The CFO’s Role in Business Succession Planning

Written by: Dr. Stacy Feiner, BDO USA, LLP

I was invited to be a presenter at Kruggel Lawton's 2016 CFO Summit on November 9 to talk about the role of the CFO in succession planning. And I was excited…because even though the topic of business succession planning is not new, financial professionals continue to feel ill-equipped to address the succession planning issues associated with business needs. But what CFOs need to understand first and foremost is that their trusted position next to the business owner gives them the best chance of any to positively impact the process and outcome of succession planning. The role of the CFO is to quarterback the process. And there are five steps toward making this happen:

  1. The CFO’s mindset
    To be the quarterback, half the CFOs must develop confidence in what they know. They must realize that they do not need to know everything about succession planning to be involved. The other half must humble themselves, and admit they don’t know everything about succession planning. This way others will also want to be involved.
  2. Every quarterback has a coach to ensure the endeavor is successful for the business
    There is a lot of emotion in succession planning, so bringing in an expert who is trained and equipped to facilitate highly emotional conversations, and prepared to establish the road map of activities is critical. Here succession planning focuses on assessing, developing, hiring and promoting talent and ensures there are no gaps when people retire. There is actually a book of exercises, designed for 90 minute client meetings that keeps the process organized and sequenced, effective, and moving forward.
  3. Preparing the stakeholders for the future
    Managers and employees need to be assessed, developed and promoted (or terminated); family members, in the case of family-owned businesses, need to be assessed to lead the business or taught to be responsible shareholders; customers, vendors and lenders need to be surveyed and reassured about the future.
  4. Outside resources need to be lined up to help the business owner get started
    Succession planning is a team sport. It’s not one person’s job. Accounting professionals bring tax strategies. Legal professionals bring trusts and estates strategies. Insurance professionals bring risk protection strategies. Wealth professionals bring financial allocation strategies. Management consultants bring business strategies. Business coaches bring people strategies.
  5. Executing the plan
    In the midst of all this you want a communication plan that addresses things like “when do you tell stakeholders of the plan” and “who do you tell first, second and third?” and “what do you tell them that would get them excited about the future?” This is where employee engagement is critical and where buy-in is found.

Most likely, you never considered yourself as the CFO quarterback for succession planning. Am I right? But I bet you have thought that, as the CFO, you’re in the best position to make sure it gets done right. First get your head in the game, build some succession planning muscle, and then decide if you want to proceed. Find out what it takes, then decide if you want to take it on. After all, you, too, are impacted by the outcome. So set out to do it right!

stacy-feiner-bdo-photoDr. Stacy Feiner is a business psychologist and coach at BDO USA. Stacy brings a new perspective and psychological strategies that help business owners improve their performance and advance their organizations. Stacy’s approach enhances complex dynamics within owner-operated companies, family businesses, boards, and management teams. The goal of coaching is to help leaders optimize talent, increase profitable revenue, and enhance business value. Stacy's latest book, Talent Mindset: The Business Owner's Guide to Building Bench Strength can be found on Contact Dr. Stacy Feiner at

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