The FD’s burden

Board directors of quoted companies are well rewarded for undertaking heavy
responsibilities. But these days the burden is growing faster than compensation.
Not because salaries are going down, but because the hours people are working –
Monday through to Sunday – have increased.

The finance directors themselves aren’t complaining – well, not too much
anyway. So let me do it for them. The danger is that a growing number of
distractions – from shareholder relations to governance –are diverting finance
directors from the crucial core of their role.

Main board finance directors get to where they are because they like helping
to run a business. Of course, the technical aspects of their job are critical.
Ultimately they live or die by the integrity of the information their teams

But what gets them going is more likely to be turning around a loss-making
subsidiary, or making a business more profitable, rather than the intricacies of
IFRS or Sarbanes-Oxley.

Moving a business forward takes time – you won’t always get a return on
investment in three to six months. But investors expect you to have moved the
business forward pretty much every time you speak to them. As the finance
director, you are the face of the business to the shareholders. Explaining to

them what is happening, why it is happening and what it means in the
long-term, involves taking more time out of your diary.

So what gives? Well, unfortunately it has to be the operational areas. You
can’t reduce the time you spend on bread and butter governance and technical
issues. So the only bit of your diary that you can steal from is the time spent
supporting the business.

That invariably starts to fall to your number two, or to the divisional
finance structure, so you are free to explain to a new analyst for the 17th time
why in this half-year, you need to spend a little bit more on research &
development, or brand marketing.

So far no-one has come up with a good answer to getting the balance right.
The share price has to be managed, and investors want access to the finance
director in order to find out what is going on. But put yourself in your
investors’ shoes for a minute. Wouldn’t you rather the finance director was more
focused on creating value in the business than making presentations to the City?

Mark Freebairn is a partner and head of the CFO practice at Odgers Ray
& Berndtson

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