Mar 28, 2012 19:36
Robert Frabasile, CFO of New York accounting firm Kiwi Partners Inc., discusses client relations and the role of balance sheet items in cash flow forecasting.
What was the biggest challenge your company faced over the last 12 months, and how were you able to overcome it with financial leadership? The biggest challenge we faced, and still face, is retaining our company profit margins in an economic environment when clients expect greater service for the same or less price. It is a constant struggle; we have effectively decided that these are unusual and extraordinary times, and retaining happy and loyal clients is more important these days than increasing our profit margins on a consistent basis, so we will sacrifice where we can and instead do our best to cut some costs where possible.
What has made your company stand out and be successful financially? Kiwi Partners really does care about our staff and our clients. Since we deal with nonprofit clients, we do have a “soft spot” for their programs and goals. So, we try our best to support our clients; we try to hold the line on rate increases; we try to donate monies and time where possible. We will offer credits to our clients if they object to some work we have done or are unhappy with the services we provide. For our staff, we try to maintain a very helpful work-to-leisure ratio. Thus, there is not much overtime work or extra work. We all try to follow the process of a healthy work life that also allows for a life outside of work.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your position? Three important things: a) Listen. In many instances what a staff person is saying, or a client is saying, is hidden between the lines. You need to interpret what they are saying in light of their present environment. b) Be proactive. Manage your client and your staff in a way that you know how they will behave or respond before they really do. Put yourself in their place and in many instances, what your behavior would be will be what their behavior is. c) Think before you respond. Take your time. Think it through. Make sure you understand the consequences of your actions. Have patience and stay calm, even if you have to fake it!
How do you prepare for board meetings and what information is most important for you to present? Always review the meeting agenda. Understand beforehand what the issues are, and prepare yourself to respond to those issues. Don’t be afraid to say you do not know the answer but will get back with an answer. BUT MAKE SURE YOU DO GET BACK WITH AN ANSWER! Speak with the executive director before the meeting and address his/her concerns. Don’t B.S. anyone, and be humble in getting praise and generous in giving it. In the presentation, the most important information to present would be the financial statements and associated ratios (in a way that is understood by the participants) and also the cash position of the organization, which is very important in today’s economic climate.
What’s a common error in cash-flow forecasting, and what advice do you have? The most common error I find is the lack of understanding of how balance sheet items play an integral role in the cash-flow forecasting model. The best way to handle this is to explain that balance sheet items like AR and AP have a major impact on your cash flow, and you as the president or treasurer or board member or executive director need to have a complete understanding of how those two pieces of your organization’s finances operate in the real world.
What do you do to retain your strategic vision despite the crush of day-to-day operations? That is hard to do. I am so close to the numbers every day, and being in the trenches consistently makes it harder to retain a bird’s eye view of the company and its strategic vision. In many cases the true concentration on strategic vision for Kiwi Partners will lie with the president of the company; so, I rely on her to retain the “strategic vision” mindset. I work with her during our meetings to explain financial implications of any major strategic decisions, and explain the consequences of decisions to be made or already made. We all work together – our directors and the president, and our managers—through our monthly meetings and our semi-annual retreats to ensure that we hold true to our strategic vision as the company moves into the future.
What’s your favorite book? (For business or escape) My favorite book, hands down, is “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville. I collect editions and was very fortunate recently to purchase an actual first edition of that novel. “Call me Ishmael” is one of the simplest opening lines in all of literature – yet when you read the book, there is nothing simple about it. It is biblical and Shakespearean, and just an amazing read.
Kiwi Partners is an accounting firm providing services to nonprofit organizations in New York City and beyond. CFO Robert Frabasile provides executive accounting support to a number of in-house clients. He has a master’s degree in accounting and is a New York registered CPA and has been with the firm for twelve years. He also acts in the CFO capacity for clients who need financial strategic direction or who don’t have a NYC office but whose accounting work is done from Kiwi Partners’ midtown office.