by Nabeel Chohan, AcceleratingCFO Consultant (UK)
Nabeel has extensive experience in management of financial reporting for global organizations, primarily within technology, media and entertainment sector. Nabeel played an instrumental role in M&A due diligence which lead to successful sale of Saffron Digital (c/o HTC Corporation) to a PE firm. He also played a key role with other high growth companies, managing finance, supporting management, securing funding, and raising capital. Nabeel is a Chartered Certified Accountant licensed in London, United Kingdom.
At a recent Investment pitch event, I met a Managing Director of software consultancy firm. He had peculiar views on the organisational structure – “I don’t believe in support functions, but instead we hire functional business partners,” he said. That triggered many questions in my mind.
First of all, let’s distinguish between support functions and business partnering. Support functions are ancillary activities carried by individuals to accommodate the core functions of the business. It has no direct link with the company’s operations but are considered to be critical for key decision making. Support functions such as, Human Resources (HR) & Finance and Office administration are deemed to be following the “tick-box” approach, where all the activities performed are mainly considered to be part of compliance with either legislation or company policies.
Typical support function has employees with designated title and job duties which doesn’t allow the individuals to utilise their other skills and knowledge to add value to the business by giving more insight. This is where business partnering kicks in.
A finance business partner, for instance, involves a professional who works alongside other business functions supporting and assessing their performance through key insights and also plays a key role in operational and strategic decision making. Business partnering is all about going that extra mile and having the ‘outside the box’ approach towards the challenges businesses faces. Along with complying with the day-to-day duties, a functional business partner will also possess below characteristics:
A number of companies, especially high growth start-ups, are now shifting towards adapting business partnering culture and prefer hiring experienced outsourced/fractional business partners. For instance, hiring a fractional CFO with industry specific expertise can bring many benefits to the company. Having the relevant exposure with other clients, the CFO would be able to steer the business towards the right direction when going through the investment phase, let’s say. Or they could provide the Board of Directors a robust cash management plan and/or runway to help them decide the next funding round. Also, by the business partner having the relevant industry expertise, they can best advise the Board in choosing the right investor and also alarm the Board of Directors for any term sheets considered to be “encumbering”.
Take-away: At AcceleratingCFO, we encourage the management to adapt business partnering culture and benefit from that collaborative environment by challenging other functions. Support teams are often perceived as not having full understanding of business’s core functions. The overall business knowledge is crucial in order to play the true role of business partner.