52 Forecasting Finance Functions with Paul Sheriff, CFO at NewDay

17 March 2022   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 52: NewDay | With Paul Sheriff, CFO

Paul Sheriff, CFO at NewDay has over 25 years of experience in financial services organizations spanning banking, asset management and insurance. Paul is currently working as Chief Financial Officer for NewDay, a private equity backed consumer finance business providing branded and co-branded credit cards, including Amazon’s credit card in the UK. His specialities include, finance, operations, financial services, and change management. Paul’s vast experience with large corporations and smaller companies across the world have helped provide insight and expertise to have success in his role today.

To be a successful CFO, Paul strongly believes that you need to take opportunities as they arise. He recommends that in doing so you always look forward and be one step ahead so you set up your company and leadership to always look good and be prepared. While technical abilities are very important, how you interact and communicate with others helps you to gain trust and confidence in your team, leadership, and clients.

Paul believes that being a good CFO requires you to be level headed in moments of stress and crisis. Having broad access to the technical, business, and commercial sides will help you to build that comfort to lead through knowledge and experiences.

In this episode of The CFO Playbook, Paul Sheriff, CFO at NewDay shares his vast experience across different companies and countries. He provides insight on how to approach your first 100 days as a CFO with a new job. Paul also talks about the impact of data and his philosophy on financial forecasting, technology, and progressive approaches to being a CFO.

Take The CFO Playbook Listener Survey to help us improve the show. You’ll also be entered to win your choice of the latest iPad Pro or a Samsung Galaxy S7.

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Guest Analysis

Name: Paul Sheriff

What he does: Paul Sheriff, CFO at NewDay has over 25 years of experience in financial services organizations spanning banking, asset management and insurance. Paul is currently working as Chief Financial Officer for NewDay, a private equity backed consumer finance business providing branded and co-branded credit cards, including Amazon’s credit card in the UK. His specialities include, finance, operations, financial services, and change management. To be a good CFO, Paul strongly believes that you need to take opportunities as they arise, you always need to be planning ahead, and be a level headed communicator under pressure. 

Key Quote: “I think in any organization, you need to assess how good it is on the way in. Unless there is a bedrock that works, you don’t get the latitude to play elsewhere because you’ll just always be dragged back into fixing issues in that space. Depending on how you find that then gives you the latitude, and certainly I’ve built my career about how you commercially support the business, how you drive the business forward.”

Where to find Paul: linkedin.com/in/paul-sheriff-29b9b1/?originalSubdomain=uk

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From Paul’s Playbook

Foundations in the first 100 days

Go into your first hundred days as the CFO at any new company with a plan on what you want to look at and review, breaking it down into categories. By the time you’ve been in an organization for a hundred days, you’ll be able to start forming a good view of the capabilities of your team. You will be able to assess where the strengths are, where the weaknesses are, and any potential changes you think need to be made to the structure, staff, and working environment. You’ll also be able to have a good grasp of the capabilities from a technology perspective, including what systems are in place, how they work, and how technology works in concert with your team. At that point you will have the information you need to address any issues or concerns and set an agenda for changes you feel are necessary.

Keep many plates spinning

One of the foundational blocks important to a modern CFO is to ensure the numbers are always right. You need to get through your audit and your finance processes need to work efficiently and effectively. You need to do all your compliance taxes. Doing them will help everything else work. You also need to figure out where all the pieces fit and balance everything, from learning about the company to making changes you feel are necessary, and determine the three biggest projects you want to move forward with. 

Don’t doubt the data

As a CFO, the data and the insights it provides give you the biggest bang for your buck. Data insights allow you to plan, adapt, pivot, and move forward in your financial functions. Gone are the days where you make an annual budget and monitor performance against it. Now, you should be doing some form of financial forecasting every single month. Also, don’t just keep your sights set toward the end of the calendar year. Keep an eye on the next two or three years and be open to adjusting your outlook and decisions regularly. To help you through this journey, it’s important to have good data that looks not just at the finances, but some of the underlying operating metrics in the business.

Encourage your team to work beyond the job description

Make sure to evolve your team. Don’t hold them to doing just the work outlined in their initial job description. Encourage your team to enrich their roles to strive and achieve more. In the world of greater remote work, over-communicate extensively, because people will feel a bit disconnected. Don’t be afraid to break down the traditional hierarchy. Consider building more of a flat structure that encourages collaboration to give people more flexibility. Be open to change and understand the journey of your team may not end for them at your company. But as long as they contribute and do a great job, you should celebrate them. While challenging, promoting, and seeing your staff grow and develop is important, allowing team members to move on also gives you the chance to recruit in the external market for people that have specific skill sets that could help your company.

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Episode Highlights

Seek insight before you hit the ground

“Seek the view of experts and people you can lean on before you start a role. Rely to a degree on the good people you’ve got in the organization to bring you up to speed. Nobody as a CFO hits the ground running and can say they understand the business. As soon as they start that role, it takes a period of time to learn and evolve and really understand how things work. What you’re then going to do is look at how to move the business forward, where you’re going to choose to devote your time and energies, and what you can do to really help the business succeed.”

Effective through efficiency

“My philosophy has always been: let’s automate what we can and get it to be more efficient so that we can have people spending their time on more value added activities. That reduces the mundane work, it means they’ve got more interesting things to do, and frankly, they’re having more interactions and more interesting conversations.”

Deal with the data

“I think if you’d have rolled the clock further back and you don’t have that MI (Management Intelligence), what you don’t want to be doing is making decisions in a vacuum. When you go in and know you need to do something, look at what the data is telling you. The data really helps you make informed decisions. You won’t get everything right, but at least you’re basing it on the data you see today as to what you think is the right course of action to plot for the business.”

Provide ample opportunities

“If you’ve got good, talented people, you need to be giving them something new and different every two to three years in order to help motivate and retain them. I mean, the beauty of being in a business that is growing and developing is as we look at doing new things, we naturally get opportunities.”

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Top Quotes:

07:15

Seek the view of experts and people you can lean on before you start a role. Rely to a degree on the good people you’ve got in the organization to bring you up to speed. Nobody as a CFO that hits the ground running and can say they understand the business. As soon as they start that role, it takes a period of time to learn and evolve and really understand how things work. What you’re then going to do is look at how to move the business forward, where you’re going to choose to devote your time and energies, and what you can do to really help the business succeed.

08:10

I think you always go in with a view of the things you want to look at in that first hundred days. And, I would put it, you put it into categories. I think by the time you’ve been in an organization for a hundred days, you’re starting to form a very good view of the capabilities of the team you’ve got, that you’ve inherited where the strengths are, where the weaknesses are, any potential changes to make both in structure and individuals within that environment. You’ve also got a very good grasp of the capabilities from a technology perspective, in terms of what systems, how it works, how things come together, and an understanding of the issues that you need to address. And in what time span you’re going to have to dress them. And then I think what you do is you look to set an agenda.

10:50

Absolutely figuring out where to start on which pieces. I always use the spinning plate analogy. If you imagine that I’m trying to balance a spinning plate on a stick, there’s not much point in having 20 plates because all I do is go round and spin each plate a little bit and don’t really move forward that quickly. I would be much better picking my three biggest bets and really to use the analogy a bit further, shoring it up with some scaffolding. So the plates are actually standing still, and I don’t need to go round and twiddle it to keep it in the air.

11:32

In the role of a modern CFO you’ve got to start with the absolute foundation blocks of being a CFO and running a finance function where the numbers need to be right. You need to get through your audit, your finance processes need to work efficiently, effectively, and you need to do all your compliance tax and everything else work. I think in any organization, you need to assess how good it is on the way in. Unless there is a bedrock that works, you don’t get the latitude to play elsewhere because you’ll just always be dragged back into fixing issues in that space. Depending on how you find that then gives you the latitude, and certainly I’ve built my career about how you commercially support the business, how you drive the business forward.

12:20

I think when you look up at the biggest bang for the buck, to me, it’s a lot of that data and that data insights that really shows you how to adapt and pivot as you move forward. I think gone are the days where you as a business did an annual budget and that was it. You didn’t revisit it. You just monitored your performance against that annual budget. We’re in a process whereby we are doing some form of forecasting every single month. And we’re not just looking out to the end of the current calendar year. We’re looking out what we term eight quarters. So at the moment we’re looking out to saying, in this month, what is our forecast telling us? But it’s not just to the end of 22 it’s to the end of 23. And how are we making decisions and how are we improving things on that outlook basis? What does it all mean? And in order to do that, you need, first of all, good. MI  on the business? Not just the finances, but some of the underlying operating metrics in the business and you need good tools to support it.

15:37

My philosophy has always been let’s automate what we can and get it to be more efficient so that we can have people spending their time on more value added activities. That reduces the mundane work, it means they’ve got more interesting things to do, and frankly, they’re having more interactions and more interesting conversations.

 

18:13

What I think you’re able to do is help the business look forward. I think a lot of finance is about what’s happened in the rear view mirror. I think the really progressive finance functions are looking at what is out the front windscreen, what’s coming up on the road ahead. How can I help the business understand that what are the puts and takes on what decisions can I make today that I probably will only see the influence of in six months time. If you’ve got a business with a sales cycle, that’s six months time, it’s the decisions you make today that you will see the financial impact, 6, 12, 18 months time. There’s not much point in looking in 12 months time and saying, I wish I’d done something six months ago. I’m far better looking forward and trying to use data to the best extent I can to understand what I should be doing today to get to a better outcome.

22:05

I think if you’d have rolled the clock further back and you don’t have that MI, what you don’t want to be doing is taking decisions in a vacuum. Because when you go in and know you need to do something, look at what the data is telling me. The data really helps you make informed decisions. Now you won’t get everything right, but at least you’re basing it on the data you see today as to what you think is the right course of action to plot for the business.

25:51

I think when you move to remote working, you’ve got to remember that people are at home, looking at a screen, their interactions are who they are talking to. And as an organization and as a function, you need to massively over-communicate almost to an excessive extent because people will feel a bit disconnected. If all I do is look at the screen, and I do a series of teams meetings, that is the way I’m used to. And I’ll only see the people I deal with. I think the other aspect of working remotely and that moved to COVID is I think we very much leveraged relationships. We’d been built face to face in order to get things done and working styles. And we understood what people from that environment we were used to, which was office-based and we leverage those relationships into the remote working. I think, as we were coming back into a hybrid model whereby we’re saying half in the office, half out of the office, and clearly it’s relatively early days, but at the moment, people are really appreciating that face-to-face contact. And certainly for people who have joined the organization, they’re getting that kind of water cooler chat that you don’t get on a teams or zoom environment.

27:18

I think what we lost in the remote working was, or that teams and zoom reinforced the hierarchy. And we are trying to have a flat structure and collaboration and face-to-face interactionsto  break down the hierarchy. I don’t think teams and zoom in the technology really break down that hierarchy. I think they unfortunately reinforce it to a degree. What we’ve seen is how are we asking people to work in that environment? And we’re saying, what we’re looking for is how do you want to work? Is your working style giving people the degrees of flexibility?

27:08

You have to work with the talent pool you’ve got. And at that point, unfortunately, you will probably need to go externally to recruit more talent in, to bring in a talent pool, or certainly that’s been my experience. What I think you find is as you progress and you know, I’m now in year six at NewDay is I’ve got some great stories of people. We have stretched, challenged, promoted, seeing them grow and develop in their roles. And yif you give me a choice of taking a chance on someone who I think is good in job A to do job B, I’ll always take that chance. Rather than recruiting in the external market, unless it’s very, very specific technical skills that you absolutely need through your experience and your career.

28:56

If you’ve got good, talented people, we need to be giving them something new and different every two to three years in order to help motivate and retain them. I mean, the beauty of being in a business that is growing and developing is as we look at doing new things, we naturally get opportunities. I always think the greatest stories are I recruited someone and a job description that I could show you in two years later, you look at it and say, gosh, there’s so much more you’ve added into that. And my role is so much richer as a result of that because I’ve stretched the role upwards, downwards, left, and right. And as a result of that, people are doing way, way, way more, are more engaged and getting a greater experience themselves.

31:50

There’s always technology improvements you can make. And some of them are for efficiency. Some of them are because you’re outgrowing the existing technology solution and some of them are just frankly, better, better ways of working. 

51 Taking Risks Brings Big Rewards with Charly Kevers, CFO at Carta

10 March 2022   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 51: Carta | With Charly Kevers, CFO

Charly Kevers, CFO at Carta, has more than 20 years of experience holding various roles in finance and strategy, including investor relations and corporate development in multiple countries across North America, Europe, and Asia. While he didn’t take a straight path to his current role, his breadth of experience in consulting and the financial world has given him great exposure to different businesses and executives to help prepare him to be a leader at Carta. 

To be a successful CFO, Charly strongly believes in trying out different roles and opportunities, including learning about mergers and acquisitions and investor relations. This will help you as a CFO to gain an understanding of how investors approach their investments, and how to better communicate with them. Carta takes a unique and transparent approach to their business, being open with employees and investors. While at first, this was a bit jarring for Charly, he has embraced how being open and honest about the business can greatly improve a company’s culture and be a driver for growth. 

Charly believes that being a good CFO requires you to be as objective as possible and try to not be defensive, no matter if you’re dealing with good or bad situations. It is important to be very clear in explaining your thoughts and processes, reinforcing that you’re trying things in an effort to grow and prosper. He feels that if you aren’t constantly trying new things, then you won’t be able to properly build and expand your business.  

In this episode of The CFO Playbook, Charly Kevers, CFO at Carta shares his thoughts on how transparency can build trust and confidence with your employees and investors. He explains why it is important to take risks and try new things. Charly also talks about the importance of embracing technology and how he approaches recruiting and retention for his team.

Take The CFO Playbook Listener Survey to help us improve the show. You’ll also be entered to win your choice of the latest iPad Pro or a Samsung Galaxy S7.

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Guest Analysis

Name: Charly Kevers

What he does: Charly Kevers is CFO at Carta, an organization on a mission to create more owners, by building a global ownership management platform that aims to change how companies, investors, law firms, and employees manage equity. While he didn’t take a straight path to his current role, Charly’s breadth of experience in consulting and across the financial world has given him great exposure to different businesses and executives to prepare him to be a leader at Carta. He embraces the drive for transparency at Carta as an important tool for building the company’s culture and investor confidence.

Key Quote: “Building trust and confidence is really important. The relationships with investors are of course looking at them as an asset that will appreciate, but a big part of it is I also do believe in the team running the company. The trust only comes if they can believe what you’re saying; if they can trust that you will share enough information for them to make the right decision.”               

Where to find Charly: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charlykevers/

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From Charly’s Playbook

Provide more visibility

Giving investors more insight can help you as a business. Charly has found it to be very beneficial to his company to be as open with the investor base as possible, because they’ve received a lot of help from it. Being transparent helps build productive relationships with your board and broader investor base. This doesn’t mean you have to give all the details or exact figures, but shows investors what is being done to build the company, establish the strength of the business, and how you’re optimizing projects for prosperity. Investors are partners in your business, so building trust in transparency drives them to want to help more.

Be inclusive with your employees

As a CFO, treat your employees like they’re equal stakeholders in the company to everyone else. Help build a culture where everybody is expected to care and understand what the company is doing. As a CFO, it’s your and your team’s job to make sure what your department is doing is easy to understand for all employees. Help the company to understand the big metrics and why they matter to the employees, leadership, board, investors, and company as a whole. 

Empower your employees

Give your employees the best opportunity to shine. Make sure that people understand they may be given hard problems to solve, but allow them the autonomy to do so. Be continuously engaged with your team. Don’t dismiss any variables that may go into their or your work. Make sure you are regularly giving your team feedback and getting it back from them in return. In the end, you know you have the best people for the job if you put them in front of hard problems and they’re able to solve them. 

Tap into technology

While it is important to make sure your team is ready to handle any challenge, so too do you need to have the right software and technology that can help get the job done. When deciding on new hires, take a moment to think about how technology can make you more efficient or complete any task at hand. When you look at your plans for each year, challenge yourself to think if you need to add another person to the team, or if there is a technology that can manage a process. As your company changes, don’t be hesitant to turn to technology as a solution.

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Episode Highlights

Truth in transparency

“Something I’ve learned from mentors and from my jobs is there is no point in trying to hide things. You just need to be as transparent as you can. It doesn’t mean you have to talk about everything, but be as transparent as you can so people understand your thought process and understand what you’re going through and lay out your plan.”

You must try to innovate

“In my experience, part of it is just explaining the process you go through. And, so being very clear that we’re always going to be trying things. Part of being in a company that is built on innovation, if you’re not trying, things are not going to continue to grow. That’s what we all get paid to do by our investors is continue to grow this business by finding new ways to do so, and change how certain things are done now.”

Efficiency is everything

“It’s not necessarily as much about efficiency for me in my company, but how fast we can move. Like our, our lens is generally, does this allow us to move? Does this allow us to do more? Can I do it with two instead of four people? If so, then I’m absolutely going to go do that. It’s more like, I have this process that I can actually go solve this other problem, and I can create this new product, and I can create a new revenue stream. So, we think about it a little differently by optimizing certain things. Now we can spend our time doing more things and growing the company.”

Rise to risks early in your career

“I would strongly recommend folks take a little more risk earlier in their career. There’s one thing I think people forget, is that careers are long and you can always go do other things. You can always go back to a bigger company. What’s great about a big company is you learn a lot, but also everything is already done, and you’re not going to innovate a ton on the process. With smaller companies, you’re going to figure out a lot of things. And, then you have the opportunity to really think through deeply what makes sense for a business versus, well, this is how we’ve done it for 10 years. You have to actually go back to the basics. And, so I strongly encourage everybody to go get that exposure.”

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Top quotes:

“Part of it is in my experience, explaining just the process you go through. And so being very clear that we’re always trying, and partly being in a company that is built on innovation – if you’re not trying, things are not going to continue to grow. That’s what we all get paid to do by our investors is continue to grow this business by finding new ways to grow it and, and change how certain things are done now.”

“I think it’s really about explaining your process, explaining how you approach company building. It doesn’t mean you need to give all the details of like this project didn’t work and we’re investing these exact number of dollars here, but more like here’s how we’re going to build. We’re going to have these established businesses and we’re going to continue to build, and frankly, start to focus on optimizing and here are a few projects. We don’t know yet if they’re going to work, here’s why we think they’re worth investing in and we’re going to keep you updated on the progress and just like overall broad stroke levels of progress, so people don’t feel like there are any surprises. I think it’s just, everybody knows certain things work, others don’t work. I think it’s unrealistic to say no, everything’s perfect. Like everything we do is a great investment. And so I think it’s also part of just building that trust that people know. Once they’re investors, they’re partners with you and just treat them as such, and make sure they also can help you.”

“The mistake I made early in my career is always thinking the investor are kind of like the teacher. I realized definitely at Carta that they know that things things will go wrong and they want to be here to help. And if you give them that visibility, they can’t help you. And, so that’s been super interesting. And, and frankly, I have to say it’s been very beneficial to us to be as open as we can with our investor base, because we’ve gotten a ton of a ton of help from it.”

“It’s getting tough for companies to just say, nope, no liquidity until we go public because employees are starting to expect it. I think a lot of people are realizing now over the last few years, capital was plentiful. It’s still plenty of capital in the private markets. I don’t want to say it’s drying up at all, but the dynamics have changed with the public markets being what they are. And, everybody’s raised a lot of money, which is great, which means everybody has runways for a long time. But now with all the funds that people raised in the last couple of years, and oftentimes did secondaries related to these funding rounds because they had so much investor interest. Now, what are you doing when employees come back and say, ‘Hey, can we do this again? This was great. Can we do it again?’ And I think it will force a lot of companies to think about it. So I think it’s a term change, but we believe that this is the path it’s taking and that the best employees will want to work for companies that have some form of liquidity. And, that war for talent is what’s going to shift behavior.”

“We want to treat everybody for what they are, which are not only employees, but also owners of the company. And so I think it’s to build a great culture from the standpoint of like, everybody’s expected to care about it and everybody’s expected to understand it. And it’s my job and my team’s job to make sure it’s easy enough to understand for all our employees. It doesn’t matter where. We should make sure to at least all the big metrics, everything we talk about, make sure you understand what it is and why it matters. And then over time, of course, my job is to make sure my peers and all their teams understand how they impact all these metrics and kind of tie everything back together. But that’s why we want to be quite transparent and talk about this regularly.”

“Really make sure that people understand they’ll be given hard problems to solve, and they’ll be given autonomy to do that. And of course, we want to make sure we look at all the aspects of engagement. And so I, I don’t want to dismiss all these other aspects that are really key to making sure that you also get continuous feedback from your team. But what I’ve found is in the end, this is one of the top things that matters. And of course, compensation has got to be right. A lot of these basics have to be taken care of, but if you put people in front of hard problems, the best people want to go solve hard problems.”

“Every time somebody wants to hire a person, ‘my first question is like, have we thought about any type of software we can use to do this?’ And it doesn’t mean it solves everything just to be clear. We’ve grown the team quite a bit, but, but that’s always the question. When we look at our plans every year, every quarter, let’s really challenge ourselves. Do we need to add in another person to do this role? Do we need to add another person to go manage this process? And so it’s an ongoing process. I don’t think you’ve ever done because when the company changes the needs change.”

“Generally, I would strongly recommend folks take a little more risk earlier in their career because there’s the one thing people I think forget also is like careers are long and you can always go do other things. You can always go back to a bigger company. But trying a little bit the scaling and the environment we got, you have to figure things out.”

50 Be Humble and Hungry with Nitesh Sharan, CFO at SoundHound

3 March 2022   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 50: SoundHound | With Nitesh Sharan, CFO

Nitesh Sharan, CFO at SoundHound, is a strategic finance executive with experience fueling growth and profitability in firms across the consumer, technology and industrial sectors. His diverse background working in many different verticals across multiple industries allows Nitesh to be a great fit for the evolving and expanding role of CFO in today’s business world. He also has a passion for development, diversity, inclusivity, and sustainability for his company and team. 

Anchored by a variety of experiences in industries throughout the world, Nitesh’s desire to grow and try new things is an asset to SoundHound; an organization that believes every brand should have a voice and every person should be able to interact naturally with the products around them, by simply talking. 

Nitesh sees the role of a CFO as one that is constantly changing and adapting to a new world of business. He thinks today’s CFO needs to be in tune and involved with many parts of their company. That includes as an advisor to the CEO, encouraging stakeholder success, having a vision for the company’s long term success and near term sustainability, as well as being open to innovation, and helping to set a strong culture within the organization. An important part of supporting that is building a diverse, agile, and innovative team with a range of knowledge and diverse perspectives that have a drive to continually learn and grow. 

In this episode of The CFO Playbook, Nitesh Sharan, CFO at SoundHound, shares why you can’t stay stale and need to continually innovate and update the way your company does business. This ranges in everything from organizational goals and a willingness to utilize new technologies, to being open to who your workforce is, how to encourage their success, and to allow for flexibility in where they accomplish their work. 

Take The CFO Playbook Listener Survey to help us improve the show. You’ll also be entered to win your choice of the latest iPad Pro or a Samsung Galaxy S7.

Guest Analysis

Name: Nitesh Sharan

What he does: Nitesh Sharan is CFO at SoundHound, an organization that believes every brand should have a voice and every person should be able to interact naturally with the products around them, by simply talking. Nitesh didn’t take the traditional route to being CFO, starting out with a career in consulting, eventually going back to school for a business degree. He brings diverse experience to SoundHound, working across many different types of industries throughout the world, armed with a desire to grow, try new things, and build a versatile team ready for any challenge. 

Key Quote:  “If you have this attitude of optimism, then you can persevere through a lot. And I think that has benefited me in my career. I love the saying, ‘keep your face always towards the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you. Because, I really believe there’s always going to be challenging times. And if you can sort of try to find that silver lining or at least persevere through,you’ll–if nothing else–learn a ton through the experiences. And then hopefully that in itself is a real reward.”

Where to find Nitesh: LinkedIn

From Nitesh’s Playbook

Growth is king

Priority number one as a CFO is figuring out how you enable and fuel growth. Part of that is being aware of parts of the company that are growing versus those that are already established. You need to be thoughtful on where to place your bets and invest in resources. While it is important to appreciate and value what has made the company successful, you need to be open to how things can work differently to continually grow the company to be prosperous. 

Technology in tandem with your team

Leveraging technology and scaling with the right insights at the right time is key to growth. With that, keep in mind the best intersection between human capabilities and technology. It’s not one or the other; you need great technology and people who can harness that great technology to be able to navigate uncertainty and make decisions in a timely and effective manner.

Don’t shy away from challenges

Have an attitude of running to the fire and running at challenges. Never compromise on integrity and character in yourself or your team. You need to have agility to capitalize on opportunities  when they come, and you need the tenacity to take it to fruition, no matter what the deliverable is. Hunger and humility are key traits for you and your team, having a willingness and ability to expand your function and promote growth and prosperity for the business.

Promote diversity and varying perspectives for your team

Continuously hire with the angle of ‘what is it that serves the greater good of the company?’. Make sure that the talent coming in is fully aligned and in service to what you’re all trying to do together. Be open to having a remote team, that way you are also opening up your hiring pool to any and all talent, no matter where they are. Be open to going deeper with your team, finding out what motivates them and what matters to their career development. By having a more diverse team with different perspectives you as a CFO can lean on their experiences and knowledge. 

Episode Highlights

The CFO’s role is continually expanding

“The expectations and what a CFO can bring to the table also have evolved and can evolve because in a lot of ways it is maybe one of the very few, if not the only one on sort of a C-suite that can agnostically look across all the disciplines and say, ‘okay here’s an accountable way, a measurable way, to look at trade-offs, to navigate a world of uncertainty, and make the right choices that we can try to objectively as objectively as we possibly can make a decision.”

Be open to adaptation and change

“When you’re a mature company, you actually have to incubate those hypergrowth elements, because the future is constantly evolving, right? You can’t stay stale. We see too many companies who try to hang on the innovator’s dilemma, try to hang on to their old profit pools for too long, and ultimately the world works against them…So you’re always kind of trying to channel the growth, but within an infrastructure where you have to manage the cash flow pools of the past.”

People and technology need to work in tandem

“I always look at it as what’s the best intersection between human capability and technology. And how do you intersect those so you can scale most meaningfully in the most efficient matter and most diligent matter. But it’s not one or the other, you really need great technology, and then you need people who can harness that great technology to find the coveted insights. And not necessarily people who have to tick and tie every number before we can make decisions. We all have to be able to navigate uncertainty and make decisions in a timely and effective manner.”

Encourage teams that are humble and hungry

“When I look for teammates to add in, I want them to be hungry and want to grow in their careers, want to expand the function, want to expand the business, but have all the humility in the world to understand there’s a lot of challenges on the way. You can’t do it yourself. You need to ask the questions. We need to have a safe environment where we can grow and prosper together. So those tenants are really important.”

Top quotes:

“I think the two tenants of financial management that have probably always been true are we need to be stewards of capital allocation and risk management. And I think that’s probably been true for a long time in terms of what’s important to the CFO function or the finance function at large. And I think that continues to be really important.”

“I understand shareholder value and know that growth is imperative. And so anything I can do from the capital allocation risk management standpoint that helps shepherd that growth journey or catalyze it is priority number one. And, I think that’s just one of many examples of how you could envision more and more of this function expanding to its mandate.”

“You have to be very thoughtful about where to place your bets and where to invest your resources. But then again, there’s a lot of clarity because the value is going to create from growth. And, so whatever we need to do to fuel growth is the imperative that matters most.”

“I think what we’re living through just even socially, culturally, whether it’s a great resignation or whatnot, people living through the pandemic and just sort of identifying what matters most to them. There’s a lot of change going on. And I think we’re just in the very early days of realizing what structurally that’ll be for the long term. And I also think in traditional environments, they’re generally is a slow reaction to that, a slow reaction to understanding what that means. And I think there’s a great opportunity at SoundHound as we’re building not just the finance function, we’re more broadly of being very people-centric and saying, what really is it that our employees value and how do we build a structure  that supports and helps people thrive in their careers and personal lives. And so I think we’re taking a very diligent way of understanding that.”

“I think it starts with saying what matters to people, what matters to their lives, this intersection it’s blurrier than ever between work life and home life. And how do we make sure we set up the right boundaries and still deliver what’s needed. But I do think it starts with what matters to people.”

“I see a lot of companies who are just punting decisions every three months, like, okay, here’s what’s going on with virus. And I think it’s important to keep agility there that the answers we’re not going to know for sure. So just as long as we can stay flexible and keep listening and communicating with each other. I think that’s really important.”

“Because we’re able to operate effectively in a virtual world as it opens the aperture of the number of candidates out there now. I have really no idea where you are. I don’t know if you have any idea where I am. It doesn’t really matter, we’re having a great conversation. And so, I think in terms of the pool of candidates that we can look at and identify and consider, I think that has just opened up much more widely. And frankly, now that I think more people than ever are opening their minds to different opportunities that also I think increases the pool. Now to close and get people or to maintain people, it really I think is important to try to go a little deeper on what inspires people, what motivates them, what matters. And, I also think then from how we think about organizational development, career management, talent management, all needs to intersect and evolve with this.”

“I think absolutely being in a diverse cities alone, not talking about gender or race, I think gives diversity, which is another dimension. In fact, in my humble opinion, we talk very superficially around diversity. Now I believe we’re at a stage where we do need to increase the measures. We need more females in Silicon valley leadership roles. We need more underrepresented groups in all positions at all leadership levels. But, we also need diversity of experiences, diversity of personalities, diversity of perspectives. All those things are so powerful.”

“The other thing I’ve come to appreciate, and what makes great companies is you need the agility to capitalize on opportunities when they come and you need the tenacity to take it to its complete thought or its fruition of whatever that deliverable is. And I think similarly underneath that you need talent that can do that. And at a smaller company, you need more of that. Meaning you need the tenacity to solve the issues of today. Because when you’re in this phase of a company, there’s always issues that are coming up that are top priorities and you need to have this lens of now and later together. Which is we’re trying to stabilize and build an infrastructure that hopefully a year from now, the issues that we’re chasing down will be automated or improved process-wise. And so somebody who’s got that agility to do both at the same time, it’s not easy to find quite openly. And that’s one of the things I emphasize a lot.”

“I think having a real strong foundation, cross disciplinary, across multiple things, with an intersection with technology – that’s where success will lie. Not necessarily continue to fragment in our own little silos, which is what everybody does. They really only understand their silos because everybody then has their own agenda and their objectives of what successes. It’s then how do you intersect that altogether? I think that thesis, ‘Hey, technology will solve that is inaccurate. It really has to be the compounding between humans and technology.”

47 Leading a Transformation with Nick Rose, CFO at Enable

10 February 2022   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 47: Enable | With Nick Rose, CFO

In his role of CFO at Enable, Nick Rose is carrying forward what he enjoyed most working on business transformation projects at Travis Perkins, and is driven by the change he’s able to make happen at a small but quickly growing company.

When Nick first joined Enable, he went from having 24,000 colleagues to 70. But headcount is rising fast, and Nick describes the company’s evolution as “a constant state of change” as Enable has gone through two rounds of funding and expanded to three different countries since he arrived. Nick credits his experience in business transformation to help him to shift to a fast moving environment; in fact, he embraces the change that’s necessary to achieve Enable’s ambitious goals.

Whether evaluating automation opportunities to layer on top of Enable’s ERP system, or assessing whether a prospective hire is the right fit for his team, Nick takes a forward thinking approach to his decision making. To help guide these decisions in the present, he and his team rely on measuring objectives and key results (OKRs) on a quarterly basis. As a result, Nick is confident that the finance department and beyond are aligned on the overarching goals of the company and how they’ll work together to achieve them.

On this episode of The CFO Playbook, Nick Rose, CFO at Enable, shares how he brings a transformation mindset to his role, describes the ways in which he’s building a team that runs towards business challenges, and illustrates why adaptability is such an important quality in a CFO.

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Guest Analysis

Name: Nick Rose

What he does: Nick is the CFO at Enable, a cloud-based rebate management solution to help distributors, manufacturers, and retailers manage rebates. He’s carrying forward his experiences with transformation to help steward big changes at Enable as the VC-backed venture triples its headcount and puts growth on hyper drive.

Key Quote:  “What do I actually do? Day-to-day, most times it’s working with people, influencing them, making things happen, and you’ve got to have good people around you to achieve that. It’s simple to me.”       

Where to find Nick: LinkedIn

From Nick’s Playbook

Leading a transformation necessitates being comfortable with change

Since Nick joined Enable, they’ve raised two rounds of funding, expanded to three countries (soon to be four), and made a pivot to building their own product and selling it at scale. Nick calls it “a constant state of change,” which is his preferred state after leading business transformation in house at Travis Perkins. Nick’s invigorated by the impact he can have on a smaller but quickly growing company, which helps his team get on board, too. 

If you want to scale, prioritization is key

To support Enable’s hyper-growth strategy, Nick stresses the importance of being able to make decisions quickly and for the betterment of the business. In order to do this, the leadership team sets objectives and key results (OKRs) quarterly rather than on a yearly basis on a company, team, and individual level. That way goals are made transparent and everyone is aligned on what they’re working towards and how to get there.

Hire those who run towards a business challenge

Nick emphasizes that at a scaling company, you need to build a finance team that is able to rise to the challenge. For that reason, during the hiring process he susses out whether the candidate has experience with transformation projects. He asks probing questions to ensure new hires run towards business improvement challenges versus just having been in the right place at the right time. 

Great CFOs stay true to themselves

Though Nick’s surrounded by growth and change, he makes it a priority to stay grounded in himself, his values, and his belief in what Enable is going to achieve. He genuinely cares about his team and doesn’t shy away from sharing that with them. In return, they join him for the hyper-growth journey.

Episode Highlights

The perks of driving change

“Some of the bits I most enjoyed in Travis Perkins were where you work as a small team and really create real change and make things really happen. And you can do that in a small business that’s got big ambition, far more than you ever can in a great big oil tanker type business that’s got its own process and hurdles that you have to get over to make change.”

From being a customer to going in-house

“Having been a customer, I’ve bought the product implemented…I’ve first-hand felt the pain points that our actual prospective customers feel. So I can get involved in understanding how we’re prospecting to them, how we’re doing our pitches and also talking to them about the benefits that I’ve seen first-hand. So that does help me create more influence.”

Being an empathetic leader

“I’ve learned I’m hugely adaptable. I can throw my mind to lots of different things. I have a real deep care for our team and making sure people are comfortable and supported, and then in that sort of way, they actually not only know what’s expected of them and how they’re getting on and where they stand, but actually that people care about them as well.”

What Nick looks for in a hire

“What I look for is real energy, real forward thinking, and real willingness to look for different solutions and try something new. I have my litmus test when they get into an interview scenario: how much do they already know about us? How much are they bothered to find out? And how much energy can they bring to the role?”

Top quotes:

“We are deliberately burning cash. That’s the pattern that we have to follow. And so as a result of doing that, we’re able to grow sales teams, customer success teams, implementation and the whole engineering team, as well as the support functions, in such a way that it’s supporting what we call hyper growth.”

“The scale and pace of what we’re trying to achieve, it’s nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced or seen before. And it’s engaging and rewarding being part of that. I love changing things. I love making things work more smoothly, work better, and working with good people to make that happen.”

“I’ve learned I’ve got a lot of energy to try and keep balls in the air and when they’ve got challenges on many different fronts, keeping things moving is just the most important thing and trying to be an inspiring leader to the rest of the business. And I’ve learned that in some small way, I can help do that.”

“I suppose what makes it work is our ability to make decisions really quickly. We set ourselves objectives and key results, OKRs, every quarter. Most businesses I’ve ever seen set them every year and that drives the pace of change. I need to know what are my real priorities this quarter? We set them at the company level first and then we set them by team and then we rolled them down to the individual. So if anyone ever wants to know what they should be doing, they should be looking at their team and their individual OKRs, which we know roll up to support what the company is trying to do, whether it’s that every quarter, the next quarter or a longer term thing.  So for every three months we’re trying to do so much, but it is quite controlled and quite visible what each team’s trying to do.”

“I just be myself. How would I be anything else? And if I can bring people along with me through showing the amount I care about our success and what we need to do to get there and the amount of care about our people and supporting them, then people generally will follow that if they actually believe what you’re saying.”

“You have to show a strong track record. We’re about to launch our third all employee survey. We did one last February, one in August, and we’ve really taken those seriously, so anonymous feedback, and we’ve corralled that feedback into certain themes and where it’s showing the company every month for our all hands meetings and, and more regular communication outside of that, what we’re doing about it.”

“You can always look at what people have on a CV. Okay. You know, if they’ve got financial accountant on their CV, then they’re probably qualified. They’ve probably done a number of years of posting journals and doing management accounts and working all that stuff. So I always ask them what change projects they’ve been in. How did they go? What did they do? What have they learned about themselves from that? That can tell you a lot. And business improvement projects in the same vein. And you can begin to piece away about whether they are people who run towards a business improvement challenge, or have just kind of been put on this project just because they were on the right chair at the right time.”

46 Laying the Groundwork for Growth with Ross Tennenbaum, CFO at Avalara

3 February 2022   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 46: Avalara | With Ross Tennenbaum, CFO

Ross Tennenbaum loved working in investment banking, so it took the right opportunity for him to make the jump into his first role as CFO at Avalara, a SAAS company building cloud-based tax compliance solutions to handle every transaction in the world.

While in investment banking, Ross learned not only about capital markets and mergers and acquisitions, but about the strategy of the companies he advised on. Ross brought that mindset to Avalara, asking all kinds of questions to drive Avalara’s business forward.

Ross is laying the groundwork at Avalara to help match the fast growth of today, as well as tomorrow. He’s doing this by investing in the right technology to help optimize finance operations, and hiring finance team members who have experience implementing automation. As he builds out the finance team in a competitive environment, he’s intentional about facilitating a fulfilling work environment with clear paths of success for the company as well as individual team members. 

On this episode of The CFO Playbook, Ross Tennenbaum, CFO at Avalara, describes why he left investment banking for the lure of CFO, outlines the key components of a high performing finance team, and shares the automation priorities he’s focused on for the year ahead.

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Guest Analysis

Name: Ross Tennenbaum

What he does: Ross is the CFO at Avalara, a SAAS company building cloud-based tax compliance solutions to handle every transaction in the world. Two years into his first tenure as CFO, he’s applied what he learned from years in investment banking to understand the business, invest in technology, and build an engaged finance team.

Key Quote:  “My biggest advice to people if they’re building a company is don’t under-invest in the back office technology. It’s easy to do because you put all your money in sales and marketing, but you end up paying more later.”      

Where to find Ross: LinkedIn

From Ross’s Playbook

You don’t necessarily need to make changes right out of the gate 

When Ross made the jump from investment banking to his first time role as CFO at Avalara in 2020, he didn’t come in and make bold moves just to make a statement. Instead, he helped finance operations grow with the company as its international reach expanded and served the company’s needs as he deepened his own knowledge of all aspects of the business.

Understand your company (and ask the right questions)

Ross emphasizes that understanding the business is his number one priority as a CFO. Coming from banking, he learned not only about capital markets and mergers and acquisitions, but about the strategy of the companies he advised on. Ross brought that mindset to Avalara, asking all kinds of questions to drive Avalara’s business forward.

In a competitive job market, create a clear career path and team culture

While Ross says Avalara benefits from being able to tap into an international talent pool, he also underlines the importance of creating a clear career path for prospective and current employees. He stresses that team members should all feel valued, crystal clear on where the department and company is headed, and aligned on the goals that are going to get you there.

Hire finance professionals with a tech background

Avalara is a tax automation company, so the value of automation and technology is baked into the company’s purpose. When it comes to the finance operations, Ross knows they have room to improve so he is intentional about hiring finance team members who have experience in implementing automation. That way, they don’t need to be reliant on a Center of Excellence. Instead, the knowledge base is right within finance.

Episode Highlights

The benefits of an advisory background

“I learned a ton about not only the capital markets and M&A, but really the strategy of a company. How do you think about strategy? How do you think about what your competitors are doing? How do you think about moves you should be making or not making? And it got me some really great exposure to boards and executive management teams.”

Creating a team for automation within the finance department

“We hired some people that come from doing automation in finance departments at other companies and said, ‘let’s go tackle this.’ So I think that that is money really, really well spent because they will start to automate routine functions and make you more optimized, make you better, make you faster and also free up your people to do other things.”

The payoff of a thoughtful transition

“At Avalara, our CEO and our former CFO were very thoughtful in this transition…I remember [our CEO] saying ‘I like my CFOs to be really deep in the business, really understand how operations work, work across the Isles from finance, understand how finance works from the other side and everything else.’ And so the good news was I sat right next to our former CFO. And I sat on his staff and we spent quality time together after hours and during business hours.”

The learning curve of a first-time CFO

“You’ve got to become really good at being resourceful and finding networks and being able to ask the right questions and learn. You jump into a CFO role and you don’t have someone above you to ask you, all right, what do I do next? You gotta go figure it out.” 

Advice for aspiring CFOs

“The number one thing to me is you’ve got to really understand the business, how it works, what are the drivers, what are the levers, so that you can really be in a position to help optimize it and drive it and grow it, and not just be the person that’s handling the purse strings.”

Top quotes:

“And I remember thinking that there’s not so many times in your career where people reach out to you and ask you to do a job that you’re not necessarily qualified to do. You’re taking a leap into venture capital or operations role you haven’t yet done and it’s because it always comes back to: ‘your next job won’t be from your resume, it’ll be from your network.’”

“To me a career is about putting together many different disparate experiences, you know? And so you’re continuing to, it’s not just moving up, but it’s continuing to build the areas of knowledge set, and experiences that come together to give you a unique set of skills and experiences.”

“You understand how the businesses work, you understand how the different functions work. You understand how the functions need to work together. And I think you understand how to be more empathetic, which is a really important word in my career to how other functions and leaders, what they need to do, what their mission is, how it all works and how to work across the aisles with them and really understand the levers that you can pull to drive the business.”

“I’m pretty knowledgeable in accounting. I’ve always liked accounting. I spent time in the weeds of it. I’m not a technical accountant. I didn’t come up from that realm, not a CPA to be fair. And so there’s different ways to come up and be CFO. I didn’t come from that area. So we have a really strong Chief Accounting Officer that’s been at the company since prior to going public.”

“I think by expanding the aperture of where you’re willing to hire, I think by being willing to say, okay, there’s some senior leaders that aren’t on the ground here and that’s okay. It’s opened more opportunities.”

“I think bankers always have to go figure out really hard problems with limited information, and overnight, and that’s a really good skill. And then you go into a company and you’ve got all the information. How do you synthesize a lot of information? How do you make it compact? How do you make it simple? And how do you communicate it effectively? I think that those are all important to hire great people that can do that.’

“Empathetic culture and career paths are really important. How do we create the vacuum where you can actually pull people up and people can see, ‘Hey, things are moving. I can put my hand up. I can get a career path going. I don’t have to go look outside the company.’”

44 The Latest CFO Trends with Steve Gallucci, Global & US CFO Program Leader at Deloitte

20 January 2022   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 44: Deloitte | With Steve Gallucci, Global & US CFO Program Leader

As the Global & US leader for Deloitte’s CFO Program, Steve Gallucci’s job is to understand all the pressing issues facing CFOs today. He brings over 30 years of experience at Deloitte in an advisory and assurance capacity to the role.

Deloitte’s CFO Program delivers forward thinking insights for every stage of a CFO’s career through data-driven research and cutting edge resources. It was developed to offer CFOs and aspiring CFOs a comprehensive “go-to” resource for personal career success as the CFO role continues to evolve to meet the needs of the modern company.

Here on The CFO Playbook, we’re dedicated to understanding the needs of and demands on the modern CFO. Steve walks us through the 4Q CFO Signals Survey, which includes the latest insights from 124 CFO respondents. On the whole, they’re predicting tempered expectations for growth, emphasizing the need to prioritize talent/labor, and citing opportunities for embedding technologies and automation into their organizations’ operations. 

On this episode of The CFO Playbook, Steve Gallucci, Global & US CFO Program Leader at Deloitte, shares his view on how to build a successful transition plan as a new CFO, explains how talent is top of the agenda for many CFOs today, and emphasizes why being both a strategist and a catalyst is critical for any successful finance leader.

Guest Analysis

Name: Steve Gallucci

What he does: Steve is the Global & US National Managing Partner of the CFO Program at Deloitte, which harnesses the broad capabilities of the firm to deliver forward-thinking insights for every stage of a CFO’s career. With 30 years of experience at Deloitte, Steve helps CFOs manage the complexities of their roles, tackle compelling challenges, and adapt to strategic shifts in the market.

Key Quote:  “What we hear time and again from the CFO community is there is an insatiable desire for CFOs to talk to other CFOs.”

Where to find Steve: LinkedIn & Twitter

From Steve’s Playbook

CFOs are looking for community

One goal of the Deloitte CFO Program is to connect and convene CFOs. Steve shares that like any C-Suite role, being a CFO can be a lonely job but CFOs benefit greatly from learning from their peers and have an “insatiable desire” to network. Whether through the CFO Program, LinkedIn, or in industry events, it’s worth reaching out to fellow CFOs and finance leaders in your sector.

The pandemic has expedited trends that already existed

Whether Steve is commenting on the future of work or the opportunities that exist through automation, he emphasizes that the pandemic has brought into focus company needs that already existed. In certain ways, the last two years have served as a crystal ball for the future of modern work, today. It’s allowed CFOs to get crystal clear on their priorities in order to keep up with demand going forward.

When it comes to leadership, empathy is key

Steve echoes what we’ve heard from many CFOs here on The CFO Playbook: a modern CFO needs to be an empathetic leader. Part of this is developing a core understanding of all aspects of the finance department as well as the overall business so that a CFO can better put themselves in the shoes of the employees.

CEOs want their CFOs to be a strategist and a catalyst

The CFO Program identifies 4 faces of the CFO as strategist, catalyst, operator, and steward. Steve explains that historically the CFO was mainly seen as an operator and steward, taking control of the financial operations of the company. While today’s CEOs expect CFOs to have strong financial skills, they place a lot of value on the CFO as a business strategist and catalyst for momentum.

Episode Highlights

Top of mind for the CFO Agenda

“There continues to be a lot of opportunity, but a lot of challenges. So managing data and understanding that a company’s data strategy is something that’s really, really important from that perspective.  I think those are the key areas that we see as being top of mind for the CFO agenda.”

What CFOs expect from their finance teams

“An underlying attribute that [CFOs] want out of their finance teams is agility. They need people to be able to understand multiple aspects of a finance domain, not just one particular siloed area.”

About the the CFO Program Transition Lab

“What we do in that transition lab is we explore three facets of how a CFO spends their time, how they manage their team, and what key relationships do they build across the enterprise to be successful both inside and out… And then the output of that is a very, very detailed transition plan that they will walk away with.”

Increased investment in technology

“There is a constant demand on the part of business unit leaders to have information that is faster to them and is available to them on a real-time basis. So you’re finding a lot of finance organizations that are making significant investments in technology, particularly thinking about how they take the data that they have and make it more usable to business leadership.”

The effect of 2020/2021 on forecasting

“Taking internal trends and extrapolating them out over time got upended and I think it was a quote attributed to Mike Tyson, who had said that, ‘everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.’ Well, in March and April of 2020, we all got punched in the face, particularly CFOs.”

Top quotes:

“We have a framework that we call the four faces of the CFO. Which includes being a strategist, a catalyst, an operator, and a steward. And you think about the operator role, that’s the historical view of what a CFO has to deliver on. The strategist/catalysts are the areas that really drive business performance. Not coincidentally, what we’re seeing, in terms of when companies are seeking to replace their CFO or move to a new CFO, the traditional background of those taking CFO roles were those that would be more of the operator steward. What we’re seeing now is much more background around, say investment banking, business unit leadership, because CEOs don’t want their CFO just to be the operator/steward. They want their CFO to be the strategist and catalyst.”

“[It’s important for a CFO] to be that empathetic leader and understand some of the challenges that they have as an organization…What challenges do their workforce have, how do they create career growth in career trajectory growth, to be able to give people the opportunities to continue to grow from that perspective.”

“What we hear time and again, and I suspect you hear from the folks that you interface with and the CFO community, is there is an insatiable desire for CFOs to talk to other CFOs. It’s been said that the role of CFO, like any C-suite role, can be a very lonely role. So CFOs are always interested in understanding what their peer groups are thinking about.”

42 Best Career Advice for Aspiring CFOs

6 January 2022   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 42: Highlight | Career Advice

On this episode of The CFO Playbook, we share some of the best career advice for aspiring CFOs that we’ve received from CFOs who have been guests on the show.

Lessons we cover in this episode:

An aspiring CFO must diversify their areas of expertise

  1. It’s critical to gain experience outside of the finance function.
  2. Finance leaders should be proactive in making themselves partners to other areas of the business.
  3. While gaining experience in areas of the business beyond finance is key, it’s also important for finance professionals to diversify their experiences within finance.

Don’t be overly concerned about timetable or titles in your quest for the CFO position

  1. Your working life is long, be patient as you build your career over time.
  2. You don’t have to rush into the CFO role. If you’re able to, work for a great CFO first and learn.

As you cultivate your hard, practical business skills, don’t forget to focus on your ‘soft skills’

  1. Great CFOs develop their EQ as much as their technical skills and understanding of the business.
  2. Own your strengths and your unique vulnerabilities. It’ll make you a more relatable leader and help you build relationships with your employees.
  3. As the role of CFO continues to evolve from being purely an accountant to being an advisor to the rest of the executive team, and a driver of the business generally, it’s becoming more important to focus on these ‘soft skills’ that are required of leaders.

On your path to CFO, keep an open mind

  1. Take advantage and learn from other CFOs you meet throughout your career.
  2. Stay curious, take risks, and keep learning.

Guests Featured 

Name: Tony Russo

What he does: Tony Russo is the CFO of Imply, a full stack, multi-cloud data platform pioneering ‘analytics-in-motion.’ With a successful track record scaling B2B SaaS and enterprise software companies through organic growth and acquisitions, Tony has a wealth of knowledge about evaluating opportunities as a CFO.

Key Quote:  “I would say that it’s good to find work for a good CFO, as opposed to getting the title early by joining a really early stage company because you think you need to have the title.”               

Where to find Tony: LinkedIn

Name: Anup Singh

What he does: In Anup’s second CFO role, at Clearwell Systems, he intentionally built a positive culture that contributed to the company winning an award for being one of the best places to work in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. With 15 years’ experience as a CFO at various companies, he currently holds the position at cybersecurity company Illumio.  

Key Quote: “I encourage all of the aspiring CFOs to just spend time away from your desk and to get involved with the business.”          

Where to find Anup: LinkedIn

Name: Jeannie De Guzman

What she does: Jeannie De Guzman is the CFO at 1Password, a $2B password management company trusted by more than 90,000 businesses. In her role as CFO, Jeannie makes sure finance functions as a valued business partner to the rest of the organization, and implements modern tools that help her people do more meaningful work.

Key Quote: “When I think about what helped me get to where I am today: when I worked at the companies and I saw an opportunity to do something that was outside of my role, I tried to do it.”           

Where to find Jeannie: LinkedIn

Name: Jim Buckle

What he does: Jim Buckle is the CFO at Gousto, a meal delivery company and one of the fastest growing businesses in the UK: it doubled its meal deliveries from 2.5M to over 5M during lockdown. In his role as CFO, Jim ensures Gousto is scaling in a sustainable way that benefits all stakeholders, be they employees, investors, customers, or the planet — all without sacrificing profit.

Key Quote: “Certainly one of the things that COVID did for us last year…was a very increased frequency of forecasting because it was very hard to predict customer demand. And so I’m constantly iterating how the future looks and what that means in terms of growing the size of the team or what it will mean in terms of customer demand.”                

Where to find Jim: LinkedIn

Name: Tatiana Rezende

What She Does: Tatiana Rezende is CFO of Nuvemshop, a Brazil-based e-commerce platform that leads the e-commerce industry in Latin America.

Key Quote: “The best advice that I can give for any leaders in general are two words, words that I realized in my personal and professional life the importance of…empathy and authenticity..”

Where to find Tatiana: LinkedIn

Name: Mark Nasiff

What He Does: Mark Nasiff is the CFO and COO at Lookout, a cloud-based security company deployed on over 200 million mobile devices. As a dual CFO and COO with a background in sales operations, Mark balances risk and reward through data analysis while underlining the importance of understanding the whole business in order to help shape company strategy.

Key Quote: “Apply the knowledge and the experience you have, understand your business, take some risk and keep learning.”

Where to find Mark: LinkedIn

Name: Francis Trudeau

What He Does: Francis Trudeau is the CFO at BrainBox AI, a tech scale-up fighting climate change by bringing artificial intelligence to the built environment, making buildings smarter and greener.

Key Quote: “Align the company interests with finance interests and be open to that. Your goal should be to propel those divisions and those internal clients and bring them value so that they go to you and they utilize you and they see that it’s fun to work with finance.”

Where to find Francis: LinkedIn

Top quotes:

“I think if I were going to a CFO cocktail party, which sounds like all kinds of fun, I would talk to folks about how have they chosen their positions? How have things evolved? What’s worked for you? What’s not worked for you? What have you learned? What are the mistakes you’ve made, that sort of thing.” — Tony Russo

“For me it was completely an eye opening exercise just to be away from my desk, away from the books, you know, the Excel sheets and just to be out there. Learning about the business, learning about all aspects of the business, I think is super, super important.” – Anup Singh

“Our working career is a very long time I’ve been working for 30 something years. I’ve done a lot of different roles in that time period. And I see people get very hung up on: What am I going to be doing next year? Or it’s really important to me that I now have this new job title, or I need this extra bit of salary right now…Whereas actually you need to build a career over time and ultimately do things that you find enjoyable and rewarding and not get too hung up on the precise status and everything else.” – Jim Buckle

“The importance of emotional intelligence. So continue to hone and develop that area. I’m sure all of them are super smart and qualified and they have all the chops to be great accountants and great CFOs. But if you want to be a great leader, I think having the EQ, having the emotional intelligence is really important.” – Anup Singh

40 Think Like an Adviser with David Harutian, VP of Finance @ Qualified

9 December 2021   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 40: Qualified | With David Harutian, VP of Finance

David Harutian started working at Qualified just after they secured their Series A financing, and helped close a $51M Series B in May of this year. His background as an adviser in investment banking and corporate development helped David contribute to the diligence process and puts him in a unique position to nurture investor relationships.

Like a lot of tech companies, Qualified hasn’t slowed down during the pandemic. Instead, David’s been there as they’ve tripled and quadrupled their growth. But as he’s forecasting for investors and the board, he emphasizes taking a conservative approach and making sure you’re analyzing the company’s potential while keeping in mind the macroeconomic environment. Heading into 2022, David foresees more growth for Qualified, and consolidation and marketing spend for the industry at large.

David structured the finance team with proximity to data as a top priority. He stresses investing in data and analytics, technology, and data scientists early on for a hypergrowth company so you are able to accurately forecast and drive insights. Part of this investment is hiring the right talent that will be able to transform the data to move the business forward. David underlines recruiting for an entrepreneurial mindset and seeks out future employees who are problem-solvers who want to work as part of a team towards common goals.

While David shares that he doesn’t see spreadsheets going away anytime soon, the technology his finance team looks to is best built on a strong foundation of understanding – which spreadsheets can help cultivate. Right now, the main focus at Qualified is spend management and ERP.

On this episode of The CFO Playbook, David Harutian, VP of Finance @ Qualified, talks about taking the leap from the advisory side to working in-house, shares lessons from Qualified’s latest financing round, and  discloses the technology his team has prioritized to help scale finance on pace with the business. 

Guest Analysis

Name: David Harutian

What he does: David Harutian is the VP of Finance at Qualified, a conversational sales and marketing platform. David brings his experiences as an adviser in investment banking and corporate development in-house leading the finance team of the hypergrowth tech startup.   

Key Quote:  “My biggest advice that I’ve always given to others is just make sure that your numbers are accurate and that you account for them in an industry standard way. Be more on the conservative side to leave room for upside.”         

Where to find David: LinkedIn

From David’s Playbook

Great finance team leaders think like an adviser 

In joining Qualified, David made the leap from working in an adviser role in investment banking and corporate development to working in-house on the finance team. In his advisory capacity, David didn’t get access to the day-to-day infrastructure of a company, so as VP of Finance at Qualified he has a higher impact on the business and its trajectory. That said, his advisory experience has been invaluable to financing rounds, developing relationships with investors, and understanding the market.

Choose investors who provide more than a high valuation

Qualified raised a Series B round in May 2021, buffeted by a favorable market for tech companies. David stresses that the most important aspect of the raise was ensuring that the investors would be willing to develop strategic partnerships with the leaders at Qualified. He says that when you find the right investor who understands your business, they’re able to give you the right valuation as well. And they will help steer the company in a favorable direction during the uncertainty of the pandemic.  

Invest in data and technology early, but make sure you build it on a solid foundation 

Before your company hits a hypergrowth stage, like Qualified has reached, David underlines that it’s imperative that you invest in operations so that everyone is communicating accurately and the data is flowing to the right locations. If not, you won’t be able to extract it and analyze it. He says that it’s a lot of investment upfront, but it’s worth it because you can rely on the insights and forecasts that come out of it.

Hire candidates with an entrepreneurial mindset

While David says that they make sure salaries are competitive when hiring, in the tech startup space, companies need to provide more to entice the right talent. When growing his finance team, David appeals to candidates with an entrepreneurial mindset who enjoy the challenge of working together to achieve a daring goal.

Episode Highlights

David’s 2022 market prediction for tech companies

“A lot of marketing spend, a lot of consolidation. Barring any macroeconomic conditions, the IPO’s will most likely continue, especially with the rise of new ways that you could IPO like using SPACs, et cetera. So, we’re keeping that macroeconomic world in mind to understand what our growth needs will be and how we’re going to hit our company goals.”

Organize your finance and ops team structure around data

“We try to have a centralized structure where anything that has to do with data is living within the finance and business operations team. Because…we are touching every department. We understand their specific nuanced operational needs. And we want to make sure that we have the right data that we’re collecting, not just from their department, but from other departments to  give them the proper holistic, strategic advice to hit their departmental targets.” 

How to get insights from investors on the board

“I think a lot of it comes from also asking the right questions. We don’t necessarily go in and say, ‘what should we do a week?’ Come in with multiple strategies or multiple scenarios, and we try to get their perspective because they’re so close to the market. They understand what has been working with other portfolio companies that they have invested in. So we are in a way also positioning our questions in a way to get the best answers that would really help us run our business.” 

Why invest in spend management software? 

“At a certain point within a company’s trajectory evolution, you begin looking at bottom line metrics like your cash flow and your spend efficiency, and [begin] to establish more what we call hard budgets versus soft budgets. We don’t want to restrict departments by giving them hard numbers right away because it’s less efficient at our stage, but we do want to begin introducing the concept of letting them know that we’re monitoring your spend.”

Advice for aspiring finance leaders

“What I found to be the most helpful is really get to know your executives, learn how to communicate in a concise manner, understand what the specific problem sets are and the targets are and try to solve them as it pertains to the unique situation of the company…There is a lot of advice out there and there are a lot of great case studies that should be read and understood of how some successful companies scaled and how other VPs and CFOs were able to assist in that scaling process, but ultimately there’s always unique nuances to every company. It’s much better to get in the habit of understanding how to solve a problem that is unique to the company, and be able to build on that skill set to understand exactly what needs to be done while using some of the extra case studies, and historical data as a backup.”

Top quotes:

“Being remote–obviously technology has really helped. Being able to do Zoom meetings and have a regular check-in cadence has certainly helped us out. We are investing more and planning more into team culture activities….what I try to do at least within my department is make sure that there is a regular cadence of meetings, and transparency. We want to make sure that everyone understands what they’re doing, how what they’re doing is helping the company and the organization. And I try to always have check-ins on conversations with my team about their personal career growth and where they’d like to see themselves grow in within the company as well.”

“Strategic partnerships with our investors was probably the most important aspect that we were going for rather than the highest valuation number. When you find the right investor who understands your business, they are able to also give you the right valuation as well. It kind of falls in place. For a growing company that is showing a tripling and quadrupling of historical performance and is forecasting tripling and quadrupling again, there is always the question of showing evidence for product market fit and then how to craft your go-to-market strategy in order to actually achieve that. And that is when really good key investors, strategic investors would be quite helpful.”

“What I’ve seen previously is that if you are going to market and shopping around a deal to investors and those numbers aren’t concrete and there isn’t enough proof behind it, or showing how you got your numbers, then investors sort of lose confidence a little in the quality of the rest of the numbers. So that is my biggest advice that I’ve always given to others as well, is just make sure that your numbers are accurate and that you account for them in an industry standard way. Be more on the conservative side to leave room for upside.”

“We’re very transparent in letting [candidates] know what problems we’re facing and how their effort would be able to assist us in achieving these solutions and get us to the next level of growth. And we find that when we’re recruiting at the tier one top universities for that kind of talent, there’s a lot of curiosity there and they do want to put their skills to use, to solve problems that have an impact versus in a zone where their scope of work is limited.”

39 Leveraging Real-Time Data with Christian Lee, CFO of Transfix

2 December 2021   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 39: Transfix | With Christian Lee, CFO

Christian Lee has had the unique position of CFO in two industries that have been particularly impacted by the pandemic: real estate and supply chain. Christian left WeWork in early 2021 for Transfix, a hypergrowth startup and leading freight marketplace connecting shippers to carriers. His proximity to these industries has underscored the need for CFOs to pay attention to the problems the pandemic has surfaced.

While 2022 is indeed a new year, Christian stresses that finance professionals shouldn’t overlook challenges in hopes of a ‘new normal.’ At Transfix, he’s taking a data-forward approach to solving the business problem of inefficiencies in the supply chain as well as leveraging automation on the finance side of the business. 

Christian emphasizes the importance of finance partnering with the data science team in order to best optimize and drive insights from the data gathered. He says the whole team should be on the same page by having equal access to real-time data, but it’s not enough to simply be in the know: you have to use it as a jumping off point for asking the right questions to move the business forward.

On this episode of The CFO Playbook, Christian talks about disrupting the supply chain industry in the midst of a pandemic, describes why automation is in his top three priorities for 2022, and underlines why Transfix places real-time data at the center of every decision they make.

Guest Analysis

Name: Christian Lee

What he does: Christian Lee is the CFO at Transfix, a leading freight marketplace connecting shippers to a national network of reliable carriers. Having worked at Time Warner Cable and WeWork in various capacities, one constant in his career in finance has been blending the physical with the technological to help solve human problems.

Key Quote:  “My own personal observation and sense is that the most dangerous thing is analyzing things for months at a time, because by the time you’ve made the decision, things have moved on and changed.”       

Where to find Christian: LinkedIn

From Christian’s Playbook

As the CFO of a hypergrowth company, prioritization is key

Having launched his career at a large, established company, Christian later transitioned to hypergrowth startups, where he learned firsthand the importance of prioritization. He stresses the need to distinguish between the “urgent versus the important.” It’s easy to get distracted by tasks at hand, but if you have a long term vision in place, you’ll be better able to redirect once inevitable fires are put out.  

Don’t underestimate the value of the physical when investing in technology

Christian has worked in telecommunications, real estate, and now transportation in his current role at Transfix. One constant has been the combination between physical goods and technology. While much of his energy is devoted to setting up systems and optimizing data, he says that you can’t overlook the human elements of a business that depends on tech. As much as automation is helpful, there will always be humans interpreting the data and depending on the services it provides.

Pay attention to the trends COVID highlighted

The past two years have both created problems for businesses to solve and also brought existing problems to the surface. Working in the transportation industry, Christian has faced new challenges as a CFO during COVID, but also saw it as a big opportunity to showcase to people that the way they’ve done supply chain for the last 40 years isn’t going to cut it going forward. The key is to be proactive and plan for a “new normal” versus hoping these trends will fade.

The best CFOs act, then course correct

While Christian emphasizes the need to set priorities in a startup, he equally flags the danger of over analyzing when making decisions. When your company is growing quickly and you take too long to act, the window for opportunity can pass you by. He recommends getting 60-70% of the information you need to make a decision. If it ends up being the wrong decision, change it later.

Episode Highlights

Don’t let analysis slow you down

“The most dangerous thing is analyzing things for months at a time because by the time you’ve made the decision, things have moved on and changed. Not to say that you shouldn’t be very thoughtful and deliberate, but sometimes the answer’s not going to be obvious and you probably won’t get an obvious answer until three to six months in, and by that point, it’s too late.

The importance of data hygiene

“Data hygiene is probably as important of an exercise that exists in the world right now as anything because we’re only going to get more and more data. There are only more sources and that’s great, but if you don’t have a very structured approach to data warehousing, to definitions, to all of these things, then it can be more confusing than it is helpful.” 

Why real-time data is just the starting point for problem solving

“It doesn’t solve any problems for you. It just makes the problems much easier to talk about and solve because you have a baseline there and then you apply all of the judgment and the ‘okay, what does this mean? Why are we seeing this?’ That’s what the dashboards can’t really tell you, and that’s what you need to spend the time on. And then what does that mean for investments and where the opportunities are?”

Finance should partner with the data science team

“You can start to run AB tests, see what works, what doesn’t, and you can really partner between data science, the operations team, and the finance team to say, ‘this is what we’re seeing.’ If we do this we think it’ll have this impact…partnering finance with operations, with the data science team, and then ultimately the engineering team of how to build it, is the most fun part of what I get to do every day.” 

Jump in feet first  

“I would tell anyone who’s looking for some sort of change and growth opportunity: that opportunity to go build something at a small company that was experiencing a lot of growth was invaluable in my career.”

Top quotes:

“​​COVID was, for any issue, an existential threat. But it also was a huge opportunity to showcase to people that the way you’ve done supply chain for the past 30, 40 years isn’t going to work in the future. You don’t really have transparency. There’s too much inefficiency. We don’t know where things are. We need better data, we need better analytics.”

“What we do is sit through and say, ‘where are the inefficiencies? What are the costs? What should we prioritize? And where are we putting dollars to go solve them?’ …That is what I really like to do is that sort of capital allocation, you know, where do we invest? What are the new businesses? Because there’s so many opportunities, but you’ve got to figure out which are the ones that are going to be most impactful and how you invest.”

“People talk a lot about the urgent versus the important. There’s some really important things you need to get done, but they can get sidetracked by stuff that’s less important, but it’s really urgent. And how do you set priorities? How do you align a group of stakeholders? ‘This is where we’re going. So this needs to be our roadmap and we’ll leave some time to deal with the urgent, critical stuff.’ But you know, it’s really about just understanding where we’re going and then what is there and what’s not there and what it takes to build. All those things, you can kind of deconstruct them down into a series of steps that have to get taken.” 

37 Balancing Speed and Discipline when Scaling with Tony Russo, CFO of Imply

18 November 2021   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 37: Imply | With Tony Russo, CFO

Tony Russo took the helm as CFO at Imply in August of 2020 after having been a CFO or dual COO/CFO at over 10 companies in the last 25 years. With multiple successful M&A transactions under his belt, Tony takes a measured and strategic approach to evaluating opportunities, whether with the goal of benefitting the companies he works for or in determining which challenges to take on as a CFO.

While assessing risk, upside, and diligence capabilities are all vital components of determining whether a new CFO opportunity is the right fit, Tony stresses the importance of making sure your values are aligned with the mission of the company and the executive team above all else. Believing in the company and getting along with your team go a long way in driving future success. For this reason, Tony also recommends prioritizing values and attitude when hiring for the finance team.  

Though the right team members are key, Tony prefers to keep finance lean as the company scales. One way he accomplishes this is by leaning on technology to make a team more efficient rather than increasing headcount. It’s a delicate balance and Tony believes a good CFO keeps an eye on operations to know when new technology isn’t enough to manage workload and drive insights. 

Another balance Tony strikes is between speed and discipline. For this reason, he doesn’t approve expenses without a plan in place and he shows restraint in focusing on three priorities a quarter. 

On this episode of The CFO Playbook, Tony shares why company values play a pivotal role in evaluating new opportunities, emphasizes the importance of finance staying lean, and describes why operational discipline is so critical for success.

Guest Analysis

Name: Tony Russo

What he does: Tony Russo is the CFO of Imply, a full stack, multi-cloud data platform pioneering ‘analytics-in-motion.’ With a successful track record scaling B2B SaaS and enterprise software companies through organic growth and acquisitions, Tony has a wealth of knowledge about evaluating opportunities as a CFO.

Key Quote:  “I basically won’t join a company, even if it could be a fantastic outcome, if I’m not aligned with the values. I’ve got to believe in the mission and the culture and the ethos.”        

Where to find Tony: LinkedIn

From Tony’s Playbook

Operational discipline is critical to success

Tony recognizes that discipline is a challenge at every company that is growing quickly. He stresses that as CFO, you have to be able to balance speed with discipline in order to maintain sustainable growth. One area that poor discipline comes up again and again is in spending. In fact, when Tony is evaluating whether a company is a fit for him, a lack of structure and a plan that backs up spending is a big red flag. 

Know when to leverage technology vs. raising headcount

When the finance department is overwhelmed, it can be tempting to solve the problem by increasing headcount. Tony favors a lean and nimble finance team as a business is scaling and emphasizes the importance of understanding what technologies are out there to apply to FP&A, accounting, and HR. The right technology means fewer spreadsheets and more headspace for critical thinking. Of course, it’s not always an either/or. As CFO, you should know when the timing is right to implement an automation solution or to increase headcount.

Value alignment is key

Whether Tony is evaluating a CFO opportunity at a new company or recruiting for his finance team, he underlines value alignment as the most important factor. As he says, “life is too short to work with people you don’t want to work with.” But it goes a step further still: believing in the mission, culture, and ethos of a company means you will do more meaningful work to help drive a successful outcome.  

A great CFO balances EQ and financial know-how

When you’re in the role of CFO, Tony says that you’re acting as a strategic advisor to the whole team. Which means that you’re in a position where you need to get along with a lot of different people in the company. At the same time, Tony says that you also have to have the discipline to hold the line and deliver hard messages. Because of that, your EQ is as important as your hard FP&A skills. Cultivating authentic relationships across teams helps build the foundation that enables towing the line when it’s time to think operationally.

Episode Highlights

Evaluate exit opportunities early

“When I come into a company, I always think about what’s it going to look like? Are we going to be ready to sell or IPO? So I try to start instrumenting things with that in mind from the beginning and develop a two to three-year plan to get there. And sometimes it happens sooner. but having that in mind is good.”

The CFO as strategic advisor

“The CFO role is interesting. And one of the things I like about it is very much a strategic advisor to the whole team. So because of that, you’re in this position where… you really do want to try to get along with everyone and work well with everyone. But at the same time, you have to deliver hard messages sometimes, and you got to hold the line and then you got to learn to resolve that.”

Align your priorities with the CEO

“The most important relationship for me is with the CEO. Basically we’ll work with her or him to figure out what should my priorities be, because there’s always too much to do. So prioritization is so important. Aligning with her or him on those priorities is a necessary first start to this to figure out where [I should] be spending my time.”

Back up expenses with a plan

“I just will flat out not approve…expenses or head count without a plan. If we’re thinking about expanding somewhere…one-offs don’t work. What’s the plan? You can tell if there’s discipline or not and what is encouraged or not, and how are they spending money, right? You can see that. And so that’s actually one of the more concrete ways for me to say, ‘yeah, this is probably not the right place for me to come in’ because I’m a big believer in discipline or structure.”

Share the right information with your board 

“It’s very important to understand the right level of information to give your board in board meetings…I was guilty of this too. You just want to give them everything right? The 20 page supplemental deck and all the statistics to evidence, ‘oh, I’ve got my act together.’ But what you really need to do is figure out is what they do want to see. And what I’ve seen work really well is a one page tear sheet of the most important metrics. So if they saw one slide, it’s this, and they got the idea of the financial state of the business, and then a couple of slides on operational stuff and your departments or what your priorities are current quarter and last.”

Top quotes:

“It’s good to find work for a good CFO, as opposed to get the title early by joining a really early stage company because you think you need to have the title. I would go work for a great CFO first as a person to learn from.”

“I tend to look at the opportunities along kind of a risk spectrum… So where is the risk in the business? Is it product market fit? Is it market size? Is it financing risk, capital? Is it execution risk? That’s the best kind of risk. Is it cultural risk?”

“When we’re recruiting,  we’re recruiting not only for. ability, but also for values and attitude.”

“I believe life is too short to work with people you don’t want to work with. And so we make sure that everybody on the team is aligned and sometimes you inherit folks that are, that are not and you can have conversations respectful in private and and see where it goes.”

“I think now it’s more and more incumbent upon us to understand what technologies out there that we can apply to, to, to FP&A, or accounting or HR. So it’s not just throw bodies, That’s the more costly way to do it. But I think… where I am right now is it’s probably a combination of the two. I think we need to hire some more folks right now, but then we also need to think about what software can we implement over the next 12 months that might help with raising our awareness without cranking so many spreadsheets.” 

“I think the key [in managing the diligence process] is making sure you have really, really good people around you and at the company that will do well in diligence, both their presenting, but also supporting us in finance, pulling together the information we need for diligence. So having a really great legal resource is key. Really great HR is key. Really great sales ops is key. You’re never going to have everything. The repository’s never going to be perfectly ready. Every request list is different, but if you’re 80% there or 70%, even then… getting it over the line If you have the right people and the right process can be time-consuming but less painful.”