In most smaller companies, CFOs and controllers include general HR functions into their scopes of responsibilities - that's a given. The flat organizational structures, though, with their spatial and psychological proximity of top executives to the staff, play peculiar tricks on those in charge of the company's human relations.
Very frequently a CFO takes a role of a buffer between the owner/CEO and the rest of the company's employees. She feels obligated to soften the impact of the direct dealing with frequently harsh and hard attitudes of the boss.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: more frequently than not entrepreneurs don't have an experience of ever being in a position of an employee and, therefore, they have very little understanding of the staff's mentality. On the other hand, a CFO maybe a right-hand person now, but she is still just a salaried employee, most likely grown into her current status by climbing through the ranks. If she is a decent human with a conscience, she is sensitive to the needs of valuable employees and cares about their well-being (if they are useless, let someone else care about them).
It's likely that an excellent CFO would enjoy a comparatively preferential treatment by a CEO: more disciplinary leniency, nicer attitude, better perks, general amiability, etc. When it comes to other employees, their efforts and achievements may be remarkable, but they are not as evident to the boss, and that reduces their value in his eyes. I've had one CEO openly tell me that if I want a certain benefit (let's say flexible spending account) for myself, he would be fine with obtaining it, but he did not care about the rest of the "worker-bees."
So, the CFO takes it upon herself to protect other employees from undue tyranny and act as their speaker when it comes to betterment of the employment conditions, whatever they are: raises, bonuses, vacations, benefits, etc. Sort of like a representative of the XYZ Company's employees union. And when she discusses this situation with her friends and family, she expresses her disdain for the undemocratic ways of her boss, taking pride in her efforts to right the wrongs.
Now imagine such a CFO taking a position with a new company - small, young, still pretty much in development stage. The owners are very liberal and treat everyone like equals. Moreover, the CFO is the last person being hired. Those few other employees have been there from the start. Nobody needs protection. Furthermore, there is one person who has been there the longest, starting as a CEO's assistant. Not that she gets any special perks or something like that, but she definitely feels very secure.
This should make the democratic CFO very happy. After all, wasn't she fighting for equality of other employees all the time before? Yes, it's nice; wonderful, really; exactly what she hoped to find... Except that... Being "the chosen one" was kind of a guilty pleasure too, an enjoyable self-esteem booster. And the gratitude of others for all that blow-cushioning effort was very rewarding as well. As important as the democratic principles were to this CFO, the old tyranny is somewhat missed.
That's how we, humans, are. For various reasons and purposes, mostly subconsciously and without any malice, we create these little lies that alter our self-image and other people's perception of us in one way or another.
It reminds me of my UK friend of many years, Gerald Hamer's, revelation concerning his constant bitching and moaning about endless international traveling he had to endure throughout many years of his impressive career as financial broker and adviser. "In truth," he said, "deep inside I love the goddamn airports; the sub-par plane food; the inevitable delays; god-forsaken Yakutsk, the coldest city on Earth, with its diamond mines one week, and unbearable humidity of Bahrain another. I wouldn't want it any other way."
So, all you, democratic CFOs out there, work as hard as you can and fight for your employees' well-being with all you've got, but be honest with yourself: you enjoy being special, the Most Valuable Player in the field.