Why Successful CEOs Look at Their Numbers

The Best CEOs Are Excellent Storytellers

I started a career in investment banking with one burning question: what makes one business more successful than another business? Investment banking, the business that helps successful business owners and operators sell their businesses and earn big paydays for their success, was a perfect place for me to learn.

I learned that the story of your business—like why it was founded, how it became successful, and the visualization of where it was headed—created huge value. And that is the magic of hiring an investment banker. Investment bankers are excellent storytellers, more than anything else.

That’s why when it comes to the sale or fundraising of a business, you need to be an excellent storyteller.

But a business is not just a story. In order to get to a place where you have a successful business, you have to understand what it takes to make your business successful.

Good sales and brand marketing are incredibly important. So is making your customers happy and having a product or service that other people (your customers) find valuable.

But the real differentiator between a true success story and the rest of the pack is something else. Something not very glamorous at all.

Using Numbers to Help Determine Success

This one I learned not from investment banking, but from my time in the investing world. As an investor, I spent a lot of time in board meetings. And a lot more time helping companies prepare for those board meetings. Oh, and we can’t forget all of the time spent building budgets and forecasts to be presented in the board meetings!

I found whatever metric the board focused on improved. I found that drilling down to how the numbers were actually behaving versus just what the management teams thought were the drivers of success, revealed interesting information.

You can make a Herculean sales effort, but at the end of the day, the revenue numbers (the results) tell you whether your efforts are successful or whether you should put your energy into something with a better return on investment.

Success isn’t just about working hard, it’s about moving in the right direction. A lot of money can be spent moving in the wrong direction, and financial data can help point you in that correct direction.

Success, whether we like it or not, is measured in numbers. When revenue and profit (and cash) go up, that points to success. When they don’t, there is data in those same numbers to help you redirect toward a path of greater success.

If your goal as a business owner is success (and whose isn’t?) then it’s time to find someone to help you understand your numbers and what they are telling you. You don’t need an MBA or a financial degree to understand your financials, just a trusted adviser to translate the terms and connect the financial dots to the operational dots.

Find yourself a good CFO.