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What makes a world-class CFO (and how to find one)

Chief Financial Officers have been having a moment. It’s always been an integral role – one of the first C-suite hires for many investment-backed businesses – but, in the wake of a tumultuous few years for the startup ecosystem, the spotlight has really intensified on the CFO.

There’s a good reason for that. The right CFO should be transformative to the business. In a scaleup environment, the role is all encompassing and the key to unlocking growth. Whether you’re fundraising and expanding, or cutting costs to protect your runway, a strong CFO can be the difference between success and failure.


So, what make a world-class scaleup CFO? We’ve compiled some of our top criteria (the qualities we typically look for on behalf of our clients):


Ability to see the future

The very best CFOs have an almost supernatural ability to foresee what’s coming down the line. They are constantly anticipating market trends and shifts, planning for different scenarios, forecasting and reforecasting. In the fast-paced context of a scaleup where things change rapidly, this skill is vital.


Commercial acumen

A top-tier scaleup CFO will have a strategic and commercial mindset to ensure the business is completely optimised for growth. They will be fully across the pricing, the business model, and the cost base; revamping and revising as necessary, while making decisions as to which initiatives the company should prioritise and pursue.



Whether it’s with investors, stakeholders, banks or suppliers, the CFO has a number of key relationships to develop, nurture, and manage. A strong Chief Financial Officer will have the interpersonal skills to deftly navigate such relationships, without being afraid to challenge where necessary. This is also key to perhaps the most important relationship of all: the one between the CFO and CEO.


Growth mindset

Implementing scalable systems and processes is imperative to facilitating growth. A world-class CFO (with prior scaleup experience) will be more than capable of building a finance function that will grow with the business, ensuring there are no roadblocks to its expansion, no matter how fast-paced.


Multi-level operating

The strongest CFOs are more than comfortable operating at a very high, strategic level, as well as getting into the detail. They will know exactly how much cash the business has, how quickly it’s going through it, and what the runway looks like. They will be on top of KPIs and key metrics, while always having the bigger picture in mind. This kind of CFO is someone that can be trusted to make the right calls (even the tough ones), at any level.


A CFO that has the above qualities should have a profound impact on the continued evolution and success of a scaleup. In most cases, it’s about finding someone who combines a high proficiency in these areas, with proven experience of navigating the phase of growth that your business is about to enter.


Getting this hire right gives your scaleup a major advantage – by way of example, please download our case study documenting the search for a CFO on behalf of Series B tech company, Iceotope:

Iceotope CFO Case Study
Download PDF • 2.02MB


And, finally, for insights into CFO compensation, download our 2023 C-Suite Salary Report.


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