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Rent-A-CFO

Published In: Seattle Business Magazine on February 27th 2009
Author: Niki Stojnic

Some of the highest-caliber chief financial officers in Washington aren’t crunching numbers at a Fortune 500 firm.  Instead, they’re temping at small- and medium-size businesses for months – even years – stepping into handle mergers and acquisitions, accounting and financial planning.

“Now we’re beginning to see people who are saying, ‘I need help in cutting down the size of my business,’ says Tom Broetje, founder of CFO2GO, a company that provides part-time and interim CFOs primarily to entrepreneurs and smaller venture-backed industries.

The finance executives at CFO2Go are not ordinary temp workers, they bring decades of experience, parachuting into businesses that need a qualified financial manager but don’t have the budget for a full-time position.

Founded in 1991, Bothell-based CFO2GO pioneered the concept of the freelance accountant in Washington.  At that time, says Broetje, he and the company co-founders had to convince people that their idea was sound.  “Now we don’t have too much of that,” he adds, citing the growth of today’s information technology (IT) companies.  “There’s plenty of work in the Seattle area.”

The need for “interim CFOs” is great enough to support a handful of Northwest competitors, including CFO Selections, founded in 2002 by Tom Varga.  The core business of CFO Selections is a financial temp agency, but the Bellevue-based firm also provides a referral service for companies looking for permanent CFOs as well.

“We got pulled along by customers and clients,” Varga says of his referral service.  “Some companies that had worked with our temporary CFOs said, “Find us one [CFO].  You guys have been around for two years.  No one knows better where to look.”

Atlanta-based firm Tatum Partners has an office in Seattle and also provides businesses with part-time and interim executives in finance and IT, as well as full-service consulting services in finance, IT, and corporate leadership.

With downsizing at the top of many companies’ to-do list, the option to keep overhead low by hiring interim or temporary financial experts is more appealing than ever before, Broetje says.  “Until last June, or clients were expanding, he notes.  “Now, we’re beginning to see people who are asking, ‘How can I skinny up my operation?’ ”

The option to work with temp companies appeals to many CFOs, who exchange careers in the corporate rat race for those with flexibility, Broetje says.  “Some of them say, ‘Maybe there’s a better way.  Instead of trying to climb the corporate ladder, I can have a little more control of my own destiny and career path,’ ” he explains.

Varga sets the bar high for finance executives at CFO Selections.  As a general baseline, the company considers hiring only those who have amassed a minimum of 20 years of experience.  “We look for an accomplished executive who happens to have been a CFO rather than someone with the technical skills who may or may not have management skills,” Varga says.

Typically, Varga gets five to six calls weekly from interested execs.  CFOS2Go’s Broetje says he has seen a recent spike in calls from laid-off CFOs but is careful about adding new CFOs to his current staff of 15.

On average, assignments at CFO Selections last 18 to 24 months; but time in each setting is ultimately shaped by a company’s needs.  CFO 2Go, which also has controllers, accountants, and bookkeepers for hire, had one CFO who stayed as long as 10 years.

It proves that hiring a part-time CFO can come in handy in any economy.   “A smaller business can try to stretch a bookkeeper to do CFO work,” Broetje says.  “Our solution is to hire just the right amount of CFO.”

Topics: News Trends