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The Relationship Between CEO and CFO: A Balancing Act

Philip Green
Former CFO at Deliveroo & Finance Director, EMEA, Amazon

Learning outcomes

  • The role of an effective CFO as a hand-brake on risk taking
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Executive Bio

Philip Green

Former CFO at Deliveroo & Finance Director, EMEA, Amazon

Philip Green spent almost eight years at Amazon, culminating with the role of Finance Director of EU operations. He then took on the role of CFO at Groupon, followed by the role of CFO of Deliveroo. He currently is Director and CFO of theatre and entertainment producer Jamie Hendry Productions, as well as CFO of robotics and AR gaming business Reach Robotics, and advisor to several high-tech digital start-ups.Read more

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Interview Transcript

You’ve had a number of CFO or finance roles in fast-growing businesses. Could we talk a little bit about the relationship between the CFO and CEO in the context of leadership and support and what one needs from the other?

I’m probably one of the worst CFOs. I probably get a lot of stick for it. It’s a dance. There’s a leader and a follower, in that sense. It depends whether you’ve got a founder-led CEO or a management type of CEO because I do think there are slight differences between the two. A core view of a CEO: I think you’re slightly more willing to take risks, drive the companies forward, very commercially minded, and willing to take those risks. You almost need that handbrake of a CFO who is a little bit more, “Let’s start with no and then convince me” — a bit more risk-averse. In the end, it’s a relationship, so it is about that balance. You can’t have two people who are like, “I want to go and jump off this cliff,” “Well, there’s a higher one over there; let’s go and do that.” You want somebody to say, “Why would you jump off a cliff?”

You do need that balance, the yin and yang of that relationship. It’s a critical relationship to get right, and like anything, it takes time, work, and patience. The best partnerships are when a CEO and CFO have worked together for long periods. You can see, fundamentally, they trust each other and recognise where each person’s coming from.

They value each other’s opinion, they’ve learned how to be receptive to the other person’s experiences and thought processes, and those things take time. Also, an awareness of where your blind spots are and how the other person is complementing those.

At the most senior levels, that’s so important because it sets the tone of the organisation.

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