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Do CFOs now need Bitcoin experience to land a job?

April 5, 2021, 9:00 AM UTC

Good morning,

Happy Monday!

There’s been a lot of chatter about the implications of Time’s recent CFO job listing that includes “comfort with Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies” as a qualification. Time President Keith A. Grossman said on Twitter March 22 the publication will begin to accept cryptocurrency as payment for digital subscriptions within 30 days.

So, the almost 100-year-old magazine is really leaning into digital payments.

But is there really a vast talent pool of CFO candidates proficient in crypto? And what constitutes “comfort” with Bitcoin anyway? To answer these questions, I talked with Paul Manning, managing director of software and technology at The Bowdoin Group, an executive search firm. Manning has almost 30 years of leadership search experience placing CFOs and other C-level positions. He says…it’s complicated.

“It’s not just about the resume—it’s someone that’s got a belief in the market,” he told me. Finding a CFO candidate with crypto experience isn’t enough—the individual’s philosophy towards the currency has to match, he explained.

“It’s highly undefined, right?” Manning told me. So, if you want to work as a CFO at a company investing in cryptocurrencies, like electric-vehicle company Tesla, you have to be comfortable with standards that are not spelled out, he said. “Modernizing your back-office processes to manage all of that is all new,” Manning explained. “There’s a lot of ambiguity, and CFOs don’t really deal in a world of ambiguity, right?” So someone who has shown flexibility in their past experience or is a fluid and fast learner may have a leg up on, say, someone with a very by-the-book resume.

It also depends what stage the company is at. When a company is at “a point where they’re looking to go public or raise capital, the CFO hire is much more of that external individual,” he said. “They’re working with the markets; they’re working with investors to try to help the business to raise capital. Behind that individual is a solid VP of finance who really can make sure that the accounting and finance function is running and supporting the business in the way it needs to.”

One thing is for sure: More and more CFOs are talking up their commitment to Bitcoin. Square CFO Amrita Ahuja told me she thinks there is absolutely a case for Bitcoin on every balance sheet. Last month, in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, CEO Elon Musk noted his additional title of “Technoking,” and said CFO Zach Kirkhorn would also be known as “Master of Coin.” You can now purchase a Tesla with Bitcoin. Kirkhorn, who began his role as CFO in March 2019, “remains a bit of a mystery to the average investor,” according to Bloomberg; but “has shored up Tesla’s balance sheet with a string of successful capital raises, introduced a more conservative approach to forecasting and provided greater discipline in cost-cutting.”

In general, crypto proficiency usually isn’t a requirement for CFO candidates, Manning said. “It’s more so preferred, in many instances, unless it’s a company that is solidly in that market,” he said. Outside of individuals who have previously worked in the crypto space, “we have not had anyone with a deep background within crypto,” Manning said. “There’s probably a deeper history with blockchain than with cryptocurrency out there.”

However, he noted that CFO requirements are evolving quickly. Hiring a CFO candidate with comfort in Bitcoin is “clearly something that’s important to [Time], and it’s a big part of their business plan,” Manning said. But in his view the important question for companies to consider is not whether a candidate has one specific skill, but rather: Do they have the whole package of skills necessary to make the company successful?

Anyone else out there brushing up on Bitcoin?

Sheryl Estrada

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