Get Out From ‘Behind The Curtain’

Adam Schorr Headshot
c/o Adam Schorr
Successful CFOs need to be strategic today, says Adam Schorr, CFO of Private Advisor Group.

More finance leaders should step out from “behind the curtain” and be at the forefront of their organization’s strategic growth initiatives, says Adam Schorr, CFO of Private Advisor Group in Morristown, New Jersey.

But make sure you strike a balance between daily details and big-picture thinking. “One challenge many CFOs face in their positions is either being pigeonholed in the nitty gritty accounting minutiae or spending too much time high up in the realm of lofty company goals—neither track will set you up for long-term success,” he tells StrategicCFO360.

Schorr is responsible for overseeing Private Advisor Group’s capital management, investments, financial metrics and business intelligence, as well as engaging with key stakeholders on the firm’s financial performance and strategic direction. One prior job that has helped him be a better CFO? Police officer.

What is your opinion on the growing trend of CFOs taking on a more strategic financial leadership role within organizations?

CFOs have an opportunity to play a pivotal role in leading company strategy, but all too often they remain behind the curtain, serving a more internal function. When CFOs assume a more prominent place on the stage and find a voice that expands beyond delivering a company’s financial statements, they can make a bigger impact on business growth and stability.

Strategic CFOs can drive a business’ culture, customer experience and technology innovation. As a CFO, if you’re already engaging across all facets of a business, you possess insider knowledge of the processes, aspirations and challenges of employees, clients and stakeholders. This presents a huge opportunity to better understand where investments will make the biggest impact.

Think about technology innovation—likely one of the largest expenses for an organization that when done right can mean millions in efficiency and productivity. Understanding a firm’s tech operations can aid the CFO in making informed decisions on how much to invest, which new solutions to invest in and to have a pulse on the efficacy of the investment. It starts with listening.

Can you share some examples of how you have personally embraced the strategic financial leadership role within your organization?

I joined Private Advisor Group last year, and from day one, I’ve prioritized absorbing the company’s culture. I have talked with countless employees and financial advisors in our network nationwide to inculcate myself in the legacy, mission and strategic direction of the company. By speaking at Private Advisor Group’s Annual Conference in April, I was striving to make new connections and open a line of communication with our clients.

In addition to having an active role with our wider community, I’m thinking of new ways to approach utilizing finance to reinforce our culture and strategy. We have built a strategic plan that communicates the world of possibilities for our organization.

When you showcase the financial potential and communicate a real path to achieving it, it energizes everyone—your leadership team, and of course your customers. Instead of just relaying results, opening communication around the vision and strategy of the company is an integral part of helping drive organizational alignment.

At the end of the day, you are in search of the right next questions to ask, not necessarily the right answer. Generating a dialogue around data and these questions can lead to new opportunities, insights and innovation, and reinvigorate the people you bring into the conversation.

How do you believe this shift toward strategic financial leadership impacts the traditional responsibilities of a CFO?

One challenge many CFOs face in their positions is either being pigeonholed in the nitty gritty accounting minutiae or spending too much time high up in the realm of lofty company goals—neither track will set you up for long-term success.

An effective CFO serves as a nexus, linking the fundamentals of the role to the strategic vision of the company, balancing the two while not foregoing one. At Private Advisor Group, I strive to stay rooted in the fundamentals while maintaining a broader perspective on the company vision. For me, bridging this divide is the fun part. It has led me to strike up partnerships with talent across the organization to ensure we are financially sound and think of new ways to grow.

It lends to self-reflection as you ask yourself, “What are my skills, and where can I add the most value? Where do I need more support?” It’s not just bridging partnerships across the organization, but also across the industry, whether that is lending institutions, potential investors or subject matter experts. It is amazing how excited these partners can also get around a good vision and strategy, of course supported by real financial opportunity.

What challenges or obstacles may CFOs encounter while incorporating more strategy into the role, and how can they overcome them?

I believe diverse backgrounds and experiences can greatly contribute to success in bringing strategic vision to new roles. CFOs don’t always have a linear trajectory in their careers pointing them to the C-Suite position.

I began my career as a police officer before stepping into technology and operations roles within the financial service industry. When serving as a police officer I learned skills for quickly developing trust and diffusing tension in difficult situations, and how to observe your environment—understanding what motivates people, and what angers or upsets them.

Taking this experience from the streets to boardrooms may sound like a stretch but it isn’t. The way you read a room, learn what to anticipate and how to react has helped me through many challenging discussions. As CFO you’re not just presenting numbers, but coaching employees on the business model and what it means for them. When you genuinely connect and care about others, you can make a much broader impact.

CFOs must also be team players, recognize their personal limitations and surround themselves with those who can help fill the gaps and support the larger mission. For me, this translates to working closely with our firm’s head of finance who directly oversees advisor compensation, advisory fee billing, accounts payable and treasury functions.

Working in synch with the right people with the right skillsets can take a finance department from feeling trapped in a financial engineering game to leading a growth game—focused on establishing sustainable goals and contributing to the firm’s progress together with all other departments.

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