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Episode 43: Designer Brands | With Jared Poff, EVP CFO

Back in 2015, Jared was being groomed as CFO at DSW and was 8 months into a 3-5 year program when there was an unexpected CEO change and the sitting CFO of Designer Brands decided to exit. All of a sudden, he was thrown into the role of CFO. It was a high pressure situation, but one which taught Jared many lessons that he’s carried forward to today.

It was the future CEO of Designer Brands who recruited Jared to work with him there, and Jared stresses how it’s key to nurture the CEO/CFO relationship. He says that it should be one of trust because it’s the foundation on which strategic decisions are made. And that’s been especially true in the past two years.

Retail has gone through big changes over the course of Jared’s career, from the financial crisis of 2008 to the global pandemic in 2020. Whether navigating the bumpy terrain of these challenges or jumping into the role of CFO, Jared underlines the importance of staying calm, being intentional, emphasizing communication, and taking ownership of all that your role entails.

On this episode of The CFO Playbook, Jared Poff, Executive Vice President & CFO at Designer Brands, talks about jumping into the CFO role unexpectedly early, how he navigated turbulence in the retail sector through the pandemic, and why he’s optimistic as we look ahead to 2022.

Guest Analysis

Name: Jared Poff

What he does: Jared is the EVP CFO at Designer Brands, one of North America’s largest designers, producers and retailers of footwear and accessories. Jared jumped into the role of CFO there in 2015 after an unexpected leadership change. To this day, he carries the lessons forward from that time with a spirit of flexibility, intentionality, and optimism. 

Key Quote:  “Approach your own career development, approach your own personal development with intent.”     

Where to find Jared: LinkedIn

From Jared’s Playbook

Always be ready to adapt

When Jared jumped into the role of CFO at Designer Brands the learning curve was steep, but he rose to the challenge. When reflecting on the supply chain issues and adaptation required in retail over the past two years due to the global pandemic, Jared carries forward the lessons he learned as a new CFO. Above all else, he underlines the importance of CFOs staying calm in turbulent times.

Nurture your relationship with the CEO

Jared stresses that the CFO/CEO relationship must be one of trust. Jared’s mentor, the previous CFO at Big Lots, told him it had to be “more than just your eight to five working relationship” and this advice has born out to be true. CFOs and CEOs need to rely on each other in order to keep the business on course. 

Cash is king in a crisis

Jared shares parallels he experienced between the 2008 financial crisis and covid’s current impact on retail businesses. In 2020, he saw the CFO cliché “cash is king” play out in real time as he made sure Designer Brands had enough cash on hand to manage payments. Jared calls cash “one thing that has stability that will be there if you need it.”  

Ownership and intentionality are key 

Whether in your professional or personal life, Jared highlights ownership and intentness as two important areas of development. He explains that no matter your role, you need to own every step of the process and also stay curious about other steps along the way that make up the bigger picture of the business. Throughout your career, Jared says that you shouldn’t let happenstance be what guides you: take control and do it with intentionality.

Episode Highlights

Emphasize communication in remote work

“The number one word, and I know it’s cliche, but I will say it is communication. We always try to improve communication. I’m sure at any organization, that’s always one area where everyone rates it as an opportunity, but the minute we decided we were sending everyone home, I stood up a daily meeting of the operating CFOs. And then I also stood a daily meeting of my direct reports, that never existed before.”

Know your priorities when managing cash

“If you need that inventory…to be able to generate some kind of revenue, then that’s someone who’s going to get a payment because that is absolutely critical. And they could find someone else who will pay them for it in cash and not have to take that credit risk, especially when they’re looking at your credit profile and saying you’re not the DSW customer that existed just six months ago…So it was all about prioritization.”

What jumping into the CFO role and leading through the pandemic have in common

“The biggest parallel is really about being calm. Even if you don’t have the answers, not displaying that you don’t have the answers or at least that, that you feel panicked. One of the things that CFOs have to be the presence of is a steady hand. You’re typically that steady hand for the business.”

Diversify your offerings

“I really think the most important thing is going to be: are you able to pivot and adapt to what the customer is demanding and how they’re wanting to interact with you? Companies…that are focused on one category are going to struggle.”

Top quotes:

“When it comes to being the CFO and even the CFO’s direct reports, but certainly the CFO and the CEO, it had to be more than just your, your eight to five working relationship. It had to be relationship of trust. It had to be one that ultimately was closer than a lot of your personal friendships because you do rely on each other.” 

“Approach your own career development, approach your own personal development with intent. It’s not just ‘take what comes your way,’ be intentional about it. Every single time I left a job, I was leaving for a very specific reason, usually with good a good relationship with the boss. I was leaving to say, this makes sense for what you’re trying to do. I get it. We don’t have that opportunity here. And this makes perfect sense. But it doesn’t come to you. Usually it doesn’t come to you on a platter. You’ve got to be very intentional about what you’re doing.”

“When the market is in turmoil and you feel you’ve got a position of strength, you go after market share and you double down on marketing and you double down on customer facing interactions.”

“As people are getting comfortable making those bigger bets and those bigger investments, you will see that supply start to come in to grab what is right now, an outsized profit in those areas.”