CFO THOUGHT LEADER

Jack Sweeney

CFO THOUGHT LEADER is a ground-breaking business podcast, hosted by Jack Sweeney that brings you firsthand accounts of CFOs who are driving change within their organizations.

All Episodes

Inder Singh started off his professional life as an engineer, only to learn that the large engineering projects that he aspired to someday lead often faced as many financial obstacles as they did engineering challenges. So, Singh says, he went back to school and earned an MBA in finance, allowing him to redirect his career down a path populated with unique and imaginative financing deals to support engineering feats as well as business transformations. One of the more innovative financing projects that Singh has helped to champion came along in the 1990s, when he was working as a business development executive for AT&T Corp. It seems that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was looking to upgrade its telecommunications infrastructure—to the tune of $4 billion. “Other companies were just offering typical bank financing. In our case, we said, ‘Let’s do an oil barter agreement,’” explains Singh, who says that the proposal involved having Saudi Arabia supply $4 billion of oil to Chevron Corp., which then would pay $4 billion in cash to AT&T, which then would build Saudi Arabia a $4 billion telecommunications network. “If you just think outside the box a little bit, bring your engineering skills, and bring some financial skills and common sense, you’ll see what makes sense for three different parties. And guess what? We actually won the deal,” comments Singh, who notes that the fact that Saudi Arabia may not have demanded such an imaginative financing solution is not important. Says Singh: “The fact that we put it on the table made us stand apart.” And so it goes for Inder Singh, whose imaginative approach to financing deals over the years has routinely set him apart from his finance leadership peers. –Jack Sweeney

Nov 24

48 min 57 sec

Back in the mid-1990s, before email became widely used across corporate America, the executives of Frito-Lay’s northern California region suddenly found their mailboxes full. “We were getting all of these letters from people asking, ‘What did you do? What’s going on in northern California?,’” explains Tom Fitzgerald, who at the time was finance director for the region, a geography known to be a sales laggard among Pepsico’s 24 business units, within which Frito-Lay itself was a particularly heavy bottom dweller. Thus, as Fitzgerald relates, there was no shortage of intrigue concerning a sudden and steady sales climb inside Frito-Lay’s northern California business. Looking back, he observes that the explanation of the phenomenon was not necessarily pleasing to neighboring regions, which were known to be on a constant lookout for cunning new sales promotions or incentives. “Northern California, oddly enough, was the only unionized market for Frito-Lay in the country. Meanwhile, we had a direct store delivery business, which meant that we went to every store at least once a week—and often every day—to merchandise and sell the inventory,” explains Fitzgerald, who notes that the “direct sales” approach afforded the region larger numbers of employees than other locales, which in turn allowed Frito-Lay to at times operate inside the region more like a “military organization.” Like those of many of his peers, Fitzgerald’s Pepsi career routinely opened new chapters as the packaged goods company rotated its finance executives into new regions and business units. Fitzgerald’s arrival in the northern California region brought a new set of eyes to Frito-Lay’s local challenges and paired the finance executive with a divisional leader who was prepared to listen. “I told the leader that too often the business had one answer one day and a different answer the following week. I said, ‘Let’s just pick three, and then we’re going to lock in and stay there,’” comments Fitzgerald, who credits a newfound focus and the regional leader’s willingness to collaborate with having propelled the snack maker to the top of the region’s 24 business units within 3 months. As for the details behind Fitzgerald’s “three answer” prescription, the finance leader reports: “Two were top line–driven, operational metrics that we could measure. The other was related to how our team worked and coached the frontline salespeople.” For Fitzgerald, the remedy was less about strategy and more about focus. “It’s not necessarily about how good your strategy is,” he says. “Frankly, there may have been three better ideas along the way, but because they changed the strategy and moved to the next thing too quickly, they couldn’t get all of their people aligned to execute it well.” Adds the finance leader: “I became a big believer in the notion that if you have an ‘A’ strategy but a ‘C’ execution, you’re going to miss your numbers every time.” –Jack Sweeney

Nov 21

55 min 50 sec

Jim Calabrese recalls that when he began to climb the corporate ladder early in his finance career, an executive mentor told him, “Never be afraid to make the coffee.” This curious advice caught Calabrese’s attention, so the up-and-coming executive listened carefully as the mentor added: “As an executive, you need to be able to get dirty—to roll up your sleeves. You don’t want to be the person who can’t do a mundane task because you’re in love with your title.” Today, as a CFO, Calabrese serves up his own bite-size mentoring verbiage in this way: “There’s nothing more valuable when you’re the CFO than understanding how the widgets are made—and being the person who’s willing to take on the challenging projects.” Calabrese tells us that he reached the CFO office by aggressively pursuing projects outside the traditional finance realm while also signing up for long stretches on strategic planning teams, where he guided re-engineering projects in the energy and software sectors. His strategic work—along with his operational “grinding and tinkering”—positioned the CPA/MBA hybrid to thrive as a finance leader, especially in his current role as CFO of Finalsite, a private equity–backed SaaS developer serving the education sector.

Nov 17

39 min 52 sec

Among today’s career building finance pros who view the CFO office as their ultimate destination, Howard Wilson might be labeled an off-road commuter. Whereas most finance leaders have shared a common view as accounting and finance milestones fell away in their rearview mirror, Wilson entered the finance realm from the merge lane – where his rearview revealed a roster of operational milestones and sales experiences. Having spent most of his early career altogether removed from the accounting cubicles, Wilson's operational experiences began supplying added luster to his CFO credentials. It’s no secret that as the CFO role has broadened, our CFO guests have been eager to highlight their operations experience, but as Howard Wilson’s career perhaps reveals, operations experience is no longer just a pit stop along the motorway of CFO career journeys. –Jack Sweeney

Nov 14

42 min 41 sec

When does a mission-driven CFO initiate a crucial turnaround of an erstwhile nonprofit that’s been losing money for years and has a legacy pension plan dragging down its balance sheet? Before he’s even been offered the job. At least that’s how you take care of business if you’re March of Dimes Senior Vice President and CFO Dave Damond. “I came in with a change management plan,” reveals the former KPMG auditor, who was a finance executive with American Red Cross before launching himself into his current role in 2018. “In fact, when I was interviewing, they showed me what the current table of organization looked like. And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s wrong – here’s what it should look like.” Damond got the job, and immediately implemented his plan, which included replacing a 30-year-old legacy ERP installation with a cloud-based system (within a year), hiring new talent (including a controller) and addressing that drag on the balance sheet as interest rates fortuitously plummeted. “We saw a lot of organizations were actually doing buyouts [of defined benefits pension plans],” Damond says while detailing the mechanics of his change plan. “It was something that we had to jump on right away, and we took that opportunity to offer buyouts to all of our people who were already retired.” The move saved the organization $20 million, adds Damond who also shares his take on cashflow analytics, fundraising KPIs, how he managed through COVID and the AI solutions that his finance group is considering investing in.

Nov 12

29 min 8 sec

Talk to, or about, CircleCI CFO Chitra Balasubramanian and you’ll hear the word “team” early and often. The phrase describes her leadership approach and to how her finance group equips colleagues with next-level business and customer insights. Current and former colleagues will tell you how much value (and fun) she brings to any “solve team.” And Balasubramanian refers to her “insights team” when discussing her group’s FP&A activities  at CircleCI, a continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) platform that helps developers do their work faster while ensuring high-quality code. The key to delivering actionable business nights, Balasubramanian notes, includes creating clear problem statements and outcomes. When that clarity is wanting, Balasubramanian’s insight team clicks into exploratory mode. Once the financial analysts have gleaned what the business needs to make better decisions, it’s time to distill. “We don't want to simply relay a party bag full of information,” Balasubramanian asserts. “Our role is to deliver insights that are consumable and that immediately stimulate a productive dialogue among our stakeholders.” That those financial analyses could influence shareholder value marks a touchstone career moment for Balasubramanian, who previously worked at RetailNext. “Finance teams have a lot of opportunities to lean in and drive the business forward,” she adds. “By looking at customer data from a finance perspective, we can glean new insights that help other business stakeholders actually improve the end-customer experience.” A focus on delivering beyond-finance insights is fitting given that Balasubramanian is the only CFO currently on the board of trustees team at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

Nov 10

52 min 56 sec

Dan O’Shaughnessy may be the only finance leader with whom we’ve ever spoken who credits hard work and financial acumen with having helped to keep him out of business school. Or at least this seems to be what unfolded at Gymboree back in early 2015, when he accepted a job offer from the CFO of the children’s apparel retailer. Explains O’Shaughnessy: “At the time, Gymboree had been taken private and was managing a significant amount of debt. I told myself that if we could turn around the business quickly, it would be a great opportunity, and if we couldn’t, then business school was always a good option.” As it turned out, the retailer’s successful turnaround would require a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing as part of a larger process that expanded O’Shaughnessy’s role into comptrollership, tax, treasury, and even supply chain planning and store operations. Along the way, the finance executive was frequently tasked with dealing with the company’s creditors and investors. “The creditors across the table with whom I had been negotiating aggressively one day became my board members on the following day,” reports O’Shaughnessy, who notes that the experience taught him “how to have professional conflicts but maintain relationships.” Within a few quarters, the turnaround began to get some momentum, as the retailer sold off certain noncore assets and saw EBITDA grow by 50 percent. For O’Shaughnessy, a former manager with Price Waterhouse’s M&A practice, the leap to the operations side of a struggling business likely provided more relevant lessons than he might have learned from attending business school. In the end, he says, “it opened up my eyes to how much I enjoyed the operations side of business.” -Jack Sweeney CFOTL: Tell us about Formlabs, what does this company do and what are its offerings today? O’Shaughnessy: Formlabs is in the 3D printing space and has successfully disrupted the 3D printing space. To give you some perspective on the industry, it’s not new. It’s been around for 30 plus years. This company was founded 10 years ago last week, and really took off on Kickstarter. The whole model here is bringing a machine, a technology that I equate to the IBM old mainframes, hundreds of thousand of dollars, take up half of a room require an engineer to run, and put that onto the desktop. You’re now providing a technology that previously cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for under $5,000. As I like to put it, it’s so easy a finance guy can use it. It’s an out-of-the-box solution. 3D printing is a very complex technology, and the team was able to develop and manufacture an offering and a product that performed at 99% of these multi hundred thousand dollars machines at a fraction of the price. I’d say my number one, two, and three priorities are to grow and scale the Formlabs business. Everything that we do from a finance perspective is in support of growing the business, delivering more value to our customers, and then how do we do you that? It’s engaging the team and driving alignment in trust. It’s getting the simple things right so that we don’t run around every day fighting fires. Sometimes it makes us feel good and important, but there are certain things that just need to run smoothly. So do that. Driving predictability. If this, then that, and here’s the different levers we have to pull. Then it’s really putting the right people in the right place to deliver the most value and grow the most personally and professionally in support of this infrastructure that is finance that enables the growth and, again, if done well, drives the growth in the business over the next 12, 24, 36 months.

Nov 7

47 min 40 sec

Brett and Jack discuss the move by Amazon and other companies to pay employees daily are likely to trigger new approaches in salary administration. Plus, more developments in the age of the "great resignation."  Featuring the commentary and insights of workplace champions CEO Craig O'Neill of Versapay, CFO Michael Rosen of Digital Power Marketing, CFO Kurt Shintaffer of Apptio.

Nov 5

53 min 38 sec

Minnesota-based Mann Lake Ltd. is a leader in the beekeeping industry, serving commercial beekeeping businesses and backyard hobbyists alike. The company specializes in quality manufacturing, innovation, customer service, and global ESG (environmental, social, governance) matters. “Bees pollinate one in every three bites of food that humans consume,” Mann Lake CFO Shana Rowlette explains. “Colony collapse is a real thing, and we’re very involved in helping our industry to address this risk.” Her company’s unique realm and rapid growth quickly nudged Rowlette beyond the traditional bounds of the staff accounting role that she filled when she joined the company. “I started with payables, receivables, and inventory but steadily took on more responsibilities that showed me how everything functioned as our company grew,” she notes. “It’s been 11 years, and I haven’t had a boring day yet.” Read More As controller, Rowlette helped to shepherd the company’s purchase by a private equity (PE) firm. She educated her PE partners in the nuances of the industry’s pollination seasonality and weather-related risks while collaborating on acquisition targets to fuel further growth. This work resulted in Mann Lake’s acquisition of Stromberg’s Chicks & Game Birds. “Our ultimate goal is to become the one-stop shop for everything related to backyard hobbies,” says Rowlette. Next year, Rowlette will play a key role in a major employee-engagement initiative in addition to helping to drive growth. “The fast pace in a rapidly growing company can be overwhelming at times,” she observes. “You have to take a deep breath each day and prioritize what’s most important to the company. I also have a really good relationship with my amazing team. I was given a great opportunity by my former CFO to rise from being a staff accountant up to being a CFO. So, I make sure that we give our staff the ability to take on more and more while learning about the entire business.”

Nov 3

28 min 57 sec

t sounds counterintuitive, but the best big men in basketball succeed less on size than they do on finesse and footwork. NBA Hall of Famer Tim Duncan’s right-foot jab created the space that he needed to sink his patented bank shot or fire a pass to an open teammate. The same holds true for data-driven CFOs who partner with founder CEOs in technology start-ups. CallRail CFO Jim Morgan began his professional career by pivoting from Goldman Sachs to a 100-employee, venture-backed start-up in early 2000. Once there, he immediately helped to pivot the marketing-technology company’s business model in response to the looming dotcom crash. Since then, Morgan—a former center who co-captained Stanford University’s hoops team in the early ’90s—has served as CFO at a succession of venture- and private-equity backed high-growth companies. “I love working with the entrepreneurs,” Morgan notes, “and I’ve learned that the CFO has a highly unique value prop to offer by facilitating the processes and scale needed to build a company from an idea.” Besides scaling operations through detailed design and planning, Morgan’s facilitation takes the form of financial planning and analysis, M&A transactions, equity and debt fund-raising, board and investor relations, capital management, and more. He starts each day at marketing platform software developer CallRail by poring over revenue, product, and customer metrics on his morning dashboard, a tool that he continually finesses. “There’s so much data in most organizations,” Morgan adds. “A huge part of the CFO’s role is to identify which data really matter so that you can elevate two or three next-level metrics.”

Oct 31

44 min 58 sec

Steve & Jack discuss planning’s crunch time in the 4th quarter and the operationalization of FP&A inside different business functions. Featuring FP&A Insights & Commentary from Planning Aces: Sameer Ralhan, CFO, The Chemours Company, Chris Kuehn, CFO, Trane Technologies,  Laurence Capone, CFO, Pipedrive. Akash Palkhiwala, CFO Qualcomm.

Oct 28

34 min 24 sec

When Robert Alvarez first joined the finance team of one venture-backed start-up, he was thinking that one day he might like to be a CFO. However, upon further reflection, the young finance analyst realized that he had little idea what a CFO did. Being part of a start-up team afforded him the opportunity to have one-on-one meetings with different senior leaders, including the company’s CFO, Alvarez recalls. Of course, access to leadership has little value unless you are willing and able to undertake the responsibility of shepherding a future deliverable. For Alvarez, the task of identifying such a deliverable was best left to its intended recipient. “We were together going down the list of items that I was working on, and I stopped and asked the CFO, ‘So, what’s on your list?’” remembers Alvarez, who says that the CFO subsequently began listing one item after another. Alvarez says that he asked if he could “take a stab” at tackling one of the items and told the CFO that he would have it for him by the next day. Having identified a valuable action item and promised to deliver it promptly, Alvarez asked the CFO not to fix the item if it ultimately fell short. Instead, Alvarez says, he was eager to discover what mistakes may have been made to learn from them. “We began with that one item, which quickly became two—and soon I was working on parts of board presentations and different materials for investor relations,” comments Alvarez, who notes that the experience was contingent on a finance leader willing to give up something. Says Alvarez: “He gave me the gift of letting me do his job, which was critical because I’m not smart enough to just read how do things—I’ve always had to do the work.” –Jack Sweeney

Oct 27

52 min 39 sec

Troy Ignelzi’s CFO career is rooted in an unlikely place. In fact, some might describe it as the least likely of all places, for the environs of his early vocational path were not those of a growing company but instead a place where businesses had stopped growing. So it was in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the late 1990s when Ignelzi—part of a local economic development team—became tasked with creating jobs in the wake of Pfizer’s decision to remove a number of business operations from the region, including a large plant. “They moved all of the R&D jobs and everything business-related out of Kalamazoo and Portage, Michigan, and all they left was a very large manufacturing plant,” explains Ignelzi, who notes that the move by Pfizer began putting the area’s larger biotech sector at risk. “What happened was that this big vacuum got created, so what we said was, ‘Let’s keep these other smart guys in town,’” continues Ignelzi, who adds that preserving the region’s biotech jobs became part of a bigger project known as the “Pfizer Disaster Relief Plan.” As Ignelzi diligently worked to crack the code for job creation inside the biotech realm, he increasingly found his interests leaping well beyond the region’s economic ebb and flow. Comments Ignelzi: “What first drew me to economic development was the idea of helping companies to create jobs and making a difference. Then this passion kind of spilled over into companies in the pharmaceutical and the biotech worlds, where firms were developing life-changing medicines.” To date, Ignelzi says, he has helped to lead the financing of six approved drugs representing different therapeutic areas and has helped seven different companies to go public.  Meanwhile, it’s clearly a point of pride for Ignelzi that Kalamazoo’s once empty biotech plant is today playing a part in the greater biotech community’s COVID response. Says Ignelzi: “It’s that same manufacturing plant that is now making the pandemic therapy that we’re all hoping gets us through this right now, right down the street from where I still live, in western Michigan.” –Jack Sweeney

Oct 24

45 min 24 sec

When Evan Fein accepted his first CFO position more than a decade ago - his focus as a finance leader was too narrow according to the CFO, who in a moment of self-reflection can’t conceal his exacerbation.  "Ashamed is not the right word, but I'm such a better CFO now than I was then,” remarks Fein, who gives his younger self some kudos for having helped to champion the company’s business model as well as extending the organization’s lines of sight into the future. Still, there’s little question Fein finds the notion of time travel appealing. “What I would now tell my younger self is that the CFO role is about the ability to partner and build relationships and grow other people. That is the special sauce that I bring to my job now,” Fein comments. Asked to better expose his former CFO mindset Fein says: “At the time, I decided if everybody stayed in their swim lanes and we each ran our trains on time, that things would come together. It’s just not that simple.” – Jack Sweeney  

Oct 20

34 min 39 sec

Michael Rosen’s finance career began inside the loan department of middle market lender Union Bank (now MUFG Union), when—after completing an 18-month training program—the 23 -year-old was provided with a stack of business cards bearing the title “Loan Officer.” “At the time, being a loan officer meant a great many things. You would be responsible for most of your clients’ needs, as well as bringing in new business for the bank,” remembers Rosen, who today credits the program’s scope with allowing him to quickly find his footing inside the bank’s apparel sector—a realm made up largely of midsize businesses ranging in size from $15 million to $100 million. “It was a significant program that provided some broad-based training in things like financial analysis, collateral analysis, and financial accounting, as well as the legal and ethical issues that come up when running a bank,” continues Rosen, who adds that for the next 7 years he responded to the unique needs and growing pains of his midsize customers. Next, Rosen joined CIT Group, which at the time was aggressively expanding its factoring offerings. The financial services firm was known for not only taking over its clients’ accounts receivable but also signing outsourcing agreements for the customers’ credit collections and bookkeeping functions. “Once we were doing all of these things, it became a lot easier for us to make loans against the collateral because we were the custodian of all of the funds. We didn’t have to rely on companies collecting the money and then sending it—instead, it came right to us,” he recalls. The experience of serving customers at CIT Group opened Rosen’s eyes to managing risk and the critical thinking that’s often required when advising businesses “where things aren’t going well.” It was through just such a business that Rosen accidentally discovered a door of entry to corporate finance leadership. “We kept telling the owner that the business really needed to have a CFO, and the next thing I knew, I was offered the job,” explains Rosen, who accepted the position. Looking back, Rosen says that at the time he probably did not have all of the technical accounting knowledge that a CFO might be expected to command. Even so, he knew how to stabilize the business, and that’s arguably what mattered most. –Jack Sweeney   CFOTL: Tell u

Oct 17

45 min 29 sec

Brett and Jack discuss the marriage of fintech and human capital management, and the of the growing mandate for employee success.  Featuring the commentary and insights of workplace champions CFO Sameer Ralhan of the Chemours Company, CFO Robert Alvarez of Big Commerce, CFO Laurence Capone of Pipedrive.

Oct 15

51 min 54 sec

When Thomas Kramer recalls his decision to leave his job with a prestigious consulting firm to start up a tech firm in the final hours of the dotcom boom, he doesn’t hesitate to underscore his decision’s questionable timing. “This was when I realized that I would be getting out of consulting at what potentially would have been the worst possible point in time. Everyone could see that the Internet boom was closing, and smart people do what smart people do: They run in the other direction,” recalls Kramer, now some 20 years later. Whether it’s quantum bits, IPOs, or even SPACs, the exciting developments surrounding IonQ are no match for CFO Kramer’s insightful personal advice and often biting self-reflection.  “Travel is something that you do when you can,” explains Kramer, who tells us that during those times when his career has dispatched him to different parts of the world, he has frequently combined work and leisure trips. At one point back in the early 2000s, when he discovered that he was not required to be in Delhi, India, for another 48 hours, the avid traveler made a pit stop in the United Arab Emirates.  “I stopped off in Dubai and then I drove to Oman,” he reports, “because, hey, when else are you going to get to go to Oman?” ­–Jack Sweeney CFOTL: Tell us about IonQ … what type of company is this? Kramer: This is one that I love to get at cocktail parties because we actually shoot lasers at individual atoms and use these as building blocks to create the computer of the future. And I’m not kidding about the lasers or the atoms—this is what we do. We literally manipulate the smallest entities in the universe to create the largest-capacity supercomputers in the world. Why is this important, because who cares about computers? You can go to Best Buy and buy another one every day. But the problem with computing is that “more slow” hasn’t been working for a while now. There are just physical limits to how many transistors you can put into a chip, and transistors are the basic building blocks of traditional computers. Transistors or bits are pretty limited in their function, though. They’ll assume the value of only zero or one, and to paraphrase Katy Perry, they’re off or they’re on. Famously, quantum bits can be both zero and one at the same time—and also any value in between. This means that they can hold much richer information and therefore be used to compute much, much more complicated problem sets. I’ll give you an example. Most UPS drivers can make about 120 deliveries per day. The potential combination of stops is expressed as a mathematical function by multiplying 120 by 119 by 118, and so on. The result far exceeds the age of Earth in nanoseconds. The practical implication of this is that if UPS or FedEx tried to calculate the optimal world for each of their more than 100,000 drivers every morning, all packages would’ve been delivered weeks ago, before the fastest supercomputer could ever give you the answer. This is where quantum computers come in. They can handle a much larger data set simultaneously than your traditional computer can. When you go public, it’s a moment of profound commitment because now you’re really stuck, now you have to make it work. And that’s what I want to see happen here. We can go public. We will be trading. But what’s important is that we can bring out the best computers in the market for decades to come. And we as a finance function can help to make this happen.

Oct 13

36 min

In the wake of an economic downturn, a company’s door of opportunity swings open to a finance up-and-comer. This is a familiar early career chapter for many finance leaders, and few have revealed to us the uncertainty surrounding the moment better than Apptio CFO Kurt Shintaffer “The CEO came to me and said, ‘Do you think that you have what it takes?’ I said, ‘Well, sure!,’ without really knowing what I was signing up for,” explains Shintaffer, who back in 2002 was a senior finance executive for Pacific Edge Software when the company’s then-CFO exited. Until this moment, Shintaffer’s resume arguably had resembled those of thousands of other finance career builders stationed along the different rungs of finance’s corporate ladder, and like Shintaffer, may have completed a stint in public accounting. (Shintaffer spent three years with Ernst & Young).   Still, at 28 years of age, Shintaffer was already aware that his technical knowledge was not what would make the difference in the days ahead.   “I had to rely on all of the relationships that I had built to help me find my way. I was super-open about what I didn’t know, and I tried to learn from other people. I think that when you sort of make yourself vulnerable like this, people lean in for you,” remarks Shintaffer, while recalling the mind-set that he quickly acquired to meet the challenges ahead. Meanwhile, his ability to be calm under pressure began to become evident as his appetite for multitasking grew, and he found his relationship with the business changing. Says Shintaffer: “I was able to stay just far enough ahead of all of the things that were coming at me so that I could at least create this illusion of control, and I think that even to this day there are still some times when you just have to stay one step ahead.” –Jack Sweeney

Oct 10

41 min 19 sec

Twenty years ago, when Roy Simmons first joined General Electric Company as a rookie financial analyst, it likely would have been difficult to imagine that he would someday occupy the CFO office of GE Lighting. Of course, occupying the CFO office of “GE Lighting, a Savant company” would have required the young analyst to be endowed with not just imagination – but a crystal ball. This being said, in 2019, when a more seasoned Simmons joined the former GE business (now owned by Savant Systems, Inc.) as CFO, he had little trouble imagining a list of finance leader priorities for the coming year. Read More   “We’ve been together for the last 14 months and we together have a vision to bring that brighter life to the people,” explains Simmons, who spent a combined 18 years at GE, a span of time during which he served in a number of senior FP&A roles including one with GE Lighting. “Back in the lighting days, we realized that our customers who bought lights for their businesses were also finance professionals and operating professionals who had goals, so we asked ourselves, ‘How do we sell lights better than anyone else?’ and ‘How do we actually create a meaningful opportunity to provide value to the customer?,’” recalls Simmons, as he begins to outline the thinking behind a strategic pivot from GE’s past. Says Simmons: “Normally, a customer would say, ‘We’re just going to go buy a series of new lighting fixtures for our parking lot, and this will cost me $100,000.’ However, what if instead we went to a customer and said, ‘Rather than spend $100,000 on lights, how about a solution that means that you’re going to save $40,000 a year in energy consumption?’” According to Simmons, the GE team narrowed its lens in order to target CFOs and other operationally minded executives with a commitment to deliver the customer savings within two and a half years. “Sometimes we could get it down to less than a year. Sometimes it was a bit longer, but by doing it this way, we changed the paradigm on selling,” comments Simmons, who credits the solutions approach with helping GE to land a landmark deal valued at $180 million¾a hefty price tag for what Simmons describes as “the largest lighting deal ever closed.” Looking back on the approach Simmons says: “It really brought to life a solution for customers that has survived past those days and which has now gone on to morph into a company that’s today outside of General Electric Company in a different capacity, and it set a paradigm in an industry that had been thinking of things in a singularly focused way and changed them.” – Jack Sweeney  

Oct 6

53 min 33 sec

It was after he had worked 3 years as an investment analyst with Bear Stearns and spent more than 2 years inside the corporate strategy bullpen of The Walt Disney Company that Craig Abrahams decided to head to business school. However, Abrahams says that unlike many of his future classmates, he had made up his mind that hedge funds, investment banks, and strategy consulting firms would not be on his preferred menu of postgraduation career opportunities. “I wanted an opportunity to work really hard and stand out but also to go somewhere a little bit different, where I wasn’t competing with 10 versions of myself,” explains Abrahams, whose earlier experiences at Bear Stearns and Disney had left the MBA student searching for a less traditional route to career success. Observes Abrahams: “I was looking for a place where I personally could have an impact.” That place became Las Vegas, where upon graduation Abrahams joined Caesars Entertainment as a director of broadcasting and new media. “This was about putting myself in a position where I would be in the right place if an opportunity came along,” comments Abrahams, who within 6 months of joining the gaming giant was tapped to help launch Caesars Interactive Entertainment. “I remember when Gary Loveman, the CEO of Caesars at the time, said to me, ‘There’s an opportunity to work on a business plan to create a new entity,’ so that opportunity fell into my lap,” remarks Abrahams, who had served in a number of corporate development roles before advancing into the new entity’s CFO office. It was as CFO of Caesars Interactive that Abrahams first became acquainted with a small Israeli company that had a megahit mobile game known as Slotomania. Caesars was smitten and in 2011 acquired the Israeli firm, Playtika. Over the next 5 years, Caesars Interactive invested more than $300 million into the business, which allowed Playtika to complete a series of acquisitions that led to the sale of the company for $4.4 billion in 2016. “This was just the first step in the evolution of Playtika,” explains Abrahams, who joined the newly private firm as CFO in 2019 and subsequently spearheaded a debt raise of $2.5 billion. The company was able to pay investors a dividend before management became focused on taking the company public, a goal that would be realized early in 2021. –Jack Sweeney

Oct 3

40 min 54 sec

Unlike many of the up-and-comers who populate the corridors of The Chemours Company, CFO Sameer Ralhan spent the balance of his career building years with the company inside its manufacturing plants. It was there where Ralhan says that he observed everyday executives making decisions that routinely impacted the business, and it was there where his M&A activities allowed him to imagine new avenues for value creation. Says Ralhan: “The heart of this company beats at the plants.” Still, the many hours that Chemours’s future CFO spent there made him aware of a growing disconnect between finance and the plant’s decision-makers.  According to Ralhan, Chemours, not unlike many U.S. manufacturers, had undergone decades of reorganizations designed to streamline and centralize its operations. However, one consequence of this was that the bond between the plants and the Chemours finance team had become weakened. “It was really limiting the finance support at the site and undermining decision support that could really drive the right financial outcomes,” recalls Ralhan, who after stepping into the CFO role made reallocating finance resources to support plant decision-making a priority. Ralhan reports that one of a number of Chemours businesses that have benefited from the reallocation has been the chemical company’s Advanced Performance Materials (APM) business, where the finance and the operations teams came together to build new decision-making models as well as return-on-capital models for each manufacturing site. Observes Ralhan: “These models really provided the insights to drive the right decisions, and this is evident in the margin improvement that we're seeing today in the APM business.” Meanwhile, the Chemours manufacturing sites, as well as their bottom lines, are expected to benefit in the coming years from different digital tools and applications that promise to build on APM's recent margin improvement success. Comments Ralhan: “Once you achieve this, you earn the right to do more things, and that's what I'm really excited about.” -Jack Sweeney

Sep 29

49 min 21 sec

It was a complicated transaction that Ingersoll Rand’s then-CEO Mike Lamach challenged his finance and operations people to address by “turning over every rock in the company” to nullify the possibility of unforeseen snags. Recalls Chris Kuehn, who at the time served as Ingersoll Rand’s chief accounting officer: “I remember Mike coming back and telling us that he had never been through an IPO in his career, but this transaction was likely going to be the closest he ever got to one.” Today, Kuehn is CFO of Trane Technologies, the spinoff and resulting offspring of the transaction that involved the merger of Ingersoll Rand’s industrial business, Milwaukee-based Gardner Denver. “Mike didn’t want us to accept the status quo. He wanted us to review every one of the 600 cost centers and every organizational chart and function,” continues Kuehn, who adds that the exhaustive process spanned between six and nine months. Part of engineering the spinoff’s early success, Kuehn explains, involved proactively moving processes that had been managed centrally to regional locations where they would be better suited for the management of the entity’s future operations.    Still, putting a reorganization in motion on the eve of a defining transaction is no doubt a tricky management feat, especially when the dimensions of the proposed spinoff are not yet fully visible to the company’s incumbent employees.   According to Kuehn, the approaching transaction deadlines brought an operational opportunity into view. He comments: “We said, ‘Let’s be courageous enough to change what has not been working, with a bias to moving those processes that are centrally led.’” For Kuehn, the reorganization and eventual 2019 transaction swung open the door to Trane’s CFO office, where the finance and operational opportunity remains front-and-center. “We’re still on the journey today,” he points out. “We’re not done, but this has certainly allowed me to get inside the finance function as well as our other global functions and see what is working well and what we need to change.” –Jack Sweeney 

Sep 26

41 min 28 sec

Eighteen months after COVID microbes first began marching across the 50 states, business planning software developers have no shortage of business case examples to better expose the relevancy of their offerings.  Still, not every customer door that swings open leads to an avenue for success, according to Grant Halloran, CEO of FP&A developer Planful of Redwood  City, Calif. “We love the word “focus” in our organization, and we believe that there have been lots of software companies over the years that have lost their focus and gotten caught up in their returns,” explains Halloran, who—along with Darren Heffernan of accounting software company Trintech—sat down for an in-person interview with CFO Thought Leader host Jack Sweeney to discuss the two companies’ budding partnership amid COVID’s stubborn residency. Halloran believes that software developers in the finance space too often stray from their finance office customers as they seek out relationships with the leaders of different functional areas. “We stay very close to the office of the CFO because we want to drive change from them in the center,” comments Halloran, who tells us that even Planful’s recent partnership with Trintech was in part driven by Planful’s mantra to stay focused. “The reason that we partnered with Trintech was that the financial close is such a specialization for accounting teams that when we evaluated things, we felt that it would take us way too long to build such an offering ourselves since it’s so specialized,” notes Halloran. At Trintech, Heffernan says that the office of the CFO has never been more central to a business’s operations. Observes Heffernan: “During the pandemic, people ran to the CFO for guidance and to restore confidence due to all of the challenges that were happening. The demands on the office of the CFO and the position of the CFO have dramatically changed forever.” Now Listen | This leadership interview was recorded on Sept. 19, 2021, at Planful’s Perform 2021 Customer Conference, Redwood City, Calif.. In addition, the podcast features exclusive customer interviews with Johann Cabe, FP&A leader, Imperial Dade; Glenn Snyder, FP&A leader; and Noah Pieper, director of FP&A, LifeStance Health. 

Sep 23

50 min 7 sec

When Pramod Iyengar returned to school after working for several years as a manufacturing engineer with United Technologies, he was ready to change careers. The young engineer headed back to the University of Michigan, where as an undergraduate he had earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering. However, this time he had a business degree in mind Post graduation with an MBA in hand, Iyengar landed at Intel Corp., where he had the opportunity to join a “very efficient and very well-structured finance team,” he explains. For his part, Iyengar says Intel gave him the opportunity to learn not only the discipline of finance, but also how to use financial data and analysis to influence and improve operations across the company. Intel also offered the opportunity to move into a variety of other areas. "Employees just had to take the initiative and take advantage of them," comments Iyengar. At Intel, Iyengar began as a finance manager with the distribution channel and soon became a senior financial analyst with the microprocessor products group. Looking back, he credits the chip maker with regularly bringing together finance professionals from across the company. Says Iyengar: "They would share best practices and strategies for using finance to improve decision-making in other areas, like accounting and sales."

Sep 22

49 min 53 sec

Back in 2014, when Akash Palkhiwala was first approached to serve as treasurer of wireless technology company Qualcomm, the company’s future CFO was uncertain as to what the role of a treasurer might actually entail. “I’m not making this up: I did a Google search on what a treasurer does,” explains Palkhiwala, who recalls that the approaching retirement of the firm’s incumbent treasurer had led then-CFO George Davis to gauge Palkhiwala’s interest in the role. Palkhiwala had first joined Qualcomm in 2001, and during his early years with the firm had been involved in the wireless firm’s M&A activity. Eventually, he graduated from a succession of financial planning and analysis roles through which he had rendered a steady flow of strategic insights for Qualcomm management as the company climbed from 3G to 4G to 5G along the wireless continuum. “Although I’ve been here for 20 years, I feel like I have changed companies multiple times,” comments Palkhiwala, who notes that the treasurer role ultimately proved to be one of his career’s greatest learning grounds. “It was just a fantastic experience. I did a lot of different things that I had never done before and worked with a whole new set of people, got exposure to the financial markets and the banking system, and created these new relationships that today I see as foundational in being successful as a CFO,” observes Palkhiwala, who adds that while today he knows that he made the right decision, accepting the treasurer position did require a degree of courage. Says Palkhiwala: “I was recently talking to someone who was facing a tough career choice. He explained that you get maybe three windows of opportunity in the course of your career, and your success or failure over time is largely defined by your courage when windows of opportunity show up.” –Jack Sweeney 

Sep 19

38 min 43 sec

Featuring FP&A Insights & Commentary from Planning Aces: Ian Charles, CFO, Flexe, Beth Clymer, CFO, Job Case,  Mark Shifke, CFO, Billtrust, Mike Rasic, CFO, Synapse.

Sep 17

39 min 20 sec

Back in 2011, when Radiant Systems was acquired by NCR Corporation, a door swung open for Radiant Systems controller Geoff Brannon, who received an invitation to join NCR’s plus-size FP&A function as a finance director. The appointment had been made possible by a former Radiant boss who had stepped into a divisional CFO role shortly after the acquisition’s completion. “He took a bet on me,” recalls Brannon, who says that the former boss knew his skillset well and had witnessed firsthand “a willingness to learn.” However, up until his NCR appointment, Brannon had resided mostly in the accounting side of the house. Looking back, the one-time controller tells us that he was also known as a collaborator and problem-solver who had distinguished himself through an easy manner when it came to working with others—a trait coveted by many FP&A leaders. A few years later, when the divisional CFO was recruited elsewhere, Brannon was tapped to be the division’s new CFO. As a new leader, he has come to appreciate the management approach that NCR used when it came to forecasts. Reports Brannon: “On a weekly basis, the division president, the division CFO, and the sales leaders would gather. We’d talk about not just the forecast for the quarter but also ‘weekly commits’ and how that particular week, for example, was going to generate $15 million of new sales. The following week, when you came back to the table, you’d be asked, ‘Did you do $15 million?’—and if not, you’d be asked, ‘Well, why did you only do $12? million? Why did you miss?’” Brannon adds that his division was known for having an enviable distinction: “We were probably the smallest division from a revenue perspective but the most profitable. So, we were something of a shining star at NCR.” –Jack Sweeney   CFOTL: Tell us about Oversight Systems. What does this company do, and what are its offerings today? Geoff Brannon: We’ve been around for, let’s see, 18 years. We’re not a new company, but we’re a growing organization. When I joined back in 2017, we had about 65 employees; now we’re up to 165. Our revenue certainly has continued to grow at a 30% annual CAGR. We’re a software company that serves enterprise customers, and what our software does is essentially to analyze spend. If you look at our customers, we are ingesting their spend, whether it’s in payables, P cards, T&E. We ingest that spend into our system and analyze it for duplicates, noncompliant spend, errors, fraud, waste—you name it. It’s almost like an insurance policy for cash leakage and all of the things that go along with this. When it comes to a metric that is top-of-mind, it’s ARR, annually recurring revenue. This is really what we measure ourselves on at the highest level and the number one metric that matters to us. It’s not the only thing, of course, but, you know, when we talk to our board or internally, it’s always like, Where are we on ARR? The other key metric for us is retention, so retention of customers and the recurring revenue stream are both super important to us. Over the next 12 months, the biggest thing for me and my team will actually be to implement a new ERP system. As we’ve grown over the past few years, we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve outgrown our current ERP system. We’ve already started seeing some demos by providers out there, so I think that this is something that we will probably be taking on in early 2022.

Sep 15

43 min 36 sec

Back in the early 1990s, Laurence Capone was a Paris-based public accountant serving a distinguished list of oil and gas industry clients when she heard about an audit assignment unlike any that she had taken on before. It turned out that a manufacturer of cotton fabrics had engaged Capone’s firm to help to audit the operations of its subsidiaries located in central Africa. As a team was being assembled for the client engagement, Capone did not hesitate to express her interest and shortly found herself departing for a monthlong stay on the continent. From the start, Capone knew better than to expect an indulgent environment. In fact, the region of central Africa—including Chad, where she would be based—was still experiencing waves of casualties from the AIDS epidemic. “I was working with this local CFO, and even just getting together an accounting team was a challenge. Locally, 30% of the individuals had passed away due to AIDS or HIV,” recalls Capone, who says that early in her career she would frequently take on assignments that no one else wanted. However, the audit assignment in central Africa stands out. “The experience really marked me,” comments Capone, who adds that at this stage of her career she would also purposely pursue assignments involving different industries and different world cultures to broaden and test her business acumen. The audit assignment in central Africa included both of these, as well as another realm from which to learn. “You can imagine the social and human facets of the challenges that these companies were facing in the early ’90s,” remarks Capone, who credits the assignment with opening her eyes to the human side of the enterprise. Says Capone: “It was the people and the people story behind everything that I was able to gather and learn from. The personal side and the life experience were very important.” –Jack Sweeney

Sep 12

40 min 41 sec

It was little more than 6 months after Matthias Tillmann first joined Trivago—and shortly after the travel booking company’s December 2016 IPO—when the company’s future CFO decided to step away from his senior IR role in order to head up Trivago’s creative production function. However, the jump to the creative side was not triggered by a sudden creative itch on Tillmann’s part. Instead, he was determined to extract new ROI insights from Trivago’s television advertising dollars, the very allocation that the online travel platform is credited with having converted into a groundbreaking strategic advantage. “I started to develop my own hypotheses but was unable to test them,” reports Tillmann, recalling his frustration when it came to extracting greater ROI from Trivago’s annual TV budget, which by 2019 had grown to more than $600 million, or roughly 70 percent of the company’s annual revenue. “In finance, you see numbers, but if you really understand the decision-making processes behind them, this changes how you identify opportunities and look at risk,” explains Tillmann, who today credits his tour of duty on the creative side with having bestowed upon him detailed knowledge about marketing decision-making. When COVID arrived, Tillmann notes, this knowledge allowed him to confidently respond to the crisis and take steps that would quickly modify the company’s brand marketing strategy, thereby saving the firm millions of dollars. Still, the lingering pandemic has continued to stress test a number of Trivago’s market assumptions.    Says Tillmann: “Pre-COVID, we had a very good idea with regard to how many people were out there and how many were willing to travel, and we knew how much to spend on TV—but this has now all changed.” In certain markets, Tillmann observes, roughly 50 percent of the traveling public may still not be willing to travel just yet. “For a mass channel like TV, this means that the channel is only half as efficient as it used to be,” comments Tillmann, who adds that the current environment has led Trivago to keep a steady eye on the size of each market and its accompanying pool of potential travelers.  “We began looking at what ratio we needed to hit in order to make our economics work on TV,” continues Tillmann, who says that the travel platform has recently turned to alternative channels such as online video when the economics for TV haven’t panned out.  Tillmann explains: “On YouTube, you can target certain audiences. For example, 25- to 30-year-olds may be more willing to travel at the moment, and that channel allows you to target certain groups much more specifically.”  As for whether the TV-driven brand is opening a new brand marketing chapter, Trivago’s CFO says, “The way we do brand marketing now is much more granular. This is the way that it has to be, as we pay more attention to how the markets develop.” ­–Jack Sweeney CFOTL: Tell us about Trivago. What sets this company apart today? Tillmann: Yes, sure. This is a topic that I love to talk about. I love travel. We started as kind of a Wikipedia for travel 16 years ago and then only focused on hotel price comparison. The core value proposition is still our hotel metasearch, which is based on a cost-per-click model. We have over 5 million properties through more than 200 booking sites on our platform. It’s a classic marketplace, where travel agencies, hotel chains, and independent hotels bid in our auction and essentially buy refers from us. This is how we make most of our revenue. I would say that we were very early in the game and one of the first focusing on hotels only. In 2008, the founders made the decision to diversify their acquisition channels by building their brand through TV advertisements at a time when most bookings were still happening offline. With this strategy, we became an essential part of the offline-to-online transition, which we could then observe for the next couple of years. Online travel was a major tailwind for us and for the whole industry. Later, we added apartments, houses, and vacation rentals to the platform, capturing the whole accommodation space. Obviously, today, there are a few more players in this space. Competition has increased, in particular since Google started to push into our domain with their own meta product, but I think that what sets Trivago apart is the ability to learn very fast and adapt quickly. For example, as a response to the COVID crisis, we developed a local travel product with the idea of offering a more inspirational product. We launched after a couple of months and have now extended the use case for unique weekend getaways. We recently rebranded the product as Trivago Weekend. Essentially, with it, you can find local things to do even if you do not wish to travel or stay somewhere overnight. If you just want to take a short trip and go somewhere, you can also find great deals there. I’m really excited about this opportunity. Nobody owns this category, and we are excited to try it. I think that we have the ability to move fast and develop great products that solve travel-related pain points. This is the core of what we do. Looking ahead—obviously now, with COVID—everything is a bit uncertain. We already are seeing change in travel behavior. A lot of people speculate on how permanent some of these changes will be and what comes next, but I think that whatever happens, it’s a dynamic space—and I’m sure that over the next 5 to 10 years, there will be many more changes. COVID won’t be the last event that maybe changes the way that we travel. It’s important to stay flexible and adapt and look at it from the user side, really. Look at user pain points because with every development, new opportunities come up and new problems need to be solved. We have a decent-size tech team working on these kinds of products, and I’m excited to be a part of all of this.

Sep 8

36 min 32 sec

    In front of the restaurant’s dozen or more cash registers, customers were standing six or seven deep when Brice Hill raised his voice and began instructing the hungry mall shoppers to immediately exit the store. “No one listened to a single word I said,” says Hill, who opens our discussion by transporting us back to the mid-1980s, when as a teenage recent graduate of McDonald’s management training program he was given a surprise leadership test. Having made a trip to the mall for some holiday shopping, Hill had poked his head into the mall’s marquee McDonald’s only to find a few of his fellow managers nervously waiting for a return call from McDonald’s headquarters. The restaurant—at the time one of the busiest McDonald’s locations on the West Coast—had only minutes earlier received a bomb threat, and as Hill digested the blank stares triggered by his shouts to clear the store, he realized that more extreme measures were required. Leaving the customers in their queues, the young manager dodged the doubtful stares of employees as he maneuvered his way to the back of the store, where he found the location’s electricity source and without hesitation cut it off. “They had told me that 20 minutes was the countdown on the thing—we cleared the whole place with only 4 minutes to spare,” recalls Hill, who estimates that the location may have held as many as 500 customers and workers that day. Later, police would determine that there had been no bomb, but this has never led Hill to second-guess his actions. “When you’re in that type of situation, you have to be able to act and act like an owner. Even if you don’t know whether you have the right answer, you have to act. There cannot be a void of leadership,” says Hill, underscoring what might be a recurring theme for his career. Fast-forward a few decades, and Hill is a senior strategic planning executive at Intel Corp. The venue is an Arizona conference room where a group of Intel executives—including the company’s CFO—has gathered to hear Hill offer an analysis that could potentially lead Intel to begin building idle factories. This time, the doubtful stares quickly turned to dissenting voices as Hill’s strategic analysis failed to win over many of his Intel colleagues.   “When I made the recommendation that we should build an idle factory, there was like a melee in the room. All of the CFO staff was arguing, waving their hands, debating different opinions,” explains Hill, who says that in the minds of traditional finance executives, an idle building equals excess cost. To highlight his point Hill repeats the refrain of “You have to heat it, cool it, and guard it!” Still, what Hill’s analysis had begun to spotlight was the cost of missing out on growth opportunities in a business wielding 60% to 70% gross margins. Suddenly, having idle factories in place to add additional capacity when growth demanded seemed to have merit. “At the end, the CFO said, ‘Bryce, I want you to go meet with the treasury staff. They’re experts in derivatives and option modeling. I want you to go see if your math holds up,’” remembers Hill, whose analysis received “a clean bill of health” from treasury before getting a thumbs-up from Intel’s CEO, a final affirmation that led Intel to modify its growth strategy as well as its accounting. Going forward expenses associated with serving the idle factories would be listed as strategic investments rather than costs – a change that has perhaps made management think twice before turning off the lights .  –Jack Sweeney 

Sep 5

41 min 21 sec

Brett and Jack discuss the highs and lows of executive compensation, and  why corporate culture may trump all.  Featuring the commentary and insights of workplace champions CFO Gregg Clevenger of LiveVox, CFO Charles Freund of  FLEETCOR and CFO Jill Klindt of Workiva.

Sep 3

41 min 59 sec

Having previously held a succession of finance leadership roles inside Chicago’s ever vibrant financial services sector, Vicki Dudley was perhaps more surprised than anyone to find herself accepting a CFO position with Yancey Bros. Co. of Atlanta, the oldest Caterpillar dealer in the country.   Nevertheless, the job hop drew Dudley into a world of opportunity that she credits with having helped to open the door to her latest career chapter as CFO of TTX, the largest railcar provider in North America. “That particular experience did help to prepare me for my current role. Not only did we have sales for Caterpillar and Blue Bird bus, but also we had leasing plus repair facilities across the state of Georgia,” remarks Dudley, who gives credits to Yancey for tasking her with the company’s process improvement function “and tying it to my toolkit.” –Jack Sweeney

Sep 1

48 min 23 sec

When Charles Freund was named CFO of FLEETCOR in 2020 – his arrival in the c-suite became the latest chapter of a varied and lengthy career journey that paralleled the rise of the $2.6 billion fintech.   Accepting a position in FLEETCOR’s corporate development department, Freund joined the firm in the year 2000 when it was generating roughly only $30 million in annual sales and struggling to manage its cash flows. “On two separate occasions, the corporate controller called me and said, ‘Charles, I know we normally pay you on a Friday, but we’re not going to make it this week. Can you wait until next week?,’” recalls Freund. In the years that followed, FLEETCOR found its strategic footing and Freund entered a succession of roles that would ultimately advance him into leadership positions overseeing FLEETCOR’s corporate strategy and global sales. What’s more, along the way FLEETCOR’s future CFO served as a general manager for the company’s developing markets. “I know and understand what’s behind the scenes more than others who haven’t had these kinds of experience. This is no knock on anyone—it’s just because I’ve lived it,” reports Freund, when asked whether he had missed out from not having pursued a more traditional finance career path. Asked to provide some insight into how his past experiences might influence his approach to the sales function, Freund explains: “I say ‘Look, I want your business to grow 10% next year.’ I then layer in my retention assumptions and other things to create a model that basically drives this performance, with what types of investments are required and so forth.” Still, Freund’s most pressing challenges as CFO are likely tied to the more than 80 acquisitions that FLEETCOR has completed over the past two decades. According to FLEETCOR’s finance chief, the fintech is embarking on a finance transformation designed to better integrate its operations around the world, beginning with the numbers. “Over the next 12 months, we’ll be implementing a new global chart of accounts. What this means is that we’ll be cleaning up the chart of accounts around the world so that we speak kind of the same language,” remarks Freund, who adds that it’s also time to replace the company’s patchwork quilt of different ERP systems—another legacy of FLEETCOR’s acquisitive past. –Jack Sweeney   Freund: First, FLEETCOR is a FinTech, so we’re a technology driven provider of financial services, but we’re not a bank. I want to make sure people know that. We’re really in what we call the spend management space. What we provide to businesses are tools to control what gets purchased by employees and what gets paid by the AP department, so you can control it on the front end by either allowing a purchase to happen or not. Or if someone has already made a purchase that’s outside of policy, I could control it on the backend with what gets paid or not. What we have found is that these smarter payment methods help our clients to spend less, they have greater insight and greater control over what’s happening. By spending less, they retain more profit. That’s the real value proposition of all of our products around the world. I’d say we are on a multi-year transformational journey over the next 12 months. A couple of things that we’re doing, we’re implementing a new global chart of accounts. We’ve grown a lot through acquisitions. FLEETCOR has done some 80, 90 acquisitions over our 20 year history. I’m cleaning up the chart of accounts around the world, so we all speak the same language, which should be helpful. We are going to implement that global planning tool this year. I’m also transitioning off of a legacy ERP system this year and have plans over the next three years to reduce the number of ERPs. Again, many of which we inherited through acquisitions, sourcing new tax software for next year. And then I’ve got four or five different HR systems. We have a plan to reduce that footprint over time. We’ll move down to about three next year and then see where we go from there, so a lot of system related things to standardize, simplify, and automate.

Aug 29

44 min 44 sec

Jill Klindt recalls that back in 2008, when she joined Workiva, the software start-up was somewhat removed from the career path that she had envisioned for herself. “It wasn’t that obvious to me at first, and it wasn’t what I was looking for,” explains Klindt, who says that at the time, the Ames, Iowa, company employed six to eight people. Once on board, Klindt found that her accounting skills and willingness to problem-solve quickly made her a go-to executive along the entrepreneurial byways that ruled Workiva’s early years. “I was relied on, which felt really good, and people kept bringing me opportunities, so I never felt passed over,” explains Klindt, who notes that even when an outside CFO was recruited to lead Workiva’s 2014 IPO, she never felt displaced. “I would not have been ready for that role at that point in my career,” comments Klindt, who adds that her predecessor in the CFO office became an outstanding mentor to her, as did other members of Workiva’s C-suite. Meanwhile, a talent-focused culture that took root during Workiva’s early days has continued to thrive during the company’s post-IPO life, says Klindt, who characterizes the culture as one where employees can ask others for help. Having stepped into the CFO office earlier this year, Klindt says that talent is now a primary concern when it comes to unlocking future growth at Workiva, where employees now number nearly 2,000. Says Klindt: “We want to be a much bigger company, and in order to do this, we need to keep hiring.” –Jack Sweeney 

Aug 25

39 min 48 sec

Joe Wolk was about 5 years into his 23-year career with Johnson & Johnson when he was encouraged to take a manufacturing operations position at a newly acquired J&J company in Vacaville, California. One hot July day, Wolk recalls, he and his wife drove up to Vacaville to visit the plant, where he ended up taking a seat across from the newly acquired company’s plant manager. As one of Vacaville’s initial J&J transplants, the young finance executive sensed that his arrival was being viewed less than enthusiastically.   Read More “Within the first 90 seconds, he says: ‘Hey, you know what? I don’t think we need you out here,’” Wolk remembers, citing those words as the plant manager’s first remarks. Thus began one of Wolk’s least favorite but—as he explains—most rewarding career experiences. “The first 4 months in that job were like going to the dentist every day,” says Wolk, who tells us that ultimately the reward from the experience was a lesson in when and how to stand your ground. The lesson began at a team meeting where Wolk tried to offer the plant’s management some practical advice with regard to how to prepare for an upcoming visit from senior J&J executives. At the time, Wolk says, the plant was working to address a number manufacturing issues as it tried to determine how best to meet customer demand. Wolk recalls the plant manager’s response to his advice: “We’d like to meet your wish list, but we don’t have time for this right now.” Instead of just accepting the manager’s feedback, Wolk reports, he arranged a private meeting with the manager, where he boldly elucidated the items occupying his “wish list.” “If they come out here next week and we can’t provide certain answers, we’re going to have a mess on our hands,” were among the words that Wolk says that he used to prod the plant manager’s thinking. In the end, the visiting J&J executives were satisfied with the plant team’s answers, and Wolk’s reputation grew in the plant manager’s eye. “From this point on, he didn’t take a meeting without including me,” concludes Wolk, who uses the story to underscore how finance executives must be ready to summon the courage of their convictions. –Jack Sweeney

Aug 22

44 min 41 sec

When Greg Saunders tells us that “having patience” was perhaps the quality that most contributed to his first appointment as a CFO back in the early 1990s, we wonder how many additional years a more impatient Saunders (then only 32) may have needed before stepping into the CFO office. Of course, then again, a railcar leasing and repair business might not have been the first choice of many aspiring Bay Area CFOs, who as a group have for decades preferred to satisfy their C-suite ambitions via the area’s high tech companies. Read More “I remember thinking back in the early ’90s that maybe I should jump into the tech sector, but I stuck it out and I’m glad that I did,” reports Saunders, who 5 months after joining Transcisco Industries as a corporate development executive was helping the company to manage through a bankruptcy. “I was suddenly involved in everything—the attrition at the company was crazy, and I was able to take on more responsibility,” recalls Saunders, who notes that Transcisco’s rapid downturn of fortune had occurred when a much celebrated luxury passenger train project collapsed due in part to the firm’s limited capital resources. “Because of all of the attrition across the company, I was able to take on more and more roles, and guess what? I became a young CFO of a publicly traded company,” comments Saunders, before once more crediting his “patience” with helping him to nurture a mind-set that encouraged “sticking around” and finding solutions.   Along the way, Saunders says, he became tasked with fighting off a hostile takeover and ultimately negotiating a successful merger, which he credits with helping the company’s stock price to jump up to $6 per share—after trading at as low as 12 cents. Says Saunders “For me, it was just a great experience for many different reasons, including learning the rewards of sticking things out.” –Jack Sweeney

Aug 18

44 min 20 sec

Back in the early 2000s, the use of videoconferencing to conduct job interviews remained rather rare in most parts of the world—and India was no different. What made Manish Dugar’s interview experience still rarer was the fact he had participated in 18 different video calls over a period of 3 months for a single job opportunity. Says Dugar: “Over that span of interviews, I became almost as knowledgeable about IT services as any professional in that sector.” Nonetheless, Dugar recalls, he had some reservations about Wipro Technologies, a tech services company based in Bangalore, India, that had recently begun to distinguish itself in a number of areas—including its thorough vetting of job candidates.   “It did not seem so exciting for me to leave a big name company in the north of India and relocate to the south to become part of an industry that was not as well known,” explains Dugar, who at the time was working for Coca-Cola India in Delhi. What’s more, the Bangalore of 20 or more years ago was far different from the dynamic technology hub that it is known as today. “Those who are familiar with India know that the south is much more cosmopolitan today and people can move around freely—but back in those days, the north was the north and the south was the south,” observes Dugar, who ultimately joined Wipro and quickly advanced upward into a series of financial management roles in which he observed firsthand the financial and operational levers required to scale the business to accommodate explosive growth. “From 2001 to 2008, $150 million in revenue grew to become $8 billion,” reports Dugar, who—after several promotions within the company—was named CFO of Wipro Technologies roughly 7 years after his arrival. Reflecting back on some of his early reservations about joining Wipro, Dugar says that he turned to his father, who had thus far seemed reluctant to possibly influence his son’s decisions. Remembers Dugar: “He told me, ‘If the company has done so many interviews, the position must be very important to them. It’s one thing to work for a company that has a big brand, but it’s another to work for a company that really values you.’” –Jack Sweeney 

Aug 15

54 min 59 sec

This Episode Features FP&A Insights & Commentary from: Ross Tennenbaum, CFO Avalara Waifa Chau, CFO, Nylas Brad Kinnish, CFO, Aryaka

Aug 13

43 min 9 sec

“Fire the auditor!” Three words that Quantum CFO Mike Dodson vowed would never cross his lips were now being spoken aloud by Quantum’s board. “Fire these guys!” was the message that Dodson received after weeks of personally rejecting the notion.   “We had been delisted, we were in the middle of a multiyear restatement, and there were lender issues,” recalls Dodson, listing the action items that needed to be addressed to regain credibility with Quantum’s investors and lenders. “In the middle of all of this, the last thing that you want to do is to fire the auditor and start over,” observes Dodson, while summoning up past experiences that seemed to counter the logic behind dismissing Quantum’s auditor. “I was sticking to my guns,” reports Dodson, who, along with Quantum’s chief accountant, doubled back in hope of getting deeper insight into the auditor’s progress or lack of it. “It just started to feel like we were taking two steps forward and three steps back—I remember thinking that we were not getting any buy-in from the auditor on what approach to use with regard to how we were going to get things done,” continues Dodson, who adds that the restatement involved tens of thousands of transactions that went back several years. “Firing the auditor was against everything that I had believed up until that point,” says Dodson, who recalls having a shared moment of insight with his chief accountant when they repeated back and forth to one another: “We are going to fire the auditor.” Concludes Dodson: “This was a defining moment for the company, and it became a lifesaver that made the difference in the entire process.” –Jack Sweeney Leave rating & review   Signup for our Newsletter GET MORE: Order now The CFO Yearbook, 2021     

Aug 11

52 min 57 sec

Back in 2001, after Scott Dussault had been named CFO of StorageNetworks, it’s unlikely that the 30-year-old finance leader was popping any champagne corks. The company’s management had offered him the position when its previous CFO had vacated the office to serve as CEO in the aftermath of the dotcom bubble collapse. “The ride up the roller coaster was exhilarating—the ride down was educational,” explains Dussault, who had joined the firm as a controller in 1999 and been promoted to vice president of finance within 6 months. “We hired 1,000 people in 3 years and grew the company to $150 million in revenue,” recalls Dussault adding some context to the “ride up.” In 2000, when StorageNetworks went public, its stock climbed 234 percent in its first day of trading—a frenzied indicator for a company whose customer portfolio was known to be 80 percent Internet-related application vendors and dotcom customers. The CFO office at StorageNetworks turned out to be where Dussault logged some of the most difficult days of his career as the collapse of the dotcom economy cut short the life of many of his firm’s most loyal customers. “I had a terrific vice president of investor relations and she and I suffered through a quite few meetings with analysts, but I took those learnings with me,” says Dussault, who credits the challenges that he encountered during the “ride down” or the aftermath of the collapse with leading him to build better and stronger relations with investors and analysts during future CFO career chapters. - Jack Sweeney Leave rating & review   Signup for our Newsletter GET MORE: Order now The CFO Yearbook, 2021     

Aug 8

44 min 9 sec

The Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s is as good a place in time as any for Gregg Clevenger to use to begin explaining the mix of professional and personal circumstances that made Rochester, New York, his port of entry into the CFO office. At the time, Clevenger recalls, he was a vice president for Goldman’s Sach’s media entertainment and technology group in Singapore and observed $100 million of recently raised funding “go up in smoke.” Having been recruited to join Goldman while overseas, Clevenger returned to the U.S. as something of an unknown. “People didn’t really know me in the U.S. context,” he remembers. “So it was going to be a very tough row to hoe.” What’s more, the travel to which Clevenger was accustomed was no longer a great match for his young family. “My first two children—one born in Singapore and the other in Hong Kong—I never saw them,” comments Clevenger, who began commuting daily to Goldman’s Manhattan office from a new home in Connecticut. It was at about this time that Clevenger began accepting calls from a number of recruiters, one of whom he believes likely brought him to the attention of a publicly traded, midsize telecom located in Rochester. “That whole Rochester thing: I never would’ve thought ‘Hey, let’s move to Rochester,’ but it was kind of a personal reset as well as a career one—to live, work, and have our kids go to school in a community,” explains Clevenger. Having joined the company as head of corporate development, within 3 years he found himself entering the CFO office, where he remained for 4 more years while helping to lead the business through a major restructuring brought on by the telecom sector’s crash. Looking back on his decade as an investment banker, Clevenger says that he has few doubts about his move to the operations side of things: “I’ve now been doing this for 20 years—it’s hard for me to imagine being an investment banker for 30 years.” –Jack Sweeney Leave rating & review   Signup for our Newsletter GET MORE: Order now The CFO Yearbook, 2021     

Aug 4

47 min 22 sec

Lovers of tortilla chips will swear that the only true ones are made with corn (and never wheat) and that when it comes to sourcing them, the highest-yielding kernel of corn comes from West Texas. Or so explains Joe Euteneuer, who exited an auditor position with Price Waterhouse in the mid-1980s to join a snack-making entrepreneur in a quest to lower the cost of tortilla production—a coveted advantage in what was quickly becoming a highly competitive market. “I flew to West Texas and bought corn crops from those farmers so that I could get the best deal that we could and get the best return on my—on our—invested dollars,” explains Euteneuer, a seasoned finance leader who has to date occupied the CFO office at more than a half dozen companies, including hefty brands such as Mattel, Sprint, Sirius XM Radio and Comcast. Still, it’s Euteneuer’s trip to West Texas that comes to mind when he’s asked what experiences best prepared him for a finance leadership role. Reflecting on his encounters with the Texas farmers, Euteneuer observes, “It was the type of experience that you don’t typically get in an accounting department.” The company’s small size, Euteneuer says, gave him the opportunity to take on more responsibility, which quickly allowed him to step into a chief operating officer role. “It was like doing a practical MBA, inasmuch as we were building a company from scratch,” recalls Euteneuer, who adds that during his COO tenure, the company’s customer base began to spread across the western United States, which required the company to add greater capacity to its Phoenix and Minneapolis hubs. Says Euteneuer: “I learned how to get chips and salsa onto every store shelf west of the Mississippi.” - Jack Sweeney Leave rating & review   Signup for our Newsletter GET MORE: Order now The CFO Yearbook, 2021     

Aug 1

45 min 28 sec

Brett and Jack discuss the power of the mission, the CEO return-to-work agenda and covid’s delta variant backlash. Featuring the commentary and insights of workplace champions CFO Beth Clymer of Jobcase, CFO Todd McElhatton of Zuora and CFO Scott Dussault of Workhuman

Jul 31

36 min 48 sec

When Melissa Ballenger stepped into a deputy CFO role for TD Bank’s U.S. subsidiary back in 2011, she did so knowing that she had been recruited to be a change agent. Having recently generated business headlines from acquiring two sizable banks in the U.S., TD Bank had U.S. expansion plans that were hardly a secret. “A lot of competitor banks in the U.S. were still back on their heels at the time from credit concerns, capital considerations, and other things like that, and TD had the opportunity to take share profitably from competitors,” recalls Ballenger, whose new role at first involved interfacing with the different management groupings and teams of executives who were expected to help to drive a finance transformation designed to position’s TD Bank’s U.S. subsidiary for the coming decade.    “We had a very interesting mix of people. Some were from the parent company in Canada, others were from the legacy organizations in the U.S., and still others were executives who were available to be brought in from the industry because they had been displaced by the financial crisis,” continues Ballenger, as she draws our attention to what she credits as being a primary lever for helping to put the transformation in motion. “I was resolved to listen to all of the key finance leaders and talk to the executive committee in the U.S. and understand what their business needs were. It sounds pretty basic, but I don’t think that I could have gotten things started otherwise, because I needed to know what their business needs were. They were each kind of uniquely different, and their personalities were different as well,” reports Ballenger. What began as a listening campaign helped to lead to a broadening consensus around the adoption of a new management structure involving the appointment of business unit CFOs who would report to Ballenger but at the same time partner with leaders for each of the lines of business inside the new U.S. entity. Next came the technology platforms and communication processes. “We built analytics that were needed for timely, informed decision-making, and, being a public company, we knew that our forecasting capabilities and our communication with our parent would be critically important,” comments Ballenger, who says that while the finance transformation provided many leadership lessons along the way her biggest takeaway arrived early in the process . Says Ballenger: “Begin by listening” –Jack Sweeney Leave rating & review   Signup for our Newsletter GET MORE: Order now The CFO Yearbook, 2021     

Jul 28

39 min 23 sec

It was one of the last pieces of advice that CFO Beth Clymer left us with—an item that we snagged with one of our favorite questions: What advice do you have for new CFOs?    Her reply—“Don’t skimp on resources”—at first seemed trite, but a groundswell of words shortly followed. “Too often, CFOs will say, ‘I don’t need that extra analyst’ or ‘I don’t need an extra accounting manager.’ But don’t skimp on resources. The impact that a strong finance organization can have throughout the business is massive, and those resources will almost always pay for themselves,” explains Clymer, who perhaps sounds more like a veteran CFO or a finance leader with multiple CFO tours of duty than an executive who entered the CFO office for the first time only in 2019. However, prior to entering the C-suite at Jobcase, a jobs-oriented social media platform, Clymer had invested a decade with Bain Capital, where as an operating partner she had spent her days advising C-suite executives from the venture capital firm’s portfolio of consumer-oriented businesses.   “In my time at Bain Capital, I found that I was very often drawn to the parts of business transformation that had a lot to do with the office of the CFO,” recalls Clymer, who provides us with a lengthy list of typical challenges that frequently summoned her involvement at the firm, including finance team–building, KPI alignment, capital strategy, and business restructurings. Still other items from her past also set her apart from finance’s more traditional corporate rank-and-file, including a nearly 4-year stint as a consultant with Parthenon Group, as well as a number of Ivy League degrees. Perhaps not surprisingly, you get the feeling that it was Clymer’s experience at Bain Capital that today accents the delivery of her responses in a manner more akin to that of an objective outsider than of a CFO who has climbed the more traditional corporate ladder. It’s a delivery that makes her final piece of advice sound all the more compelling. Advises Clymer: “Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Really focus on surrounding yourself with the quantity and quality of team members who are going to allow your team to really help to drive the business.” –Jack Sweeney   Leave rating & review   Signup for our Newsletter GET MORE: Order now The CFO Yearbook, 2021     

Jul 25

45 min 57 sec

The aspiration to become a CFO was always there,” says Madhu Ranganathan, executive vice president and chief financial officer of OpenText, a leader in information management based in Waterloo, Ontario. “I just didn’t know what the journey would look like.” Along the way, Ranganathan says, she learned that while technical acumen remains critical to a successful career, collaboration and a commitment to understanding business operations is what has ultimately propelled her leadership journey. Ranganathan launched her career as a public accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC and then moved to Liberty Mutual Financial Services. “I did make the decision very consciously to say, ‘I would like to explore multiple industries throughout my career,’” she notes. She also wanted to gain ownership of a business’s financial performance rather than remain in an advisory role. After a stint as vice president and corporate controller with Redback Networks, Ranganathan moved to CFO positions with Rackable Systems, and [24]7.ai. As part of her journey, Ranganathan studied the careers of other successful CFOs. Collaboration had often been at the core, she observes. While CFOs must remain independent custodians of their companies’ plans, they also need to acknowledge the business leaders’ command of their operations and work toward a solution that’s a win for the organization. “The word ‘collaboration’ has never been more important,” Ranganathan reports. Aspiring CFOs also need mentors who will acknowledge their qualifications and experience and guide them toward their goals, Ranganathan says. “Do your homework, understand the business, and read about the products and solutions,” she advises. When collaborating with other departments, be prepared, be respectful, set clear expectations, and allow others to hold you accountable, Ranganathan continues, as doing so fosters a similar response from the business side. “That’s really where collaboration happens,” she adds.   Leave rating & review   Signup for our Newsletter GET MORE: Order now The CFO Yearbook, 2021     

Jul 21

37 min 46 sec

When asked when he knew that he wanted to become a chief financial officer, Sean Mulloy tells us that he knew from the time he first became “siloed” within an organization. At the time, Mulloy was a project manager with the financial services company Discover, where his lines of sight seldom extended beyond his immediate projects. “I knew that I wanted to have a bigger impact. I knew that I wanted to tackle operational efficiencies and execute fund-raising and capital structure, but I was stuck sitting in a silo,” explains Mulloy, who subsequently left his confines at Discover to join a consulting firm that specialized in turnarounds and structuring outcomes for distressed companies. Says Mulloy: “This was essentially serving as the interim CFO for distressed companies. I was no longer just doing FP&A—I became responsible for banking relationships, audits, operations, and HR.” No longer fenced in, Mulloy says, he acquired a taste for making an impact and a hunger that eventually would lead him to the CFO office at Level Ex, Inc. –Jack Sweeney Leave rating & review   Signup for our Newsletter GET MORE: Order now The CFO Yearbook, 2021     

Jul 18

28 min 30 sec

This Episode Features FP&A Insights & Commentary from: Chad Gold, CFO, SalesLoft Maria Manrique, CFO, O’Reilly Media Harmit Singh, CFO, Levi Strauss & Co. Andrew Kenny, CFO, Scoular

Jul 15

46 min 27 sec

Looking back, Nathan Winters says that his appointment as CFO of GE Healthcare’s global supply chain was in every way a milestone in his career—a high-calorie leadership stint that would ultimately propel him into the CFO office at Zebra Technologies (NASDAQ: ZBRA), a publicly traded provider of digital workflow and tracking solutions. Says Winters: “It gave me the responsibility for delivering productivity, improving working capital, and thinking about how we transform the supply chain to really create value for the company.” It also charged Winters with leading a global team spanning more than 50 manufacturing sites. “I had to quickly learn how to lead differently, drive change, and deliver results,” he explains. After 17 years with GE, Winters joined Zebra in 2018  as vice president of corporate development and business operations. “This was just a great opportunity for me to leverage my operational background in a technology company but move outside my comfort zone,” comments Winters, who adds that his first few years at Zebra also opened the door to new experiences. “I was exposed to investor relations, board communications, and the debt equity markets in ways in which I had not been exposed before,” he comments. “This was really the missing piece that helped to allow me to step into the CFO role earlier this year,” says Winters, closing the loop on his GE-to-CFO journey. –Jack Sweeney Leave rating & review   Signup for our Newsletter GET MORE: Order now The CFO Yearbook, 2021     

Jul 14

34 min 51 sec

Back in 2008, Chad Gold was working for Home Depot as an FP&A professional when the economic downturn upended the home building market and summoned him to the retailer’s forecasting front lines. “Finance had to be ahead of the business as far as thinking through all the different scenarios went because the housing markets were changing literally day to day,” comments Gold, who observes that the crisis revealed to him how the finance team must always be out in front “looking around corners.” After several years with the giant retailer and multiple promotions, Gold says, he began to grow frustrated as the flow of promotions slowed down despite his willingness to take on big projects in different functions. Then, one day, an issue involving one of his projects “blew up.” “My boss sat me down late at night and on a whiteboard drew some stair steps with a line that went from the bottom to the top of the 10 steps. You’re so focused on wanting to step from the bottom to the top that you’re missing out on all of these incremental learnings,” Gold recalls him saying. Gold says that he took the message to heart and uncovered new opportunities to satisfy his FP&A appetite inside Home Depot’s growing merger-and-acquisition activities. “No one was offering to go work in M&A, and I said that I’d be happy to go do it,” remarks Gold, who estimates that he applied his FP&A acumen over time to 20 different acquisitions, including some postmerger integration work in China. Says Gold: “I said, ‘Well, I’ve never been to China before, so why not?’” Today, as CFO of SalesLoft, Gold says that his Home Depot experiences revealed to him how FP&A functions are built over time and ultimately yield different tools for the organization to leverage to allow Finance to become a more valuable partner. He explains: “There are certain foundational things in FP&A that you simply have to have in order to partner—the business partnership and collaboration are just the last part.” –Jack Sweeney   Leave rating & review   Signup for our Newsletter GET MORE: Order now The CFO Yearbook, 2021     

Jul 11

48 min 57 sec