Coaxing a coxswain: how to know when your company needs a part time or interim financial director

Coaxing a coxswain: how to know when your company needs a part time or interim financial director

There’s something magnificent about rowing: the sun glints its reflection as you watch a boat or kayak glide – seemingly effortlessly – across the water. A team of eight moves in perfect synchronisation; their collective efforts helping the vessel move that little bit closer to its destination. If you are or were a rower, or if you like watching the sport, you’ll know that this flawless symphony does not come about by accident. There’s a single person that moves, guides and directs the movements of the entire team. His position is dubbed the “coxswain” and his mandate is to take charge of all the rowers, sit in the stern of the boat and navigate his crew toward its end goal.

As a business owner or manager, you might see your company as the group of rowers. There are times in which your team moves in a single, unified direction. Their efforts are coordinated and they have a clear end goal. At those times it may seem that there’s a good coxswain at the helm. But there are other times when your rowers seem to be flailing. Each rower may still be putting in their best effort, but they are shifting their weight in different directions and pulling at different times. The boat shudders and jerks and sometimes feels like it’s barely moving forward at all. At times like that, you often realise that you need to bring in some new direction. In the case of many businesses, this means considering someone who can make a difference to the finances of the company: someone like a part time or interim financial director.

An old rowing manual gives the following duties of a coxswain in order of importance:

  • Steering.
  • Safe Management of Crew and Equipment
  • Giving Commands
  • Enthusiasm and Motivation
  • Technical Corrections and Advice

So how do the duties of a coxswain line up with those of an interim or part time financial director?

Just like a cox, the interim or part time financial director is trained to:

  • Strategise and provide a financial blueprint for the company (steer the company in a certain direction)
  • Ensure that the finances of the company can sufficiently support and maintain salary needs, cash flow requirements and working capital (safely manage the crew and equipment)
  • Make insightful decisions – aligned with previously identified strategy — on behalf of the company (give commands)
  • Provide decisive leadership to the business, motivate the finance team and ensure cooperation between departments (enthusiasm and motivation)
  • Provide financial advice and technical insight to the entire company. For example, an interim or part time financial director scrutinises existing systems in the company and helps to make them more efficient. She might train finance staff around tax reporting requirements, or help write up business plans to attract more finance from lenders. In this way, she is providing “technical corrections and advice” just like the coxswain.

The Navylites organisation gives a tongue-in-cheek description of a coxswain’s role. “A coxswain’s duties are to steer the shell and complain, strategise with the stroke and complain, call for power-10s and power-20’s and complain, and call for flutters and complain and complain and complain and complain! Never-ending complaining!”, it says.

Jokes aside, the Navylite description of the role implies a hands-on management position that involves ongoing monitoring and constant recommendations for course correction. In a similar way, the role of the part time or interim financial director is to strategise at the highest level, and then help implement that plan while simultaneously monitoring and controlling the finances of the company. In some ways, the role of the part time or interim financial director is to “complain and complain and complain!” or in other words, to consistently rein back, re-strategise, and make sure the finances remain on track.

If your boat is currently jerking along rather than gliding, then it may be time to consider a new coxswain – someone who will breathe new life, new control, new systems and new motivation into the finances of your business. If your company is on the lookout for such a person, contact The Finance Team. Our dedicated associates are highly experienced, qualified professionals who can act as your interim or part time financial director for the period of time that you need them and no longer.


Photo credit: © Geoffrey Kuchera |


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