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Understanding the permanent reward in interim CFO roles

Trend | Financial Leadership

Understanding the permanent reward in interim CFO roles

  • An interim CFO will usually spend six months to a year in the role.
  • Many late-career finance leaders relish the chance to do interim work.
  • Interim CFOs should have the ability to get up to speed quickly and spot inefficiencies, as well as possess a high level of integrity. 

When a CFO leaves a healthcare organization, a void often is felt enterprisewide that must be filled until a permanent replacement is hired. Experienced healthcare CFOs undoubtedly have the skillset for an interim CFO assignment. This type of experience can address the increasingly challenging finance responsibilities that include balancing financial outcomes with patient outcomes and reaching across the enterprise to collaborate and communicate with physicians and other clinical executives.

The interim CFO role

An interim CFO will usually spend six months to a year in the role and can offer a healthcare organization these key benefits:

  • Buying the organization time to recruit a permanent CFO
  • Keeping the financial ship on course to prevent a backlog of tasks from accumulating
  • Providing a fresh set of eyes on the state of an organization’s finances and on the roles and responsibilities of the CFO position

Tricks of the trade

High-performing interim CFOs have a “bag of tricks” that they can use in various situations, says Ken Robinson, an experienced former healthcare CFO who has completed more than a dozen interim assignments. Interim CFOs like Robinson have typically been sitting CFOs in the past.

Interim CFOs often have the following abilities:

  • Welcome the variety that interim work brings.
  • Adapt well to different environments — making tough decisions if needed or reinvigorating a finance team that’s been without its leader. 
  • Get up to speed in a new role within days or a few weeks.
  • Accept assignments they have been brought in to do, such as forging ahead with new initiatives, managing a merger or acquisition or shaking up the finance team. It’s just a perception that an interim is someone simply to maintain financial operations.
  • Spot an inefficiency or cut costs. One interim CFO renegotiated an organization’s long-term debt in the bond market and consequently improved its bond rating, saving it millions of dollars. This type of story is common.
  • Passion and people skills to make an impact in a short period of time.
  • Integrity because even though a nondisclosure/noncompete agreement is signed at the start of an engagement, the interim becomes privy to detailed insider information on the organization. CFOs who take on interim roles take seriously their fiduciary obligation to the organization and stakeholders. 
  • Enjoy, or at least tolerate, travel.
  • Temporarily relocate, which means being without family and other support mechanisms and achieving work/life balance in a new location. 

Internal finance leader as interim

There are a few reasons to avoid appointing an existing finance team member as an interim. First, it places undue strain on that leader — and the entire leadership team — to essentially do two jobs at once. Second, if that individual is in the running for the permanent role, it can cloud the process and discourage other applicants.

The interim CFO profile

Like Robinson, a typical interim CFO has seen and done a little bit of everything in their careers. This type of person tends to be a seasoned finance executive who knows their way around a balance sheet, understands standards and regulations from generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to the Stark Law and has the confidence, gravitas and experience to navigate the C-suite.

Many late-career finance leaders relish the chance to do interim work. The work is demanding but rewarding, and there’s the opportunity to make a sizeable impact in a matter of months.

It’s a great career option for executives who want to find variety in their career, says Robinson. Interim executives get the opportunity to experience new organizations, and, on longer assignments, become vested in a city, state or region.

Each assignment presents lessons that can be carried on to the next, Robinson adds. Even in situations where organizations are in financial distress, there are best practices and poor practices to learn from and use to provide value for future clients.

Filling the gaps

Interim healthcare CFOs can be valuable team members when a healthcare organization is in transition. They can fill the gap during the hiring process by keeping finance operations running smoothly. In addition, they can offer an objective view and suggest valuable changes. 

Interviewed for this article:

Ken Robinson is a former consultant; former CFO at Mercy Hospital, Rogers, Ark., and Baxter Regional Medical Center, Mountain Home, Ark.; and interim CFO for more than a dozen interim assignments.

About the Author

Brian Krehbiel

is principal and practice leader of Witt/Kieffer’s Interim Leadership Practice (briank@wittkieffer.com).


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