Debra Christein

Providing CFO services and Business Transition Services in Michigan


About Debra

Debra Christein

Ann Arbor, MI CFO

24 Years of Experience

Direct Contact



University of Michigan, MBA

Miami University of Ohio, BA, MS

Certificates & Licenses:



Treasurer and Board Member, Ann Arbor Art Center

Finance Committee and Board Member, A2Y Regional Chamber

New Enterprise Forum, Program Committee

Contact Debra Christein and receive a free Discovery Analysis™

  • A confidential meeting with the business owner(s), then interview company staff.
  • Look at the company’s financial information and computer systems.
  • Benchmark financial information against industry averages.
  • Create a confidential report of our findings in The Strategy Gameplan™

Debra’s Bio

Debra has worked for the past 20 years as a Financial Officer with companies “on the verge” of going to the next stage of their development, having to move from an ad hoc method of business management to a more mature business model with business systems that support the company’s operations and consistent with the corporate culture. She successfully addresses the key problems that business owners face at this point in their companies growth: Strong sales/weak cash, Increasing revenues/decreasing margins, and Lots of data/scarce information.

Debra has been extremely effective in working with companies in this period of growth and change, thereby: Avoiding the cash crunches associated with rapid growth, Revamping invoicing and collection procedures, Instituting scalable and sustainable business systems and information flow, Defining key metrics for benchmarking, Implementing regular reporting of critical metrics to officers and education and reporting to staff, Implementing integrated accounting packages, Facilitating the creation of vision, goals and actions.

Using sound business practice to leverage a company’s product or service offering. Organizing admin staff into a team that works together to support company in a seamless manner Successfully bridging the gap between the collegial culture of a university spin off and the incorporation of sound business practices, an example of which is the Business Game which reinforced sound business practices in the staff in a fun, effective and light handed way Prior to her role as a CFO, Debra worked for 10 years in transactional-oriented finance roles in the investment banking, credit enhancement and commercial real estate arenas, gaining experience in complex financial transactions, including loan negotiations, business acquisitions, asset securitizations and leasing agreements. The result is a background in bringing projects to a successful conclusion while working with multiple players and varied agendas to create agreement on the end goal.

One of the most challenging assignments in Debra’s career was as the officer liaison and mentor to in-house IT staff in the creation of a consulting division for the parent company. She succeeded in successfully differentiating this commodity business via business model considerations, operational systems and employee training. Specifically, she Created and led the initial visioning process of the division, after which the company tripled in sales the first year and then doubled the following year, all the while remaining cash flow positive Created and implemented a cash sensitive business model — as a result the company was cash flow positive from day 35 of its spin off to its own accounting entity Envisioned and implemented operating systems to manage and coordinate staff service schedules as the company grew from 4 to 17 staff Successfully addressed the “geek factor” which allowed highly technical staff to take responsibility for and be effective in dealing with clients in the field. Created a training and orientation program for new staff that had them functioning within the established procedures and protocols for client service within a few weeks of hire Managed the negotiations for the spin off of this division and maintained an attitude and approach of “win win”.

Debra received her MBA in Finance and Information Systems from the University of Michigan, building on undergraduate and graduate work in the life and environmental sciences. Debra is on the marketing committee for the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce, the Helen Cleary Giving Circle, on the planning committee for the CFO Roundtable and on the Steering Committee and Co-Chair for the annual conference for WXW — Women’s Exchange of Washtenaw County. Debra also gives workshops and motivational keynotes on business futuring and individual career development.

Contact Debra (734) 223-8185


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Recent Articles

Do you Want to Be a Great Leader or a Good Leader?

Maybe you need to be both!   Maybe “great” and “good” are not points along a common scale but are actually very different aspects of leadership.  The chart below puts forth a view of leadership that is a bit different from traditional that I believe gives interesting insights for navigating the challenges and paradoxes of being the best leader one can be. Intrigued?  Click on the link below for the full article……  The Difference Between Good Leaders and Great Ones

Life is More Interesting at the Edges

Edge Effect

B2B CFO®, In my former life as an environmental scientist, it was well known that life was more interesting at the edges – in the “between places”.   As a B2B CFO®,  working with a myriad of companies in many industries and business sectors, I have also noticed this same phenomenon – I am continually amazed by the fascinating ways that people create businesses in new ways and in new places, find an advantage with a unique viewpoint of a common

Finish Big

Fireworks Big Finale Picture

I recently attended a talk by Bo Burlingham, maybe best known as co-author of The Great Game of Business and author of  Small Giants.  He was talking about his new book, Finish Big – How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top.  While I have written about how to prepare your business for a sale, Bo addresses how to prepare yourself for the sale of your business – very useful and informative.  7 Tips for Selling your Business You know who you are, what

Sandwich, Anyone?

Two Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwiches

Do you have children who are not fully fledged and parents who are no longer independent? Many of us have made that transition from Baby Boomer to the “Sandwich Generation”. I have been experiencing this squeeze for the past couple of years and have learned a lot about how to juggle priorities, not get caught up in the struggle, serve those I care about and keep myself strong and productive. But this is nothing new to business owners, is it?

What You See Is What You Get – Or Is It?

Close Up Of Gorilla In The Jungle

I am reading a book called The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons on attention, perception, memory and reasoning – which comes to this startling conclusion: “Our minds don’t work the way we think they do”.   One classic experiment they did shows that 50% of us at any time will miss critical information, even when it is right in front of us.  If you want  to do a quick test on how well you do, watch this 1.5

Big Data for Small Business

Smart Devices Linked To Computer

We can only manage what we know.  When a company is first formed with one or a few individuals and a limited customer base and product offering, the owner knows pretty much everything that is going on.  It’s all they think about – who is late paying? how much will the price increase in that raw material will affect margin? where is the bottle neck in production? which deliveries are late? etc etc. But as a company grows so does

A Challenge for Small Business

Man On Top Of A Mountain

Small businesses are someone’s dream – the artistic expression of their passion – and as such require careful nurturing. Small business is the most powerful force in our economy Have generated over 65% of new net jobs since 1995 Over 50% of the working population works for small business I believe that small business has the ability to influence our country to heal divides and move us forward as the great nation we are faster and better than any political

The Companies With the Best Data Win

Drawn Version Of A Database

A Nielsen article “How Small Business Can Scale the Big Data Barrier” quotes John Jantsch, small business consultant and author of “Duct Tape Marketing” who asserts… “Going forward, the companies that have the best data will win.” The article later states… “The good news for small business owners is that the data boom isn’t reserved for large corporations. Smaller shops may not have the same volume of data available as big businesses… but they can capitalize just the same.” We can only

What You See Is What You Get – or Is It?

Distant Gorilla In The Jungle

I am reading a book called The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons on attention, perception, memory and reasoning – which comes to this startling conclusion: “Our minds don’t work the way we think they do”.   One classic experiment they did shows that 50% of us at any time will miss critical information, even when it is right in front of us.  If you want  to do a quick test on how well you do, watch this 1.5

What’s in YOUR slingshot?

Picture Of A Girl With A Slingshot

I went to see Malcolm Gladwell speak last night – what an amazing mind!  I especially love his book, David and Goliath. Like his other books, it made me question the way I look at the world, challenging the assumptions, precepts and beliefs that I don’t even see.  For me, the central theme of  David and Goliath is about playing to one’s strengths.  Too often we are so willing to see where we have a weakness or a lack and

The “A” word – yes, it’s ACCOUNTABILITY

Street Sign Of Accountability

Are you having trouble understanding why everyone is busy but nothing seems to happen? Then I have a paper for you!  I came across a white paper “Creating a Culture of  Execution” which is really an excellent treatise on the process of getting the results you desire.  It talks about four stages of cultural transformation: Culture of Collaboration Culture of Individual  Accountability Culture of Execution Culture of Innovation Each of these steps is essential for moving to the next level.   The

Is it REALLY better to give than receive?

Well, actually YES – at least it’s better to give than take or match…. I just listened to Adam Grant’s book Give and Take on CD.  Mr. Grant looks at people on a continuum of Giving (people who are generous and giving) to Matchers (people who give with the anticipation that the gift will be reciprocated) and Takers (who are more looking out for #1) and found that in the long run Givers were at the top of various success

Being Busy and the Meaning of Life

I’ve just started reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl .  For those who don’t know, the book is written by an Auschwitz survivor – about the source of his strength to survive.   He surmised that many who died around him in that horrific circumstance  did so less from lack of food or medicine than from lack of hope, lack of something to live for, having a meaning or a “WHY?” for their life. As I am reading

Proper Planning, Persistance and Performance Tracking

To create a successful company you need to have a vision and  mission (either implicit or explicit ), the right people, market demand, good economics etc.   Yet, as I meet with clients and potential clients, I see companies with all this and more who are struggling.  Why?  Because I believe that many times the 3 P’s are missing: Proper Planning,  Persistence and Performance Tracking  –  taking the time to create a solid plan, the ability to keep doing the same

What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You…

Have you ever been in a situation where you suddenly are confronted with a piece of data or information that is absolutely reliable AND contradicts what you know to be true?  I don’t know about you, but I HATE it when that happens.  I have often contemplated how I could be certain about something that I had “made up”.  Well, it turns out I am not alone – we all do this!  (Whew!).  I was surfing TV and found a

Vacations are Good for Business!

I just got back from a kayaking trip in the Everglades a few weeks ago.  There are LOTS of alligators as well as amazing bird life and the magical mangrove tunnels – it was awesome!   Did you know that alligator’s eyes glow red at night? We combined kayaking (which is my husband’s and my favorite hobby) with family time – I got my 85-year-old mother a new phone and now she is a texting fiend! I am a true

How Confused are You by Health Care Reform?

I don’t know about you but, even though I know how important it is to understand Health Care Reform, my eyes sort of glaze over every time I read about it.   The other day I learned about a video created by the Kaiser Family Foundation which is fun to watch and very informativeabout this topic – so I thought I would pass it along: Illustrating Health Reform: How Health Insurance Coverage Will Work Enjoy!

What makes a Business Model "Flight-Worthy"?

Have you ever made a paper airplane?  Did it fly?  If you’re like me,  probably not.  And you know that it didn’t matter how many times you launched it, how fast you threw it or the angle or whatever –  if would not fly, right? Also, if you’re like me,  everyone once in a while, you’ve made one that flew. What was the difference?  What special blend of tail height, wing breadth, and body length made this piece of paper

Is Your Company Thriving or Just Surviving: Does balancing your bank statement take more than 10-15 minutes?

“Cash is king”  – and knowing how much cash you have is critical to a business owner’s peace of mind. Some owners in a cash crunch watch cash on a daily basis.  For those with a little more cushion with their cash, the simplest way to know where cash is is to reconcile your bank accounts on a regular basis within one week of the statement release each month. Reconciling bank accounts can be a 5-10 minute routine operation or

My Shotgun Approach to Marketing

Making marketing fun! In fall of 2011, my local chamber added a new event to their schedule – a trap shoot.  I didn’t go and heard afterward that it was a lot of fun but that no women participated. Coincidentally, my husband and I had inherited a shotgun – the very first firearm that either one of us had ever owned.   I was basically afraid to touch it and thought that, if it was going to be in the house,

Is your company Thriving or just Surviving: Do you know how your business model is set up to perform and how you actual performance compares?

I like to use a paper airplane analogy when talking about business models. Just like a business model, some paper airplanes are built to fly and some aren’t. Just like a business model, there are lots of ways to create a paper airplane that will fly and even more ways to create one that won’t. Just like a business model, the parts of the paper airplane must be in right proportion to each other for the airplane to fly. Just

Is your company Thriving or just Surviving: Do you use the Accounts Payable to manage your bills?

Cash comes into your company via payments for services and products, typically related to invoices that you create for your customers. Cash leaves your company in the form of payments to employees and vendors.  You can think of this system as a sink with a spigot pouring water (cash from invoices) in with an open drain (the checks to vendors and employees) taking water out at the bottom.  Your cash flow is determined by how well you manage the spigot

Thriving not just Surviving in your Business: Do you close the month within 10 days of the end of the month and run (and review) regular reports and metrics?

Business can be hectic – clients need special attention, staff have interpersonal issues, vendors deliver the wrong items, projects can out of budget and off track – as a business owner, it can sometimes feel like standing in the middle of a storm. There are lots of things that you don’t have control over in business, but your internal operations are not included in that list.  Setting up regular procedures and behaviors may take some discipline and persistence but the

• Thriving or just Surviving: Is there an independent verifiable process to ensure that 100% of invoices go to the client in a timely manner?

Unless you can say with 100% certainty that each month every single possible bit of work or product that could have been invoiced has been invoiced  AND you can produce a report that will prove it,  you are very likely leaving money on the table. It amazes me how many companies rely on a single person’s memory to know if all the work performed by the company is captured on an invoice. Do you run an exception report every month

Are you Thriving or just Surviving in your Business? Is your AP turnaround low and your AR collections high?

This is a problem that I see all too often.  Which is easier – paying a bill or calling on an overdue invoice?  Paying a bill of course!  And that’s why I often see AP turnaround times much less that the actual terms that the company has agreed to.  For instance, a company who has agreed to pay in 30 days will pay its bills in 15.  On the other hand, even companies that are quite good at creating timely

Thriving or Surviving: Is getting invoices out to customers your highest priority?

If timely invoicing is not a high priority in your company, you may be surviving, but you are not setting your company up to thrive.  To ignore or minimize the importance of  invoicing is like driving a car without putting gas into it and expecting to get somewhere. This is a fundamental issue I see in many companies.  From my experience, often owners tends to focus  on: First, paying his/her employees Second, creating and delivering the product or service Third,

Are you making building your business harder than it has to be?

Although building and growing a business is a challenging effort, no doubt about it, many companies make it a much more difficult process by ignoring basic good business practices.  Below is the beginning of a checklist of some of those activities.    In future blogs, I will address each of these items in this growing list….. But for right now, if you are a business owner and either say “no” or “I don’t know” to any of the following, I have

Inside the Investor/Investee Relationship

The March 15th New Enterprise Forum (NEF) meeting in Ann Arbor MI  brought together a stellar panel of both investors and entrepreneurs to discuss making the right match between a company and an investor.  This panel speaks from a wealth of experience and has wisdom that can save both investors and investees lots of time and energy. Christine Gibbons, HistoSonics Make sure that your investor shares your vision – talk about the business plan, just don’t hand it over and

New York Times supports CFO's for small business

This article which just appeared in the New York Times explores some of the reasons a company might need a CFO, even if they are not large enough to need a full-time CFO. Small-Business Guide:  When Should a Small Business Hire a Finance Chief?     

The Dance of Business: 7 Steps to Success

Have you ever taken a basic dance class – swing, salsa, tango?  The class starts out with everyone in a line learning the same 6 or 8 beat step over and over, adding some variations to it until you finally get to try it with a real person.  By the end of the class, you feel pretty good, and if no one got hurt you consider the evening a success! And then the open dance starts and people who were

Why I love being a B2B CFO®

This may be the first time you hear of the company Lektromotiv – but I doubt that it will be the last.  Last night they presented at the New Enterprise Forum  (NEF) in Ann Arbor, a venue where start up companies who have been coached by the NEF program committee teams come to present their investor pitch. Lektromotiv has a patented technology that creates an electric motor with either twice the power or half the size of it’s competitors.   I

Why I love being a B2B CFO®

Today I was at a client site – having the time of my life! This company has grown substantially over  the past several years.  And reports that used to be fairly simple and quick to produce had taken on a life of their own.   The office staff had done a tremendous job and kept up with the ever growing data, but at a huge cost to peace of mind and general enjoyment of their workspace.  Also, the dangers of data

May offers special event for business women in SE Michigan

The fourth annual  WXW Forum – Now We’re Talking is being held at Eagle Crest Conference center on Friday, May 20th. To hear what people had to say last year, watch the video: The Early Bird special ends May 2nd.  To register, visit        

It's smart business to help your banker help you

I recently read an article I really liked by Brian Christian, one of my partners in B2B CFO® about hiring the right banker.  There is a lot of grumbling about bankers today, but the truth is that banks don’t stay in business if they don’t lend out money – it’s their job!   Meeting with a prospective banker is very much like meeting with a interviewee for a managerial position in your company.  A banker becomes a valued advisor and team

Angel Investor tips

I attended the MIT Enterprise Forum last week on tips for securing Angel Investing – I attended the one in Ann Arbor, MI  but there are several around the state held simultaneously and connected virtually. Some tips that I gleaned are: Dilution may seem painful, but a small percentage of something is better than 100% of nothing You need a team to grow a company successfully and Angels don’t want to see a one-man show Don’t let your valuation get

CFO Encourages Business Owners to Dream

Last week I was privileged to present my workshop  “Creating your Dream Business:  Reaching for the Sky with your Feet on the Ground”  at the Lenawee Economic Development Corporation.   What’s dreaming have to do with business?  I say “Everything!”  Just like artists create art as fulfillment of their dreams of  self-expression, I believe that entrepreneurs create businesses as a self-expression, as a creative act to fulfill their dreams. Is this crazy talk from a part-time CFO?   I  don’t