What Do CFOs Read? An Inside Look at Michael Lin’s Must Reads


Every day, you have to determine what media to spend time on. If you’re like me, you’re surrounded by smart people influenced by a variety of content.  That makes determining which publications I spend my time on important. As CFO of Mavenlink, what I read influences how I perceive my company’s future and role in the economy.

So what do CFOs read today?  Here are my absolute favorites for dailiy media, web media, and annual media.

Daily Media Digest: What I read on a daily basis

Every day, I read The Wall Street Journal. Without exception, I make time for the front page of each section, even if I have only a few minutes.  

  • A1 Section of the WSJ

On A1, you will read a snippet of every main article within the WSJ. Doing this takes five minutes or less for a complete overview of that day’s edition.

  • “Business & Tech”

Formerly called “Marketplace,” the  second section of the WSJ gives you an overall sense of where the stock market is. Again, just the front page will loop you in if you’re in a rush.

  • “Money & Investing”

The front page of the third section covers a well-selected and trending topic, usually something in technology or business. You can walk away with this in-depth coverage knowing everything you need to know about it.

  • “Personal Journal”

Finally, the lifestyle section gives you the latest on real estate, sports, and other topics that are probably of interest both professionally and personally.

The WSJ is my top pick, but if your preference is The New York Times, that will also keep you informed on a lot of the must-knows.

Bonus Daily Content: The Financial Times and CNBC

WSJ is terrific for U.S. news. To round out my knowledge, I’ll also scan The Financial Times. This provides an international perspective on global business, which puts everything I read in the WSJ into perspective. Our population is small compared to the rest of the world, and this helps me remember that.

"You will walk away having learned something important." -What CFOs Read by Michael Lin

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The only other daily source of news I recommend is CNBC on TV. Of the three business news channels (i.e., CNBC, Fox Business, and Bloomberg), I recommend CNBC because of its talented anchors and high-quality guests. Together, they bring deep coverage to a broad set of topics — oil, tech, real estate, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), you name it. You will walk away having learned something important.


Website Digest: What I read online

There are three core websites I recommend.  These sites let me see what’s going on in the world and at companies similar to mine.

First, Kleiner Perkins’s Internet trends keeps me updated about the macro trends. Twice a year, KP updates these 100+ slides. Each slide contains clear statistics and also graphics that summarize what you need to know about big technology trends and global Internet usage patterns.  The benefit here is a forward-looking view at the global picture of our interconnected world. I reference this site at least few times a year.

For information specific to companies like mine, I look to Bessemer Venture Partners’s Cloud Computing Index. This lets me see specific information on other SaaS companies that are public.

Relatedly, the best resource for information on public companies is the SEC. In my opinion, you won’t find more rich information than the significantly informative 10Q (quarterly) and 10K (annual) reports. It’s amazing the things public companies disclose in their filings.

Book Digest: What I read

First off, anything by Malcolm Gladwell is terrific. My first three recommended reads come from him. Then I’ll show you two more authors.

  • First, The Tipping Point is Gladwell’s read on how visionaries get their ideas to stick. How does one person or company start a trend? This is where you learn how great ideas take hold.
  • Second is Blink. Blink reveals how you perceive the world, and how others perceive you. Our perceptions happen in a blink.
  • Finally, Outliers takes the question out of how prodigal individuals become so successful. This is the story of Bill Gates and others who achieve more than average.

My next picks come from Michael Lewis. Again, Lewis has three great books.

  • The Big Short is an Academy Award-winning movie that Lewis wrote first as a book. The read is great, and you get to see why the big bust happened. The story dives into the real world of risky derivatives-based bets.
  • Next is Lewis’s Moneyball, also a movie. The book breaks down how the Oakland Athletics went from a low-budget, low-performing, unwanted team to one of the most successful in the league, based solely on statistics-based decisions.
  • Finally, there’s Lewis’s Liar’s Poker. You’ll get the insider’s look at Wall Street from Lewis’s time with Salomon Brothers. The business was lucrative for Lewis, but you’ll learn how he had to use every opportunity to make the most for the bottom line.

Last on the author’s list is Jim Collins, for his book Good to Great. Collins provides the framework for taking your good company to great. It’s an essential startup book.

Warren Buffett has a way of describing the state of business that feels obvious.

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Annual Digest: What is the best thing I read all year?

By far, my favorite information source is Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report and letter to shareholders. Warren Buffett has a way of describing the state of business that feels obvious once he says it. I’ve been saving this annual letter for years to show my kids. For a full perspective on how Berkshire Hathaway has achieved its legendary performance, you can read this annual report and letter as far back as the 1960s.  These letters are something that I plan on sharing with my kids when they’re old enough understand business.

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