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October 28, 2008

A couple of years ago I found myself in the last three candidates in the running for a General Manager position with an organization I thought would be interesting to work for. I had the handicap of applying from overseas and from trying to install a climate of confidence and trust over a dodgy conference call line with five complete strangers.

I gave responses to questions without seeing their reactions so without knowing if I should add or alter the information I gave. There was a slight delay on the line just to make an awkward and tense interview even more awkward and tense and despite all of these problems the question the jury continued to ram at me was in terms of my financial competences.

“How would you react to this financial situation?”, “What financial strategies would you put in place if this situation was irreversible?” etc. etc. Of course I did what any deer with a very “learnt on the battlefield approach to finance but caught in the headlights anyway” would do and tried to give honest answers to the questions. “In this situation I would need more information of course but my primary concerns would be the long term vision for the project, blah,
blah, blah”.

What I should have said was “I trust you have hired a competent CFO and together each of us can do our respective jobs and make the most judicious decisions when the situation arises”.

In the current climate it’s probable companies will continue to push the finance people (nothing personal) towards the top job because they think it’s the safest thing to do. “Oh she comes from finance…” like this is a stamp of conservatism and quality. “No need to worry here because we haven’t got some hot head marketing person or artsy fartsy at the head of our shop.”

For companies to succeed in making any coherent decisions at all they must accept the idea that a holistic approach is the only healthy and long term one which can withstand the majority of situations. I’m all for being passionate and multi-faceted but there are limits to human knowledge in specific domains and limits to the centres of interest of each company worker.

Some people like doing the books. It’s wacky but true. So let them do the books and let them do it in peace and to the best of their ability. Others like to bring projects to the table but have no idea how to structure the financing. So what? Let them bring the project anyway.

So here’s the thing – regardless of the size, companies remain just groups of humans working together with a common goal. They are never perfect and never purely statistical or numerical and every good company is only as strong as the heart and soul which is formed by the sum parts of the people working in it.

I get the feeling sometimes this is being forgotten. I hope not.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. GirlPie permalink
    November 15, 2008 1:15 am

    Great reminder in your “what I should have said.” Thanks for the post.

    PS: I hate collaborating (luckily, people come to me for my opinion and only my left and right brains need to collaborate on that) — any thoughts on getting over this flaw in my human nature (or lack of same)?

  2. Tim permalink*
    November 15, 2008 7:44 am

    Without going into a deep study of your brain, maybe you just haven’t found the right person to collaborate with.

    My business associate (the fabulous Christophe) and I have worked together now for nearly ten years and we are as close professionally as ever without really being friends.

    It’s a relationship which requires eternal openess and diplomacy and if you are not ready to go down this path with someone you can be sure you will put your venture into jeopardy.

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