The title ‘CFO’ might be clearly defined at public companies, but every private equity firm asks something slightly different from their chief financial officer, often adding other titles like ‘chief operations officer’ or ‘chief compliance officer’ to the position.
And over the years, the responsibilities of CFOs have grown exponentially as they were charged with so much of that vaunted “institutionalization” of the asset class. They were the ones busy standardizing LP reporting, supervising cybersecurity efforts and making sure the firm’s activities were fully compliant with regulators, both at home and abroad.
In choosing the CFOs to honor here, we understood how hard it is to rank or define what makes any CFO great. Excellent operations may contribute to those skyrocketing fundraising tallies and stunning IRRs, but only indirectly. And unfortunately, the spotlight only lands on the CFO when things go wrong, such as a late quarterly report, a botched CRM implementation or bad headlines from a regulatory review.
So, we decided to focus on the CFOs at firms that have also built a reputation for contributing to the broader private funds community. CFOs are often the bridge between the dealmakers and the operations staff, so while they can speak with both audiences, they aren’t truly a part of either one. Instead, they tend to have the most in common with other CFOs, which means collaboration with their peers is key for their performance and, most likely, their sanity.
The informal phone calls, drinks and discussions that might begin at Private Funds CFO’s own CFO Forum in New York end up shaping how these CFOs do their jobs. Many of the CFOs on this list are frequent panelists at that forum, and often contribute to these pages. Others are CFOs at market-leading firms who will always attract interest and inform how the CFOs at firms of all sizes conduct themselves. All of the people on this list made a huge difference to the industry’s CFO class, a judgement made by our editorial staff and the CFOs themselves.
In talking to the CFOs on this list, some common themes emerged. The importance of soft skills, of being able to hire and develop teams properly, was mentioned by virtually everyone. They all had the technical prowess to crunch the numbers, but they had to learn how to manage their superiors, their staff and a growing roster of service providers. They didn’t mind the increased regulatory oversight but didn’t enjoy the tendency for the rules to change frequently. They all understood that the modern CFO was no longer merely the firm’s head accountant, but a strategic position, and welcomed that change.
Many of the CFOs looked back at their early days and noticed how lonely it was and how often they felt like they had more questions than answers. Some are old enough to recall when those answers couldn’t be found online. But all these stories ended in similar fashion. They found, or noticed, a mentor to set an example, and they built a tribe of peers that would support them through the likes of a financial crisis and a pandemic.
Many of them were the first women hired by their firms, and had to wrestle with gender bias. But universally, they noted how much the culture has changed toward both women and CFOs. And everyone on this list appears committed to ensure that no matter how the CFO’s profile changes in the future, it’ll be a far less lonely role, and one closer to the top.