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A Day in the Life of an Interim CFO

Marc Palker, director at CFO Consulting Partners LLC in Princeton, NJ, has been working as an interim CFO since 1996. He is a CMA and member of the Institute of Management Accountants, and his company provides interim CFO, part-time, CFO, and CFO consulting services to a variety of businesses. “What we provide are services to companies of all different shapes, sizes, industries, public, non-public, not-for-profit,” said Palker.”

Palker’s particular niche area is small to medium-sized publicly-traded companies, and in working for these companies on an interim basis, he can draw on his experience as a CFO for four different companies. In addition to more than 30 years of experience, Palker relies on some of his favorite tools to help get the job done.

The CFO needs to have access to Securities and Exchange Commission rules and regulations having to do with financial reporting and filings by public companies. “This is tool you have to have a click away,” said Palker. “Same thing with the new accounting regulations or rules that have been codified. The codification came out in July 2009, and that is the authoritative U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Knowing how to use that and having that a finger click away is very important.”

Palker’s favorite part of the job is the relationships he has formed with CFOs. “I have become their trusted advisor, not only on strictly accounting issues but all other issues that may come upon their desk,” he explained.

A typical assignment for an interim CFO depends on the function, but usually lasts from three to nine months. “You’re there to bridge the gap between the CFO who was there and the CFO that will be there.”

“We go in and we stabilize the company, as far as its financial departments, and its financial reporting. We improve anything that we see that can be improved, and then at some point in time after everything has leveled out, and become calm, we begin the search for our replacement to become the permanent CFO at the company. ”

On a typical interim CFO workday, Palker says first thing he is concerned about is cash, where all the bank accounts stand, what’s the status of moneys that are supposedly coming in, and what bills need to be paid.

After working with cash, the next typical assignment is to turn to an analysis of the transactions that have occurred and determining what information you as the CFO have to relay to the president, CEO, or other operating managers so they can proceed with their own tasks.

“Finally, you’re going to always deal with the phone call, the emergency, special project, depending on what’s going on with the company at the time. It may be an audit from the accounting firm, it may be an acquisition in progress, it may be strictly working on lease of a building that the company’s going to be renting. That’s a typical day,” said Palker.

Palker finds the most annoying part of his job is the never-ending parade of people who come to the CFO’s office with questions and problems that they ought to be able to solve for themselves. It’s easier to just walk into the boss’s office and get the answer, he explains. These interruptions can create a break in concentration that is frustrating.

The biggest challenge the interim CFO faces is keeping the company from stopping. Palker’s job is to make sure that everything keeps moving in the proper direction.

Palker advises that the interim CFO should not be afraid to admit that he alone doesn’t have all the answers. He prides himself on knowing what he doesn’t know and taking advantage of the tools that are available to him to help solve problems in the proper time frame. “There is so much information available now because of the Internet, and there are so many experts out there that you can tap into if you’ve developed a good networking group that you can rely on.”

If you were to rank Palker’s desk on a range from 1 to 10, with 1 being an empty desk and 10 being a desk that looked like a tornado swept through, Palker’s desk would be a 2 or 3. “You have to have your desk organized for when that phone rings, to be able to get your hands on what you need. Part of our filing system now is no longer paper; it’s knowing where to get it in your computer so you can access it that way. I would say that if I went back 10-15 years, my desk was like a 10, but technology has cleaned it up quite a bit.”

Palker’s advice for someone starting out in this business is to network, network, network, and network. His clients come from referrals and his referrals come from his network, and primarily from accountants and attorneys. “Everybody knows an accountant and everybody knows an attorney, and that’s where your referrals are mostly going to come from.”

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