Coffey agrees. “You can be very candid with these people and tell them what they need to do to accomplish their goals without being afraid of losing your paycheck, because they might be one of seven or eight clients you’re working with right then.” Indeed, Coffey’s role gives him the freedom to fire clients if necessary. “You help them and you guide them and you tell them all the things that they should be doing and they agree and then they don’t execute. After a while you just tell them, ‘I’ve helped you as much as I can help you, and I think maybe you’re better off working with someone else.’”
More Fun, Less Stress
Coffey has spent more than 30 years in finance, including as a partner at KPMG and the finance chief of a $3 billion turnaround company. In 2005, he left his job as a vice president of finance at Unisys after a management change. “I interviewed for other public company CFO positions. And I think I was just a little exhausted. After I went through the interviews and met with some of the CEOs, I just didn’t want to go through it again. So I decided that I would consult part time.”
An investment banker friend of his was helping to sell a company and he brought Coffey on as a consultant. Coffey developed a website and became a partner at B2B CFO, a firm that provides part-time CFO services to companies. Now, he says, his part-time CFO role is an on-ramp to retirement. His wife often teases him, saying he’s not really retired because he works too hard. But Coffey assures that he still takes time off to travel to Florida and play golf. “It’s what you make of it. I mean, I’m very engaged in business still. I get energized by it. But trust me, I take a couple of days off.”
Coffey doesn’t make as much money as he did when he was a public-company CFO and received stock options and bonuses, but he has had some lucrative years as a freelance finance chief. “If we have a successful exit I get a success fee for helping them close the transaction,” Coffey says. “Some years if I have a couple of transaction closings in addition to my hourly fees I do very well. But it depends on the size of the company.”
When Coffey was CFO of a $3 billion dollar public company, he faced an SEC investigation, shareholder lawsuits, refinancings and other problems. “For all that stress and agony, and the fact that I probably aged a decade in two-and-a-half years, they pay you very well,” he says. But being a part-time CFO is worth the trade-off, because Coffey takes on only the clients he thinks he can help.
Coffey particularly likes working with entrepreneurial businesses, because they have fewer internal politics and external pressures. “They don’t worry about quarterly earnings,” he says. “They worry more about creating profit over a longer period.” And the early-stage firms appreciate a part-time CFO more than mature companies. “They’re very appreciative of the skill sets that someone with a CFO background can bring to help them establish some infrastructure and methodology, so they can become better at planning and budgeting.”