How aspiring CFOs can reach the top

Snyk CFO Ken MacAskill shares his top tips for those starting out in finance.

Listen to the full conversation

After two decades in the finance sector, Ken MacAskill knows what it takes to be an impactful CFO.

The secret? Look beyond the numbers.

Ken, CFO of Snyk, an open-source security platform, adopted a more holistic business perspective throughout the years, resulting in his success as a financial leader.

We recently interviewed Ken on The CFO Playbook podcast, where he shared some of the tools and advice he would give to an up-and-coming CFO.

1. Learn the business

While accounting is a necessary technical base for any financial role, CFOs need to look beyond the numbers to understand where the growth of the business stems from, how each facet of the company affects growth, and what investments can be made to propel the business forward.

Take the time to learn about all aspects of the business: the stakeholders, the metrics, the employees, and the vision for the future.

Ken says:

‘It needs to be about growing the scale of the business, and helping the business understand where the growth is coming from, and making sure the investments and the engagement that you have with the broader team is around the business and less so necessarily about the debits and the credits’.

When you combine technical expertise with business-driven knowledge, you create a springboard for scalable growth.

2. Counteract your weaknesses

Great leaders acknowledge and counteract their flaws through the teams they build and the systems and tools they put in place.

Ken says:

‘At the end of the day, you need to make up for your weaknesses or shortcomings, and that those things are being looked after either through the applications that you choose to deploy or the way you build the team and how you balance the characteristics of everybody that you bring around’.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to highlight the strengths of your team and give your employees the tools and autonomy they need to grow. The more varied their skills are, the stronger your team will be.

3. Invest in the future

Identify potential growth opportunities, and invest in the expansion of those areas. Ken suggests you ask yourself these questions:

‘Where’s this business going? How do I think bigger? If I have the resources to, when and how do I invest? How do I make sure that I’m getting out far enough so that I’m not slowing the business down?’

It’s also important to stay ahead of your revenue targets in order to give yourself a buffer if growth trajectories change. Ken says his team works six months ahead to ensure they have enough capacity to grow.

As long as you keep your focus on the business’s future, you’ll be able to pinpoint when and where to invest your capital.

4. Focus on the right data

Every company has unique data sets. To get ahead of investor questions, identify the metrics that tell the story of where your company is headed.

Ken says:

‘I think the more time you spend internally and understand the puts-and-takes between all of [these metrics], it’ll help you get out in front of them so that you’re better able to describe your business model and the way your business works—and hopefully communicate that appropriately’.

The more you understand about the business, the better you’ll communicate your vision of the company to investors and stakeholders.

Practice makes perfect

Mastering the CFO role is a lifelong evolution, according to Ken. It takes time and practice to develop your leadership skills and learn how to manage the increasing demands of the role.

Be patient, get to know the business, understand your team, and think ahead. These four traits will propel your success as a financial leader.

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