It might sound contradictory, but Nick Nardone felt that the auditor independence regulations stifled his passion for working as an integral part of his clients’ teams toward the end of his tenure at a Big Four audit firm. There, he helped clients with financial statement audits, a broad array of complex technical accounting, and finance transactions and issues. Many of these projects were top priorities for his clients and typically involved raising capital via initial public offering, combining businesses through mergers and acquisitions, designing business processes and internal controls, and implementing technical accounting and SEC rules. “I loved serving clients with their most pressing needs,” Nardone says. “I also really enjoyed working with really bright professionals that were always focused on continuous learning and improvement.” But new regulations put this relationship with clients in jeopardy.
Auditor independence regulations prohibited Big Four auditors from assisting clients with completing their internal high-value, mission-critical projects that Nardone loved to sink his teeth into. “I truly loved the human aspect of the job, from developing deep relationships with clients to the collaborative team working environment with coworkers,” he says, realizing his skills were better served to assist clients versus being their auditor. In addition to his personal acknowledgement, Nardone saw a void in the marketplace for this type of solution and believed there was a large opportunity for a niche player to service the robust demand for this service. So Nardone broke free from the rules of auditor independence regulations and cofounded Corporate Finance Group, Inc. (CFGI) in 2000, aiming to provide a high-end solution to businesses by doing what he did best.
After a successful fifteen-year history, CFGI is an accounting and advisory services firm with about 120 former Big Four professionals working in the Boston and New York offices. “We assist the office of the CFO and our clients get through complex transactions during the most critical times of their business,” Nardone says. “We have our entire team of incredibly talented accounting and finance professionals helping cater to our clients’ needs when they most need our help.”
Lest Nardone be branded a rogue by his former industry, he’s quick to point out that CFGI isn’t the result of financial rebellion. “We have a very symbiotic relationship with the Big Four audit firms and a very high level of respect for them,” Nardone says, explaining CFGI’s complementary role. “We’re purely focused on quickly becoming part of our clients’ teams to assist them with getting to the right answer for the issues that they face,” he adds. “As an auditor you’re prohibited from doing things for your clients, and in our role, that’s all we do—we don’t do audits.”
CFGI adds value to the work of clients and auditors by providing quality work that can easily be understood and audited, and both know it will be done right when given to CFGI. “They trust our competency to assist with completing these important projects timely and with accuracy,” Nardone says. “Having us there as a trusted resource for their clients is really important to the audit firms.” He adds that CFGI’s collaboration with all of the audit firms has been very rewarding.
While Nardone’s daily focus at CFGI has shifted away from the finance and accounting delivery work in his background, the nature of his company gives Nardone a look into the role of finance at the C-suite level across a wide range of companies. It’s no secret that the CFO role is critical to any organization, but Nardone’s take on the qualities that enable a CFO and the financial team to keep the company on the right track is surprisingly non-technical. “A strong ethical foundation is a given,” Nardone says. “Beyond that, the CFOs who understand the operation of their businesses as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the people throughout their organizations are always the ones that achieve the most success.”
Knowing what matters to all positions and how the person in that position will hear what you’re saying is key to being a successful CFO, according to Nardone. “It’s those people who understand how to communicate what’s going on in the business in a way that will be effective in facilitating a deep understanding across all constituents in the company, such as a marketing director, operations manager, or a salesperson,” he says. The CFO is a critical component of ensuring the business is entirely focused on the same goals across all functions, he adds.
Replicating that expertise across companies is what gives CFGI its value, and it takes an intelligent, intentional effort in both recruiting and business development to achieve. Nardone looks for potential CFGI talent in the top 25 percent of the accounting and finance world. His employees tend to be smart, hungry, and energetic professionals. While technical chops are key, prospective CFGI employees also need to have a couple of key personal capacities that may sound familiar, given Nardone’s experience. “You have to be the calm, smart voice in the high-pressure situation that’s able to lead clients’ issues to resolution,” Nardone says. “That’s really the core value driver that we provide for our clients.”
That capacity comes from Nardone’s perspective that sees client service as more passion than practice. CFGI’s employees thrive on the gratification that comes with helping clients through challenging issues. “We hire people who are passionate about working on the most complicated things in their field because that stimulates them intellectually,” Nardone says. “But it’s also really important for them to want to have the kind of feeling when a client wants to give them a hug at the end of a project because they’ve solved a big problem that the client didn’t have the time or expertise to do it themselves. The culture here appreciates that, and that starts with our employees.”
Nardone continues the cultivation of that culture after the hire date by intentional partnerships between new employees and existing leaders at CFGI. Company leaders teach the CFGI’s service delivery model, managers and senior employees give company-wide internal training sessions, and a formal mentorship program brings professionals together from all across the company to promote the collegial environment that Nardone values.
This client-focused, team-oriented culture that Nardone launched at CFGI is about to expand. The company’s success in its first fifteen years of existence in Boston and New York has spurred plans to grow to three more offices in the next three to five years, and eight
to ten in the five years that follow. There’s a palpable excitement in Nardone’s voice as he discusses that goal: “We get to take this service model and brand that people trust, with intelligent, nimble, and passionate employees that we care about, and grow it across the country.”