International Case Study from SMW: Interim CFO for European Real Estate Developer
The client, a family-owned European commercial real estate development firm based in Brussels that focused on large project in retail and hospitality. They were executing a large Real Estate development project in retail and hospitality in Istanbul of more than 500M€. The Turkish subsidiary had been set up with local partner. After a few years, the Turkish subsidiary had opaque financial accounts and the headquarters team decided to use the services of an external CFO to regain confidence in the situation and in particular, the numbers that were reported.
The Interim CFO assignment started exactly on the day of the political coup in Istanbul and the market conditions suddenly changed drastically, putting enormous pressure on the project, as further large amounts of capital needed to be invested and the expected return declined. The Interim Manager had her intake briefing in Brussels the same day as the coup. Relations between partners deteriorated and situation was very tense. External stakeholders, aware of the problems, were waiting at the gate.
The client decided to engage an interim CFO. They wanted that interim to review all historical accounts, financials and contractual aspects. This would require great technical skills, determination and diplomacy. They also required the Interim Turkish CFO be someone without ties to the local involved players. Lastly, the executive need experience in large-scale real estate projects, finances and contracts.
Our SMW-Partners presented candidates to the client within just a few days. A candidate that met all of the criteria was selected after another week. A situational analysis was quickly completed and communications with headquarters became fluent and trustful. The headquarters team was quickly in position to decide options and define investment/divestment scenarios based on reliable information.
The deep local contract knowledge that the Interim Manager had allowed for several major decisions to be made quickly. They also implemented strict fact-based partner management allowed major risk-avoidance and progress on future investments or potential exit.
Once the interim CFO was on board, the headquarters team began operating on a fact-based and contract-based fact finding and prospective, This change in thinking was essential to success. The client team felt that the Interim Manager immediately took a fact-based, experienced and professional attitude, putting herself above politics or scheming.
The interim’s sharp technical understanding of the contractual and financial aspects, made the essential strategic choices of possible actions clear and measurable. They were also very relieved to start getting precise and regular reporting, This increased trust and headquarters’ understanding of the situation.
Given the situation with the uprising in Istanbul as a back ground, success in this case was not assured. However, the team followed established processes, quickly identified the right resource and this allowed the headquarters staff to maintain control and take decisions in a rapidly and unpredictably changing economic/political environment.