In my first CFO position for a privately held company in Colorado, I walked in on my first day, sat down for an 8 AM CEO staff meeting, and found out that the company had just received an offer to be purchased by a Swedish-based consortium. Even though I knew that it was a likely outcome, the timing took me off-guard. More practically, it meant that I had to lead an extensive due diligence process, get ready for year-end close and audit and support a list of operational initiatives undertaken by the CEO, all of this with a team I had not met yet and sitting in the US, Belgium and Hong Kong.
So what did it take to get it done?
First, get to work and get organized.
By then, I had worked for four companies that ended up being sold or restructured. I knew how to set up processes and accountability to plan for a large transaction, manage information flow, and meet deadlines. Organization is essential to build trust with all parties involved and ensure timely and accurate data.
Second, identify resources, motivate the team and allocate work accordingly.
I quickly updated the team on the situation. I set expectations for very hard work, but emphasized the upside of a successful transaction. I worked closely with each individual, even if remote, and monitored signs of burnout, discouragement. I also addressed a long-standing performance issue with one employee. There is nothing worse for a team working around the clock than someone getting away, seemingly forever, with poor work ethics.
Finally, listen to feedback, positive and negative and take it to heart.
The CEO was a former CFO, highly experienced, and gave me frequent and honest feedback. He reminded me to keep my eyes on strategic objectives, despite the frenzy of tactical tasks, and to fight perfectionism. He stopped me when I was chasing overzealous deadlines, and taught me the ropes of how to handle an acquirer and be the ‘integrated’ company. It was hard and frustrating at times, but I still look back to those 24 months when I struggle with a problem today.