501: Why the Message Matters | Steven Gaven, CFO, Boston Private

Listen to the Episode Below (00:28:47)

Many CFOs have told us that storytelling is a big part of being a successful CFO today. However, quite a few finance leaders have told us that this did not come naturally to them and that in fact it was only by virtue of an “A-ha!” moment that they did finally lock on to the notion that as a CFO they had better be able to tell the story in a compelling and engaging manner.

When it came to the importance of finance telling the story, Steve Gaven,
unlike many of his peers, did not require an “A-ha!” moment. Instead, Gaven arrived inside the CFO office at Boston Private well schooled in communicating both good and at times not-so-good news to investors and analysts. This involved a skill set that he had begun acquiring during the earliest days of his finance career, when he worked for a boutique consulting firm that specialized in helping publicly traded firms craft their messaging to help better drive their capital planning strategies.

Along the way, Gaven joined the ranks of equity research analysts, a role that led him to accept a position with Boston Private, where his communications and messaging skills made him an obvious candidate to head up the firm’s investor relations function (as well as serve as VP of finance). So, at this time when other senior finance executives are beginning to flex their storytelling muscles for the first time, Gaven is already fluent and has mastered the combination of relationship-building and easy rapport that finance leaders are frequently left scrambling to develop. Or thus explains Gaven, while using the very skills that undoubtedly distinguish his leadership today.

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CFOTL: What advice do have for new leaders as they seek to build relationships across the organization?

Gaven: I would say that where I’ve been most successful in getting people aligned with the greater corporate goals is when I’m out in the field talking to people one-on-one. We’re a relatively small company, 774 employees. We actually just got back from a West Coast trip where we were talking about strategy. I had the opportunity to spend time with employees that I typically wouldn’t get to spend time with, in person. They were pretty forthright with me, with challenging questions about the strategy and how I thought about it and concerns that they had. I was able, through these conversations, to really get alignment by going into detail with these people about why we are focusing on these metrics, why we are focusing on these targets. “This is why these metrics, these targets–this buildup to what we’re trying to achieve–makes sense.”

I’ve found that I’m most successful in getting people aligned in the more one-on-one, in-person conversations; the more of those that I can have, the better off I am. When you have these conversations with people, they will then evangelize some of the things you’re talking about. I’m fortunate that I’m at a relatively small company where that’s possible. At larger organizations, I know that it’s more difficult to be in the crowd as much. But I’ve found that the best way for me to connect, communicate, and get alignment is just to be out there in front of people, giving them a lot of time, letting them ask a lot of questions.

I’d like to think that we can put together pretty PowerPoints and presentations that people just get and understand and have “A-ha!” moments about. While I think that my presentation skills are pretty good, it just doesn’t work that way. I’ve found that being out in front of people one-on-one is really what’s been most successful for me. jb