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Airbnb’s C-Suite Shake-Up Highlights Strategic Power Shift of CFO Role

For years, the CFO role has been thought of as a terminal position.

Financial executives closed the books, dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s, and made sure everything checked out on the balance sheet.

But now, no longer confined to the traditional realm of number-crunching and fiscal oversight, the position of CFO as strategic sounding board and business partner is becoming important to driving business success — particularly given the tightening confines of today’s ongoing macro shifts and challenges.

Airbnb announced Tuesday (Dec. 5) it was elevating its Chief Financial Officer Dave Stephenson to a newly created “chief business officer” role dedicated to long-term growth and overseeing the marketplace platform’s business strategy more broadly, including its international expansion.

Ellie Mertz, an 11-year company veteran will take over as Airbnb CFO.

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“We’re introducing the role of chief business officer because we’re about to embark on our next chapter as a company. … In this critical new role, Dave will drive growth across our existing and new businesses. … This includes driving international expansion, growing global host supply (across existing and new businesses), and leading all business and corporate development activities at Airbnb,” said Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky in a statement.

Stephenson will assume his new role on Jan. 2, with the regional leaders of Airbnb’s Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe business units reporting to him in the new job.

But why did the vacation-rental platform choose to elevate its internal finance head to a new, growth-focused role, rather than make a lateral hire or look elsewhere for talent?

To longtime PYMNTS’ readers, the answer is obvious: Today’s CFOs are no longer confined to the finance department, rather they serve as the connective tissue between an organization’s senior leadership team, helping link growth targets and profitability goals to balance sheet realities and acting as the driving force behind investments that shape the business.

“For a long time, finance was the reporter of what had happened in the past. Here are your results, go figure out how to be better. We’re now much more proactive and embedded in the business operations of the teams that lead to the outcome of the results,” Jeffrey Noto, CFO at Zayo Group, told PYMNTS.

From Bean Counter to Business Partner

The role of finance teams is evolving from bean counters and scorekeepers to business partners and strategic architects particularly as returns on investment, profitability flywheels and financial growth levers become canon to the rest of the business.

The economic climate is marked by tighter monetary policies, higher interest rates and increased scrutiny of budget management. These changes mean that the role of CFOs has shifted to managing growth efficiently while ensuring profitability, requiring a bird’s eye view of business priorities and departmental needs.

“You are in a totally different economic climate now. … It’s not as easy to grow as it has been in the past, which puts more pressure on operational and executional excellence as a company, as well as heightens the focus on strategic decision making,” Ninos Sarkis, CFO at Bloomreach, told PYMNTS.

This means the role the CFO of an organization plays as a decision maker is only growing more important.

“It’s never been more important for the CFO to be a business adviser,” Marc Greenberg, CFO at Altruist, told PYMNTS, emphasizing that the role has moved from a “metrics only” approach to one of being a “leader more generally.”

Read also: ‘Bean Counter’ CFOs Replaced by Corporate Financial Architects

Echoing that sentiment, Richard Rubino, CFO at VillageMD, told PYMNTS, “The most successful CFOs are those that think broadly and can open up the aperture beyond the financials. … You have to look out three or five years. If you don’t have a strategic plan for your business, priority one is to make one. It is not a spreadsheet, it’s not a PowerPoint deck, it is a story that anticipates where the puck is going — because you want to be the first one there.”

“Finance leaders have had to become savvier not only in managing internally, but also in understanding external trends and becoming [in a sense] economists who can bring big-picture views inside the organization,” Vikas Mehta, CFO at Komodo Health, told PYMNTS.

“I think the stage we are in now, and beyond, will be a mission-focused CFO. Someone who can build a company that is a generational company, someone who can help the founders, all the stakeholders, the investors, employees, customers, realize the mission that the company was built around,” Mehta added.

And it sounds like Airbnb’s board of directors and its other senior leaders agree with that point of view.