Shifting gears to become a strategic CFO: Q&A with Stanford Health Care CFO Daniel Morissette

The role of hospital and health system CFO is evolving, and successfully transitioning into a more strategic role takes a strong combination of analytical skills and people skills.

The shift in the CFO role is clear, with 52 percent of CFOs, including those from hospitals and health systems, spending more time on strategic issues, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2015 CFO Outlook survey.

The changing healthcare environment is putting pressure on CFOs to step out of their comfort zones. In fact, in a recent poll conducted by Becker's Hospital Review, the changing CFO role was one of hospital and health system financial leaders' top concerns for 2015.

Additionally, CEOs expect financial leaders to be strategic business partners. However, according to recent survey results from Forbes Insights and KPMG, 32 percent of CEOs believe their organization's CFO doesn't understand and assist them with challenges in running their business.

Going beyond the typical CFO role, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford Health Care CFO Daniel Morissette is a financial leader that has successfully transitioned into a more strategic role. He has served as SHC's CFO since August 2007, and he is responsible for the system's strategic, financial and operational matters.

Becker's had the opportunity to catch up with Mr. Morissette and get his insight on the evolving CFO role.

Question: What do you believe is the biggest challenge for hospital and health system CFOs in transitioning into a more strategic role?

Daniel Morissette: The biggest challenge for hospital and health system CFOs in transitioning to a more strategic role is that many CFOs are not accustomed to regularly viewing the health system from the customer perspective. By customer I am referring to patients, physicians, the community, the CEO, and other constituents who often require some flexibility and a creative approach to problem solving.

Broad, customer-focused perspective is important for the assessment and implementation of a successful strategy. Learning the customer's preferences requires active engagement in the issues facing the health system. Many CFOs do not take the time or effort to be a significant strategic business partner, and as a result are not called upon for broader strategic roles.

Q: What advice do you have for other hospital and health system CFOs on going beyond the typical CFO duties and getting involved in other aspects of the business?

DM: Follow your passion, be a constant learner and a professional "sponge" with colleagues who can provide insights into other aspects of the business. For example, I have always had great passion for the patient service experience, so I have made a point to be involved in this aspect of our business. Here at Stanford Health Care and in previous leadership roles, I have led organization-wide rounds on patients and trained employees on providing great patient service.

CFOs who wish to be involved in other aspects of the business should be viewed as a strong business partner and ask the CEO, Board or other senior executives to be involved. Find ways to partner with other leaders on a routine basis and additional opportunities will be forthcoming.

Q: Because the CFO role is changing, what characteristics are important for hospitals and health systems to look for when filling the CFO position?

DM: A CFO still must have strong technical skills and experience in this complex health care environment. Additionally, strong communication skills, demonstrated success partnering with physicians and other executives, and examples of creativity in decision-making are equally important. The role of the CFO is clearly evolving, and the combination of strong analytical skills and people skills are more important than ever.

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