3 Career Lessons from an Experienced CFO

Bryan Graiff, Principal of Financial Advisory Services at Brown Smith Wallace

Bryan Graiff, Principal of Financial Advisory Services at Brown Smith Wallace, recently published a detailed account of the top lessons he’s learned in the past two decades as CFO and COO of various companies. Graiff reports that one of the best moves he’s made as CFO was to get outside advice. As he put it, “There is no way to be an expert on everything.” Being open and receptive to outside advice – and having the foresight to request it – took time to learn.

At first, it can be challenging to recognize when you need help. In Bryan Graiff’s case, knowing when to get help was only part of the problem. Let’s review his top tips for CFOs in small to middle market companies. Get Help

For Graiff and many other CFOs, a limited budget presents obstacles and challenges. In his first role as CFO, Graiff recalls the need to hire a controller and stated, “My new company didn’t have an HR department, so I had to manage the entire process or risk hiring a dud.”

As someone not accustomed to making hiring decisions, Graiff reflects on this experience and wishes he would have obtained outside advice. He adds that using an advisor can streamline the time it takes to find top notch staff and reduce costs needed for recruiting.

Dive into Strategy

As the role of CFO evolves, a large emphasis is being placed on strategy. In a recent study, nearly 4 out of 5 CFOs felt their roles would change drastically in 2014, particularly with regard to strategy and corporate direction. For experienced CFOs like Bryan Graiff, this change in focus was needed many years back.

“I learned that having an outside advisory board or coach strengthens anyone’s strategic vision,” reported Graiff. What does this mean for modern CFOs? Bringing in an outside advisor who can help facilitate strategic visions saves time and expedites implementation of strategy.


When it comes to major transactions, like mergers and acquisitions, Graiff recommends selecting experts to help with the process. Asking for help in these scenarios is a wise move that may serve to strengthen a CFOs position within a company. As Graiff stated, “Knowing when to bring in experts versus trying to do it yourself has preserved and enhanced many careers and companies.”

What’s the biggest career lesson you’ve learned as CFO?