What CFOs should focus on to boost portfolio company value

They should be working to help drive growth, improve EBITDA and maximize exit value, according to consultants.

Chief financial officers at private equity firms have three clear tasks when it comes to working with portfolio companies, and if they are doing anything else, then they are not utilizing their time properly.

That was the message from several consultants speaking at sister publication Private Equity International‘s Operating Partners Forum in New York last week.

CFOs should focus on helping to drive growth, improving EBITDA and maximizing exit value, said one consultant, a former CFO himself who now advises CFOs. “If you’re not working on those three things, it’s very difficult to call you a CFO,” he said at a session during the forum.

One issue CFOs face is that they don’t know what tasks they should and shouldn’t be doing. CFOs at many firms tend to outsource routine work such as accounting and tax, and seek help on specialized areas like compliance and legal contracts. But, the consultant said, they often end up working on the management or minor operational work of a portfolio company instead of focusing on driving up the value of the company as a whole.

CFOs should be the “architect of the business model focused on value creation,” according to another consultant. He recounted a time when he asked a CFO what he worked on while closing a deal, and the CFO said he mostly worked on balance sheets. “Wrong answer,” the consultant said. “We have people that can do opening balance sheets for you. We want you to get the integration savings, we want you to drive the value.”

Once a CFO understands his or her role then they will be able to drive growth in the company and improve EBITDA, he said. In terms of maximizing exit value, the consultant said setting the process in place prior to the sale of a company is what he tells CFOs is the best way to prepare for an exit.

Being unprepared during the sale process is how CFOs can get stuck with work that they otherwise shouldn’t be doing. Establishing the plan beforehand can help ease the sale process, the second consultant said.

“We’re saying, ‘Here are the types of analysis that you’re going to have to present during the sale process. So, if you chip away at these things 10 hours a month, 20 hours a month, you’re going to be well prepared.’”

To become effective in their work, CFOs should hire people to their team that they can trust and who can communicate clearly with other members of the firm – such as the deal team – to avoid any misunderstandings, the consultant said.