC sweet; use professional advisers efficiently and not as a crutch; and maybe even groom the business for a sale – possibly to a generalist PE house.

This blog was written by Nick Lawson, Client Financial Director with Tectona Partnership.

To find out more about hiring a part time Finance Director or if you would like to discuss any of the topics covered above further with Tectona Partnership, please contact Mark Nicholls on 07818 407061.

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