Christine Blyth, Block’s Head of Business Advisory and Technology, has traversed the diverse landscape of business growth. From her early days in accounting to steering financial strategies in high-growth tech companies, this CFO-turned-tech leader shares valuable insights into the evolving role of financial executives and the dynamics of scaling start-ups.
Can you walk us through your career journey and how you transitioned from accounting to high-growth tech environments?
Certainly. My journey began as a tax accountant in a firm, but I soon realised I wanted to be more involved in strategic decisions. This took me to Telstra where I spent 7 years in various commercial finance roles. Telstra was a great platform to gain insights into large enterprises, however I craved a more impactful role in a dynamic environment.
This led me to take on commercial transformation roles, before landing in a CFO position for a global boutique professional services business for three Founders. After almost four years, I took on a Transformation Lead role at Afterpay, a high-growth fintech company. Afterpay was acquired by Block Inc in February 2023, and I’ve been leading transformation and strategy across Block since then.
How did your experiences in small and medium-sized businesses shape your perspective on business growth?
Small businesses taught me the importance of being able to think commercially, make swift decisions often with limited data and manage constant competing demands due to restricted resourcing. They also taught me the difference in my role as strategic adviser for Founder-led businesses.
This foundation prepared me for roles in high-growth companies where I need to make decisions fast without all the data available as well as the importance of understanding the nuances at each stage of a business's growth.
What prompted your move to Afterpay, and what were the highlights and challenges during your tenure there?
Initially hesitant due to misconceptions purported in the news about the company's nature at the time, I joined Afterpay after better understanding its mission around economic empowerment. While initially I thought Afterpay was a credit provider, a deeper analysis of the business model showed they were turning credit provision on its head in service of the end consumer.
There were amazing highlights in my time at Afterpay including the camaraderie in a start-up environment, and the ability to make fast decisions. Undoubtedly the biggest learning and challenge for me was around sacrificing perfectionism for speed which is critical in a fast-paced fintech company.
How did your responsibilities evolve in your role after you transitioned to Block, and what changes did you observe in the CFO role in larger, fast-growing companies?
I transitioned from Head of Transformation and Operational Excellence into a role that also manages Business Technology and Enterprise Engineering. The CFO role expanded beyond traditional finance responsibilities to include optimizing investments, leveraging technology, and streamlining processes for efficiency. This evolution reflects the changing nature of CFO roles in large, fast-growing companies.
What advice do you have for first-time CFOs entering the tech space?
Be flexible, agile, and willing to take calculated risks. Influence through data-driven insights, and if it's a Founder-led company, ensure you align with their philosophy. Embrace the ambiguity of fast-paced environments and maintain a personal connection with the Founder. The ability to deliver on the tactical day-to-day whilst also keeping in mind the overall strategic direction is crucial in the dynamic tech landscape.
For Founders looking to hire a CFO, what qualities should they prioritise, and what considerations are essential?
Seek alignment in philosophy and a personal-professional connection. Look for someone who challenges you while sharing a passion for your company's vision. Also recognise that CFOs may need to change based on the company's growth stage. Stay open to transitions and prioritise finding the right person for each stage of growth.
ARTICLE by Dan Spencer, Partner, 5 March 2024