“A La Carte CFO” – From Corporate Finance To Entrepreneur

Morgane Rollando, Founder of Synerfia and MBA alumna

As part of our interview series with the female heroes of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) we spoke to Finance Professional, Founder and MBA alumna Morgane Rollando.

After 15 years’ experience of International Corporate Finance in IT (Nasdaq listed companies), Morgane Rollando switched to entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial finance. She became an Angel Investor in 2009, and took the role as treasurer of “Femmes Business Angels” in Paris. She led around 20 due diligences, personally invested into 7 of them, sits on 2 start-up boards, and is President of an investment holding company, FBA Solidaire.

She founded and still manages a consulting firm, Synerfia, acting as a finance and strategic advisor dedicated to fast growing businesses: "a la carte CFO". Synerfia’s orientation is based on cash and strategy: cash for the short-term survival of the company, and strategy for the long term vision that needs a business to grow.

She holds a global MBA from the Rotterdam School of Management and a Masters in Finance and Accountancy. She also speaks French, English and Spanish and is mother to two 2 daughters. She teaches at ESSEC B-school and YUMP academy in Paris is active within several entrepreneurial organizations, such as EPWN and Women 2.0 and is passionate about Female Leadership and Entrepreneurship.

We spoke to Morgane about her decision to become an entrepreneur and her experience of studying for an MBA.

TNW: What led you to make the leap from corporate finance to launching your own venture?

MR: I have 15 experience years in Corporate Finance, working for big corporations at a European level; I worked in Paris, Dublin and Amsterdam, and had a “straight” career, moving up every 2 years.

In 2009, upon return from maternity leave, I was made redundant from a big corporation. It was the second time that scenario had happened, as I had also been made redundant from another corporation upon my return from maternity leave with my first baby. This sent a very strong signal to me.

I decided to take some time off from the Corporate World. I used this time to take a step back, open up and discover new options. I met a lot of people from various horizons and career paths during those 12 months. The encounter with Femmes Business Angels was a decisive one. I joined them.

I became a business angel and used my severance cheque to invest into start-ups. I very quickly became passionate about their energy, enthusiasm and optimism. I felt I was in the right place surrounded by passionate entrepreneurs.

Because you give of your best where you feel true to yourself, I decided to stay in this environment and to contribute to these entrepreneurs’ successes.

That is how I created Synerfia and launched a service “a la carte CFO”, which is dedicated to fast growing businesses. This allows me to leverage the expertise I gained in the big corporations and use it in an ecosystem that that better suits my values.

TNW: What did you enjoy most about the transition from corporate life to entrepreneurialism? What were the main challenges and how did you overcome these?

MR: I did enjoy myself in the entrepreneurial world, which is very pragmatic and results-oriented.

Becoming a mother meant that I became a role model for my two daughters. That brings a different dimension to my daily life and career perspectives. What is it that I want them to remember about me? This perspective is very strong motivation and helps me a lot during difficult times, when business is slower than expected.

By switching to entrepreneurship, I can write my own road-map and tailor it to my vision; the direction I feel is the right one for me to follow.

I manage my own agenda according to private and business needs and every day is different; I love it. I no longer feel that I am ‘missing’ something.

One of the biggest challenges – compared to the corporate life – is that you have to get your cash in by yourself. Switching from a monthly paid salary to the uncertainty of turnover is a big change. I learned how to sell, to keep a clients’ relationship going and to find reliable partners. I learned how to overcome loneliness in the decision-making process.

Another challenge is the gender vision of entrepreneurship. There are still not so many female entrepreneurs in France.

I overcame this by joining several networks; some of them being professional women’s networks. They allow me to share my vision, my doubts (yes, sometimes!), get recognized by my peers and gain confidence that my decisions values are aligned. They act as a mirror, a counselor, a mentor. In a women’s network, I feel I can open up more easily, without fearing any judgment.

I also keep sport high on my agenda. Every week, I make sure that I swim or run. Exercise helps me to have the right balance of mind and body, to relax and de-stress.

TNW: Tell us about your work with Synerfia. What is the most common piece of advice you give to female entrepreneurs?

MR: Synerfia acts as an “A la carte CFO”, or a financial business partner for fast growing companies. There are 3 main areas:

  • Training, “Finance to non-financials”
  • Outsourced CFO
  • Financing and fund raising

The baseline, “A la carte CFO”, is the most important one. Our clients’ demands and needs are varied, and most of the time also urgent, according to the challenges they face: tense treasury (number one), business model redefining, investment negotiations, dealing with difficult shareholders, presenting lower results than expected… Our services need to be highly flexible.

I mainly work with freelancers and independent advisors as subcontractors (secretary, accountant, controller, and lawyer). They are entrepreneurially minded, better understand the client’s needs and emergencies, and therefore can answer their demands in a more professional manner, combining quality work with rapid delivery.

TNW: Tell us about your work role with Femmes Business Angels. What is the most common piece of advice you give to female entrepreneurs?

MR: I am the treasurer of the network, thus I act as a CFO for the organization. I also teach future investors, providing them with financial and “non-financial” tools to assess the potential success of start-ups. I sit on several pitching committees (Women 2.0, Yump Academy, ESCP-Europe).

Seeing all those bright women (executives and entrepreneurs) using my advice to invest in high risk start-ups is very fulfilling. It has helped me gain a lot more confidence in myself and in my professional capabilities.

Now, I understand that I am a leader, a spokeswoman, and I am proud of my achievements.

I mix and deal with other investors (mainly male), and we can see a gender difference in the investors’ vision. As women we make sure that the right foundations are set up to prepare the business’ future success.

For example, we give high importance to the entrepreneur’s personality, the link between personality and vision, ambition, his/her approach and prioritization.

For a woman who wants to start her own venture, my advice would be:

  • Stick to your own values; the income and the success will follow;
  • Think big, you can do it;
  • Connect with your peers, their advice and perspective is highly valuable;
  • Have the courage to ask for help and surround yourself with a complementary team of
  • experts. Do not try to do it all by yourself: you will very quickly be drawn into tasks with no added value that you can delegate.

TNW: How did you choose your seven personal angel investments? Is there one which makes you particularly proud?

MR: The first criteria I look for is the team and the entrepreneur’s personality. I need to share their vision, understand that they are strong enough to support economic backdrops and that their mindset will constantly adapt and react to unexpected situations. I need them to be ready to share, to listen, to be challenged on their own assumptions (and accept it).

In one word, it is all about people. The company project will evolve according to its environment. As long as the foundations are strong, the entrepreneur will manage to find his/her own way.

And the investor (me), as a partner will follow in many cases.

TNW: What was your motivation for undertaking an MBA?

MR: I have a finance background and worked in financial services before undertaking the MBA. I wanted to broaden my skills in general management for myself and also to understand the issues and constraints of other business lines, in order to provide better support from a financial perspective and to strengthen my own position as a (future) general manager.

TNW: How has your MBA helped you to bridge the gender gap?

MR: I did not experience a gender gap whilst studying for the MBA. We were all executives, exchanging ideas in a professional way. However, there were only 8 of us women in a group of 80. I studied as an executive MBA, and this ratio is also reflected in the Corporate World at an executive level.

Working as diverse teams (gender, origin, professions) was very enriching, as we could combine different views and experiences; it gave us a better understanding of the power of complementarity and diversity. That was a real strength of the MBA study.

TNW: Have there been any difficulties/obstacles you faced because you have an MBA, and if so, how have you overcome them?

MR: While studying at RSM, I learned how to organize and prioritize my tasks to perform at my best. I also adapted my vision of business and my way of working to improve interaction. This was not well appreciated or understood in my own company however, and internal acceptance within your organization is essential.

Being an entrepreneur now means for me that I am being judged upon the delivery I provide to my clients; my CV seems more like a “nice thing to have” than anything else.

TNW: What aspects of RSM culture or composition have been helpful to you in your career?

MR: When starting the MBA I had in mind that I wanted to strengthen my corporate career. During the MBA, I chose the entrepreneurship class as an option and it became my favorite one!

I have built an entrepreneurship project with one of my classmates which was very exciting; we both learned a lot from the experience. I learned that it can be possible and that a straight corporate career is not the only way “to the top”; I can write the roadmap that suits me best.

The power of utilizing diverse talents is a very valuable lesson I learned from RSM. I still apply this concept; I do surround myself with experts of different profiles.

TNW: In what way do the relationships you have with classmates or other RSM alumni add to your professional life?

MR: During those two years we built strong relationships and came to greatly respect each other. When I need to reach out to any of my classmates for advice on a specific dilemma, I usually receive feedback in less than 48 hours. Having such a strong network is a great help and their fast response is crucial at decision making times.

The best thing happened during the French alumni chapter (that I lead); I found my first client, who trusted Synerfia with a big operation.

TNW: What kind of advice would you give to a woman choosing to do an MBA program today?

MR: Make sure you pick one that is highly respected and ranked highly. It will be recognized, and as a bright professional - you can do it!

Use the powerful network of the students as well as the Alumni. Besides that, join several other networks outside of the MBA as well. I joined EPWN (European Professional Women’s’ Network) in Amsterdam when I started the MBA and am still a member now.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but which you’d like to share with our community?

MR:

Networking is the key to getting stronger by yourself as well as together. Keep your own values and motivations at the top of your mind.

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