King Arthur’s Quest

When King Arthur Flour went looking for a CFO, it didn't take a cookie-cutter approach.

Wanted: a CFO who can go toe-to-toe with a CEO in a confident, constructive way. One who sees compatibility between long-term profit…and kindness…. “When I say I’ve got a cool idea, the CFO latches on and helps me work it through.”

These requirements, along with more-standard items such as previous industry experience and titles, came straight out of the job description King Arthur Flour sent out in its recent search for a new CFO. Heavy on prose but tight on time, the unorthodox search resembled an accelerated MBA course for those who made it through to the first round. In return for an unusually detailed description of the business, candidates were asked to write essays about why they should get the job, with just days to complete their assignments.

Leading the search was Jim Johnston, a contract CFO who started on the executive-recruiting path when he hired his own replacement at a New England soup company. King Arthur was the fourth client for Johnston, who prides himself on his method and considers a search assignment first and foremost as a consulting engagement. An executive search, he says, should be “a strategic catalyst in the life of the company, to reassess where you’ve been and where you’re going.”

Started last September, King Arthur’s quest for a new finance chief ended less than three months later with the hiring of Susan Renaud, an M&A consultant from London. Here’s the inside story of that unusual search for a CFO.

The Job Description

For Steve Voigt, the idea of an expansive job description was what sold him on Johnston’s services. “So many job descriptions you see are just bland, boilerplate,” says Voigt, CEO of King Arthur. “It seemed like you could do better by pinpointing what you needed the person to do in the first year to be successful.”

To that end, the job description Johnston mailed out to his professional network and posted with Monster and the Financial Executives Networking Group said that King Arthur was aiming to grow annual revenues from $70 million to as much as $150 million in the next four years. The company needed a finance executive who could set up a framework for making choices about where and how to grow, offering six possible different strategies in some specificity (build additional retail stores, expand sales internationally, and so on).

The job description gave a revenue breakdown of King Arthur by divisions; a snapshot and assessment of existing staff (“there is a long-time controller with a staff of four…[who] competently manages the accounting cycle, monthly financial statements, audit, tax, variance analysis, and most of the mechanics of budgeting”); and even a listing of key reporting and other IT systems (Sage Platinum, BluePlanner, Crystal Reports, and a home-grown e-commerce application). Names of the other managers and board members at this private company were all included.

That wasn’t all. The description explained Voigt’s history with the company (the former McKinsey consultant took over the CEO reins from his wife’s cousin) and what he wanted in a CFO (“someone who does McKinsey-like analysis and recommendations”). Finally, there were verbatim quotes from other managers about what they wanted in a CFO (such as the ability, mentioned previously, to latch on to “a cool idea”) and a long list of desirable traits, including being future-oriented and biased toward changing environments rather than accepting them.

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