Ben Horowitz (of Andreesen Horowitz) posted this short but interesting article about the CEO owning the terrain, but the CFO owns the map. I like this analogy as it helps explain the relationship between all corporate finance professionals and their business partners. It doesn’t matter what area of finance you work in (FP&A, opex management, budgeting, goaling, treasury, deals desk, tax, M&A), owning and understanding the “map” is the greatest value you can provide.
To me, finance is the keeper of the business model. Businesses exist to make money (shareholder value for your MBAs). It’s the job of finance to remember that principle.
One time a product manager I was working with was frustrated with finance as she wanted to add very costly features to an existing product. Her additions would have made the product have a negative gross margin. As I tried to explain to her the profit model, she finally blurted out “if I do my job correctly, I’ll break your profit model!”. Clearly I had not done a good job of owning and explaining the map.
As a finance business partner, I had to find a way to incorporate the product improvements (they really were great improvements!) but also keep the business model whole (in this case, gross margin targets). I’m happy to say we found some low cost solutions for her product and maintained gross margin.
So no matter what area of corporate finance you work in, remember to own the map!