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With over 30 years of finance and operations experience, Mark Nasiff has seen the role of CFO evolve over time from one focused on financial reporting and analysis to one that’s not afraid to take strategic risks. As both CFO and COO of Lookout, Mark showcases the keen ability to step back and understand the business operations as a whole, as well as to prioritize digging into the data to drive meaningful insights.
According to Mark, data is at the core of all decision making done by the finance team at Lookout – whether it’s used to measure risk, acquired by speaking to members of the sales or engineering departments, or the catalyst for asking better questions.
For this reason, Mark is always seeking ways to leverage more data through automation. When assessing the need for a tool, he asks two simple questions: Will it help the finance team be more efficient? And, will automation help us understand the business better? In his experience, efficiencies open up room for critical thinking, which helps the finance team act as a strategic partner to the business.
Keeping open lines of communication across a company as large as Lookout is also key to building a well-rounded finance team. Mark shares a story from earlier in his career of taking his finance team to the production floor so they could get a tangible understanding of what they were reporting on. For a software company like Lookout, Mark encourages the finance team to ask the sales department to walk them through the technology and how the customer uses it.
Above all else, Mark views insatiable curiosity as a vital quality for any aspiring CFO. As he looks back at his own career, one of the constants is that he has never stopped learning. In doing so, he’s able to apply that cumulative knowledge to ask better questions and make data actionable.
On this episode of The CFO Playbook, Mark explains why finance should always be selling, emphasizes why CFOs today are expected to shape company strategy, and underlines the key roles of data in directing decision making.
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: “There are risks that you have to take at times, right? If you look at it just from a financial perspective, you’d say, ‘yeah, we shouldn’t do that.’ But if you think about the strategy that’s involved…there’s times where you’re going to make that decision to go after that reward.”
Where to find Mark: LinkedIn
Leverage data to get the hard truths as a CFO
When you’re in a C-Suite position, Mark says, people want to “sugarcoat things for you.” To get at the hard truths, Mark stresses leveraging data to hold folks accountable to what their goals were. If they don’t meet their goals, you have to dig in to understand what went wrong and create a plan for how to improve it going forward. On the flip side, Mark also turns to the data if goals are exceeded. In both instances, Mark uses data as a launch off point for asking strategic questions to determine where to go from there.
Don’t underestimate the sales side of the business
With a background in sales operations and finance, Mark states that finance professionals shouldn’t underestimate the value of both developing relationships with and becoming well-versed in the sales side of the company. Mark emphasizes that sales professionals hold intimate knowledge about the customer, which can help the finance team assess whether the best processes are in place to make sure you’re a customer-friendly organization. This kind of communication also helps finance better understand the value the company is providing through their product.
Take a two-pronged approach to automation
When Mark’s deciding whether to invest in automation for the finance team, he determines if it will help finance understand the business better and whether it will make the team more efficient. Mark is always looking for ways to gather more data in order to help fuel insights at Lookout. Automation unlocks both the information and the headspace to transform data into action.
Aspiring CFOs Must Cultivate Curiosity
Above all else, Mark says that a sense of curiosity is key on your path to CFO. While historically the CFO job was seen as crunching numbers, Mark encourages folks in the financial field to build relationships across the business, ask questions and truly understand the company you’re supporting. As you learn, apply the knowledge by taking calculated risks to move the business forward.
“Historically, CFOs have been the finance guy. I think as we’ve progressed, we are now more strategic. I think the reason why is that in order to really make those decisions that are going to impact the company, you have to understand the financial aspect of it, but you’ve also got to understand the strategic aspect of what you’re trying to do and balance those two.”
“As you look at everything you want to do from an operational perspective, whether it’s that you want to move to the cloud, build your own data center, invest in another engineering project…whether they want to build out your sales and marketing team a little faster, all of those things require both a financial view of the world, as well as how are we operationally going to get that done?”
“The finance team sits with the marketing team, sits with the sales team and the engineering team. And they’re part of that group…it’s a constant in a regular process. It’s just part of what you do. So you’re not playing catch-up, you’re part of that team. And being part of that team, you have that knowledge. So looking at numbers and analyzing them are much easier.”
“We’re learning constantly–analyzing, interpreting the data, learning, and making decisions to move forward. We have a small team [dedicated to that] because there is so much data…Information helps you run a business and so… you need many data points and you need to take data and make it actionable…that team helps you do that. And it’s very beneficial to the company.”
“Understanding the front lines–what happens in how a sales organization interacts with that customer–helps you think about how you change or design processes and procedures internally in order to make sure that you’re a customer friendly organization.”
“If you think about everyone, the different disciplines within the company, engineers aren’t finance people, salespeople aren’t finance people. We all think a little differently, which is why we do different jobs within the organization, but how do you make sure that you connect those dots so that you can ask the question…and have someone think about it differently than they normally would?”
“It’s easy to look at something from a spreadsheet and put a number on something, but understanding how businesses operate and run, and then applying the financial aspect to it helps.”
“A big piece of it is understanding the big picture and connecting the dots and holding people accountable to what the goals were. And staying focused on, ‘no, this was the goal.’ Why didn’t we get there? Let’s dig in and understand what went wrong and then what we can do to improve it as we go forward.”
“If you exceed a goal, that’s great too. Were we a little too conservative? What did we do right? And can we continue to grow at this rate? And what are the things we need to do? If the answer is yes, what are the things we need to do to make sure that the company, in all functions, is there to support that growth?”
“Every six months we sit and look at, ‘okay, what are the things that we’re spending more time on and are there tools out there that make sense for us?’ And that’s more from a work perspective, from productivity of the accounting and finance team. And then the tools gather more data on the business so that we can then interpret it and so we’ll do that as well. So there’s two pieces.”
“We constantly look at different types of technology to make the team more efficient… because the more efficient we are there, the better we are at analyzing data to help the company move forward.”
“To truly be a good CFO, you have to understand the business that you’re supporting. Be curious, go ask questions. Interact with the different functions within the organization to understand what they’re looking for and take some risk. Apply the knowledge and the experience you have. Understand your business, take some risk, and keep learning.”