Written by Scott Carberry
Navigating a tapestry of challenges, private equity CFOs have undergone a transformative evolution, shifting from being financial overseers to becoming strategic pilots. Their role surpasses the scope of accounting and reporting monthly numbers; they now own and harness data, providing invaluable insights that improve fact-based decision making for the organization at large. The emerging PE CFO is a vital linchpin, balancing the financial acumen, operational resilience, and strategic foresight poised to unlock new dimensions of success in an ever-changing landscape.
Adopting to these evolving circumstances, the responsibilities shouldered by PE CFOs have experienced a notable metamorphosis in contrast to previous years. Today's is an adept communicator and collaborator, transcending silos to engage operational leaders, investors, and portfolio company executives to navigate fluid market dynamics, conserve cash, and drive transformation. Most importantly, they enable the ability to drive better and faster decision making, aiding in the execution of the value creation plan.
In the current landscape, there are heightened market challenges confronting PE CFOs compared to previous years. Executives grapple not just with survival, but proactively rising from economic inflation to maintain the original investment thesis. These times demand meticulous attention to minute details and a strategic pivot around new pain points - namely inflation, rising interest rates, and supply chain disruptions. Each of these challenges bears its own set of sub-challenges leading to after-effects, and the key areas to focus on during these times include balancing cash management and revenue growth, evaluating headcount, benefits, procurement, and facilities, while also investing in automation.
Amidst these dynamics, pace is still paramount. Even in the face of impending challenges, the deal team continues to expect prompt execution within the business, tasking PE CFOs to augment their strategic maneuvering while managing rapid timelines.
I find a deep need to push towards automation, even if cost neutral or fractionally more expensive, to remove key dependencies that are very challenging to resolve in this remote/hybrid world. The key takeaways with a “digital first” strategy is that the role can be more scalable and insightful if technology and data is harnessed. The key challenges will continue to be not just talent acquisition to support growth, but finding the right talent that can enable greater democratization of data to drive performance.Chad Hensley, finance transformation leader
Steering through economic unpredictability
The increased price of cash adds new complexity to the PE CFO role, requiring the crafting of inflation-resistant financial models. The aim is to safeguard investments against mounting price pressures and preserve their value. About 47 percent of PE CFOs say their top priority is building these predictive models and developing scenario analysis capabilities. They adopt a cautious approach during uncertain times while remaining open to seizing advantageous opportunities.
The rise in interest rates has exerted tremendous stress on cash flow, which cascades across the entire organizational budget. The once-familiar terrain of budgeting and forecasting now encompasses sophisticated interest rate hedging strategies, aimed at safeguarding portfolio investments against potential volatility.
I do believe we will see accelerated CFO turnover as increased debt costs on marginally performing assets, coupled with lower market multiples, will exacerbate the CFO/VP talent movement to businesses where equity opportunities exist.Chad Hensley
Supply chain disruption
Supply chain disruption, once regulated to operational concerns, now falls under the purview of PE CFOs. Financial leaders are tasked with deciphering the intricate web of global supply chains while recalibrating investment strategies based on these insights. As a result, PE CFOs gauge potential risks and opportunities stemming from uncertainties, reshape investment decisions and optimize portfolio performance to adapt.
Looking beyond the corner: PE CFOs must prepare their organizations to navigate intricate risk scenarios. They must embrace a flexible, data-centric approach to scenario planning, allowing them to assess the ripple effects of market risks. To promote business agility, they forge cross-functional collaborations across the enterprise, ensuring tighter alignment between deal partners, portfolio company leadership, and the board.
Managing growth and conserving cash
The changing debt-to-revenue ratio for PE firms has prompted CFOs to become both conservative and opportunistic. Sustaining growth, increasing profitability, and reducing expenses pose a greater challenge in today's higher interest rate environment. Firms need to cut back, but need to have profitability and growth, raising the need for working capital to ride out the slowdown. Achieving a favorable balance between driving growth and preserving cash is essential to ensure the generation of positive EBITDA.
Many financial leaders have embraced advanced scenario planning and modeling to inform strategic capital decisions. This involves managing price increases while addressing long-term customer demand. While pursuing long-term growth goals remains feasible, the margin for error diminishes, underscoring the critical importance of more selective investment.
From deal initiation to exit, PE CFOs face the pressure of meeting stringent targets and optimizing investor gains. This mission assumes even greater importance amid the current climate of high inflation, rising interest rates, and supply chain disruptions. Regardless of external forces, the aim remains steadfast - maximizing exit value.
Looking beyond the corner: PE CFOs must collaborate closely with colleagues across the C-suite to recalibrate budgets and reassess pricing strategies. This proactive approach aims to ensure that growth remains achievable, with a renewed focus on prioritizing long-term growth initiatives.
The process of accelerating transformation parallels the PE CFO's endeavor to navigate economic complexities and fuel growth. This dual pursuit requires leading the charge toward digitization, standardization, and automation. By streamlining workflows, defining key performance indicators, and monitoring metrics, financial leaders harness strategies to inform strategic decision-making.
Looking beyond the corner: PE CFOs can monitor the impact of standardization across the finance function and the entire enterprise. Achieving digital transformation necessitates organizational alignment, harnessing new technologies to amplify the efficacy of traditional financial tools. This infusion of technology fosters synergies, spurs growth, and enhances job functionality - when integrated properly.
In the dynamic realm of private equity, the transformative journey of the PE CFO epitomizes resilience and adaptability. Economic challenges have catalyzed a pivotal shift beyond the traditional role of financial steward, and PE CFOs now emerge as strategic navigators, armed with innovative strategies and data-driven insights.
Today's financial leader needs to see the forest for the trees, and perceive the larger panorama while mastering the minutiae, adept at viewing the overarching business landscape from multiple vantage points. The success of a PE CFO lies in their seamless blend of financial acumen, scenario planning, and the knack for forging strong partnerships. This commitment guides organizations through choppy waters toward sustained growth and triumph within the ever-evolving private equity landscape.
Never miss insights
Stay in the know with our thought leadership