Who's the Boss? Let's Look at Your Options

the boss CFO COO CEO

Choosing the right CFO with the right roles and responsibilities will grow your privately held small business.


Most companies will need a chief financial officer (CFO) of some sort, even if the title isn’t necessarily printed on a business card. Depending on the age and complexity of the company, there are different types of CFOs. By examining where your business currently stands in terms of life-cycle stage and size—from small to multinational—you can determine which type of CFO best fits your operations.

A chief financial officer (CFO) is usually considered a partner to the president or chief executive officer (CEO), with the type of partnership being dependent upon the size, complexity and life-cycle stage of the company.

According to the Hart Vida Raffo (HVR) FlowFirstTM management model, there are three types of CFOs:

  • CFO–chief executive officer (CFO-CEO)
  • CFO–chief operating officer (CFO-COO)
  • CFO–controller (CFO-controller)


A CFO-CEO is most likely to be employed by a company in the early stages of its development. This type of CFO could be one of the founders of the company and is very actively involved in all aspects of the business—not just accounting and finance.

The CFO-CEO will typically develop the business plan along with the CEO and forge strong relationships with prospective investors such as venture capitalists and angel investors, as well as other banking and financing relationships. In this role, the CFO’s focus is on financial projections, budgets and taking the company through several rounds of funding. The CFO-CEO is versed on the amount of funding required to develop the company’s sales and operational infrastructure as part of executing the business plan.

Investment banking experience or a finance background with an MBA is typical of the CFO-CEO. As the company’s sales increase or the company reaches a certain critical size, this type of CFO may take on a different leadership or executive position within the company, usually becoming an executive board member.


A privately held company with expanding sales and marketing will often hire a CFO-COO to develop the business’ operations. The challenge faced within a company at this level is how to enhance the company’s operational integrity in order to safeguard its existing “sales flow.” This type of company often has more than 50 employees and has shown an increase in sales and profitability over several years.

The HVR management model defines operational flow as “the capability and capacity of a company to deliver products or services as planned.” As such, the background of a CFO-COO may be systems oriented and include hands-on experience with an implementation of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

The CFO-COO pays close attention to key operational metrics of the company and provides the necessary system-level support to properly measure the success of the company’s operational flow. This CFO may have previously been a CIO or chief technology officer (CTO) and is often working at a privately held company where the founder or owner is the president or CEO and may not be heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.

The CFO-Controller

Generally, only larger privately held companies will hire a CFO-controller. The person in this role usually has a strong accounting background and will more than likely be a certified public accountant (CPA) who may have worked in a large company as a corporate controller or divisional controller.

The strengths of a CFO-controller focus on timely monthly closings and very detailed monthly, quarterly and annual financial reporting. A company with various locations will typically need a CFO-controller as well as a controller or accounting manager at each location.

Depending on the reporting requirements of outside lenders or investors, companies at this level will often require audited financial statements. The CFO-controller will have experience in the independent-audit process and is capable of delivering a financial package and interfacing with external accountants during the audit process. For companies looking to go public, this type of CFO should have experience in U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting and prior experience with the initial public offering (IPO) process.

The Right Type of CFO

The type of CFO candidate best suited for a particular company will depend upon the life-cycle stage of the company, whether it’s just starting up as a small business or has been established in its industry for years. Sales flow, operational flow and financial flow always need a common set of business processes, and choosing the right type of CFO as outlined in the HVR FlowFirstTM management model will allow the company to maximize cash flow and overall enterprise value.

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About the author

Alex Hart

Alexander J. Hart of Cuban American decent is principal and founder of Hart Vida Raffo. With over 25 years of experience, Alex specializes in the areas of tax strategy and planning, business process improvement, and capital consulting. Whether advising on capital and financing strategy or consulting for privately-held professional services firms, Alex has the expertise and practical know-how to help any company optimize their business processes and make tactical financial decisions. He began his career at IBM in sales operations and accounting. He was a Controller for the N.Y. Post, has been a CFO for a medical device company, and has written a tax column called “Ask the Tax Guys” for Micro-Cap Review. Alex is a professional member of A.L.T.A. (Affiliated Lawyers of the Americas), a member of the National Association of Tax Preparers, and is a contributing author and mentor at Latin Business Today. Alex graduated from St. John’s University with a B.A. in Spanish and his M.B.A. in Finance. He obtained his accounting degree from Pace University.