Edward Hess in his outstanding book Learn or Die reminded us of several sobering facts about businesses burning on fumes:
- The average tenure on the S&P 500 was 30 years in 1980. Today, it’s 18 years and declining.
- The past decade, half the S&P 500 was replaced.
- The average tenure of the Fortune 500 CEO is only 4.6 years.
And then I got to thinking. How about CFOs? Could we become a dying breed? Absolutely. Yes.
A Simple Homework Assignment
Grab a piece of paper. I want you to list every client you serve.
For each client, jot down one or two activities where you are helping them to stay relevant over the next 5-10 years. Are you telling me that’s not your job? Then you’re in the wrong business. Go back to being a controller or managing some other silo in a big company.
Our industry badly needs you to help in the creativity and innovative processes of helping small business owners to both prepare for and remain in the lengthy marathon that awaits them.
Yes, I agree that we do transactional work—bank financing, M&A deals, FP&A and related financial modeling, workforce upgrading, product/strategy enhancements, succession planning, and so much more. These are one-off projects that fall under the category of efficiency activities.
One could argue the one-off projects incrementally lead to business innovation. Really? Are you so sure?
What happens when you help the mid-sized business acquire another only to shutter it 3 years later because you have led an effort to pivot the IT firm you serve from doing government work resulting from RFQs (always a losing proposition) to private-sector work in a profitable, growing niche where a small monopoly will exist for the next 10 years? That’s innovation. The one-off projects are necessary to solve today’s pains, but they don’t necessarily solve tomorrow’s bigger issues by remaining relevant.
Two Critical Questions
I will finish with two questions. You know the first one.
How are you helping your clients to stay relevant over the next 5-10 years and beyond? If your answers are weak, what are you going to do?
How are you staying relevant? Is staying relevant all about you or about the business leaders you serve?
If it helps, I’m grading myself on the first question a 4 out of 10. I get a 5 on the second question. But here’s the thing–I have a very high relevancy awareness. I’m a crazy maniac in my pursuit of getting better and better in this area.
And now we come full circle about remaining relevant. Relevancy is about keeping our clients relevant. The day that ends is the day we become irrelevant. Plus, IBM Watson is just waiting for that to happen. Watson will replace you in a heartbeat.
Be relevant. Stay relevant. I dare you.
Photo Attribution: Leeroy