The Changing Role of a CFO in a Growing DSO

Finding the right CFO for your organization starts with understanding the skill sets and experience of prospective candidates.

By Nick Korhonen, CFO, Corus Orthodontists

Ask 10 business leaders to describe the role of a CFO, and you’ll get 10 different answers. Herein lies the challenge for many entrepreneurs looking to build their executive team and set up their DSOs for success. The role of the CFO has evolved rapidly over recent years, with CFOs often wearing many different hats ranging from traditional financial reporting and analysis to strategy development, M&A, change management, and much more.  

Finding the right CFO for your organization starts with understanding the skill sets and experience of prospective candidates. To help navigate the complexities of the roles that CFOs can play, we’ve identified four different profiles that can help you assess what kind of CFO you’re looking for and what role they can play in your growing DSO.

The Numbers Guru

The Numbers Guru comes to mind for most people when they think of a CFO. This individual brings years of experience in traditional finance roles and is an expert with all things numbers. They know accounting standards like the back of their hands, are financial modeling wizards, and excel at taking numbers on a page, and turning them into a story understood across the organization.

The Numbers Guru has a narrower focus than some other profiles, and they thrive when they can focus on what they do best. They are masters of optimization and leaders in continuous process improvement. The Numbers Guru adds significant value through detailed performance management, identifying opportunities for efficiency through the stories their numbers tell.

The Strategist

The Strategist assumes a broader organizational role and participates in decision-making across all functions of the company. Together with the executive team, they identify where the company is headed and how best to get there. Internally, The Strategist has a deep understanding of all aspects of the business, extending beyond traditional finance, into Operations, HR, IT, and Governance. Externally, they have their finger on the pulse of the market. They have a deep understanding of macroeconomic trends and a talent for predicting industry trends and developments to proactively position the company for success.

Instead of burying their heads in numbers, The Strategist understands the bigger picture and motivates teams towards a common goal. They require a strong core finance team to manage the day-to-day, so they can keep their eyes on the horizon and focused on the future of the organization.

The Rainmaker

The success of most DSOs is heavily reliant on two factors: 

1. The successful execution of an M&A strategy

2. Securing financing to support growth ambitions 

Enter The Rainmaker. This individual excels in the art of negotiation, understands capital markets and valuations, and can articulate the unique value proposition of your company to both potential vendors and financial partners. The Rainmaker typically comes from a less traditional finance background, often investment banking, private equity, or M&A advisory.

The Rainmaker provides the most value in organizations with a heavy focus on inorganic growth. Their skill set is often not suited towards a focus on cost efficiency, or marginal process improvements, but on driving rapid expansion.

The Jack of All Trades

The Jack of All Trades has an unparalleled ability to step into any of the CFO profiles as needed, and more. With the ability to simultaneously see the big picture and steer the organization towards a future state, they will also roll up their sleeves diving into the weeds to solve current problems. While they may not have the depth of expertise in specific areas, they don’t shy away from picking up new skills as they go to keep the organization moving forward.

The Jack of All Trades thrives in chaos and are well suited for early-stage DSOs that are running with lean teams. They can provide the leadership team with the strength to drive your DSO forward so you can focus on building your team.

What profile fits your organization?

Knowing what profile is right for your DSO will require self-reflection to understand the current state of your organization. What skill sets does your team currently have, and where do you have gaps? Are your needs now the same as they will be in one or two years? It’s important to understand that the ideal CFO profile for your organization will change over time, as you mature and identify new needs. A young DSO may benefit from The Rainmaker to drive rapid growth, or the Jack of All Trades to put out all the fires. As the DSO matures, it will likely benefit more from the Numbers Guru, who can drive efficiency and process improvement, or the Strategist who can help bring the DSO to the next level. 

Personally, I began as a self-professed Jack of All Trades, but later turned Strategist. Joining Corus Orthodontists, a doctor-owned Orthodontic Support Organization, as its first CFO in 2019, my role has evolved as the organization grew from no practices and a home office team of four people, to supporting 55 practices across North America with a thriving team with over 1,000 employees. 

Every CFO will have a different career journey with plenty of hills and valleys. It’s on the organizational leaders to find the right match for their company, and it’s up to CFOs to know where their skill sets lie, remaining open to evolving alongside their DSO as they reach new heights.