Constance Minc has been CFO of global enterprise software giant IFS for two years, but it was the time she spent as head of business operations in 2016 that enabled her to reform the company's finance function to be more customer-centric — just as IFS has been trying to do with its product development approach since the downturn a decade ago.
"My experience in business operations was very useful because effectively it's helping me bring operational key performance indicators to the business and the finance platform," Minc said last week in a CFO Thought Leader podcast.
Before the recession, IFS developed its software in comparative isolation from customers compared with what it does today, Minc said. The company changed its approach during the recovery. "We really moved from being purely product-led to having a value-driven discussion with our customers," she said.
That's the same approach she's tried to bring to her role as CFO, using what she learned as head of operations to ensure finance staff understand the needs of the company's customers so they have context when they analyze metrics and run reports.
"That's actually key to me in my management side, to provide context to my team as to why we are doing what we're doing," she said. "That background is absolutely critical to ensure they understand our go-to-market model our customer needs."
Minc said her year as operations chief helped her identify the KPIs she uses in her forecasts that are tied to concrete inputs into the business. "I think, overall, our forecast has greatly improved, and I think that comes from cooperation between business and finance," she said. "I think the forecast has been for a long time a pure financing exercise when the forecast should have effectively been a business tool. So, just bringing the forecast to the reality of what the business is, helps the team connect with the sales function, with the customer-facing teams that we have in the business, to ensure that all the inputs are not pure numbers but closely connected to the reality of the business."
Tracking the metrics
Minc said she tracks all of the standard metrics for determining how well the company is doing. Each morning, she looks at earnings, profitability and cash flow.
But it's the nonfinancial metrics she looks at — customer satisfaction, as well as employee satisfaction — to gauge how well the company is staying in touch with what its customers want.
Employee satisfaction is as important as customer satisfaction because the two are correlated, she said. "It's really hard to perform" if you don't have employee buy-in on "how we're perceived internally and externally," she said. "IFS has shifted gears and is making sure we don't lose touch with our customers and our employees, and in making sure we are going in the right direction."
Minc, who worked for 15 years in investment banking before she transferred to the operational side of business, said the strategy part of her job she finds most satisfying. "When I think of the finance position maybe 20 years ago, we were much more of a schoolteacher," she said. "Finance has become a revenue enabler, and being part of that transition, that transformation, supporting the management in achieving long-term goals is most exciting for me."
Her advice to new CFOs is twofold: Surround yourself with good people in the finance and accounting functions, and stay cool. "I can only be as good as my team is, and having a team of trusted colleagues is what's really important to me," she said. "Make sure you surround yourself with the best people and keep cool."