CFO THOUGHT LEADER

Jack Sweeney

CFO THOUGHT LEADER brings you first hand accounts of CFOs who are driving change within their organizations. Our interviews capture their actions so that you can learn what might work for your organization. In addition to their company history we share the career journey of our spotlighted guest: What do they struggle with? How do they persevere? What makes them successful?

Start Here
836: Building Consensus to Go Real-Time | Anna King, CFO, Mesh Payments
Yesterday
836: Building Consensus to Go Real-Time | Anna King, CFO, Mesh Payments
Several years ago, when CFO Anna King first began to champion the benefits of real-time data, she recalls a sudden clamor around new customer activity afforded her the consensus-building moment for which she’d been waiting. At the time, King worked for Transactis, a payment processing company that she had first joined in 2011 as a controller. A year later, after having helped to raise the company’s Series C financing, she found herself being appointed CFO. “I was completely shocked—but I was grateful for the board’s confidence in me,” recollects King, who would occupy the CFO office until 2019, when Transactis was acquired by Mastercard. Along the way, King got to work alongside seasoned entrepreneurial CEO Joe Proto, who counted Transactis as his third start-up and had a “playbook” when it came to scaling a business. While King’s C-level appointment gave her new stature within the company, the move to leverage real-time data cross-functionally within the firm demanded something more. “Change management is typically very difficult,” comments King, who observes that frequently during her tenure she came to rely on the power of consensus-building. “I had to get the CTO on board because we needed some ‘dev’ resources—which are always hard to obtain—and I needed to convince our CRO that he would be better able to communicate his needs to management,” remarks King, who notes that the initial stages of the effort involved integrating data from the company’s operations, accounting systems, and sales pipeline. Says King: “We were able to see in real time how much revenue we had made on a given day or month-to- date, and by seeing the pipeline data, we were able to forecast what the rest of the month would look like.”   Still, the value of the data was not immediately apparent to each of the functional groups, and King would sometimes have to demonstrate how to put the data to work. Such was the case with the Transactis sales team, which had been amplifying a request for additional resources in response to reports of new customer activity. However, management had been somewhat reluctant to give approval, given that the reports remained more or less only anecdotal.  “We were able to show via new dashboards that there was new customer activity, which allowed them to get them the resources that they needed,” points out King, who adds that one functional area’s experience with real-time data soon led to its spread to other areas. Concludes King” “Change management is really about how you communicate and tell the story and build the consensus.” –Jack Sweeney
836: Building Consensus to Go Real-Time | Anna King, CFO, Mesh Payments
Yesterday
836: Building Consensus to Go Real-Time | Anna King, CFO, Mesh Payments
Several years ago, when CFO Anna King first began to champion the benefits of real-time data, she recalls a sudden clamor around new customer activity afforded her the consensus-building moment for which she’d been waiting. At the time, King worked for Transactis, a payment processing company that she had first joined in 2011 as a controller. A year later, after having helped to raise the company’s Series C financing, she found herself being appointed CFO. “I was completely shocked—but I was grateful for the board’s confidence in me,” recollects King, who would occupy the CFO office until 2019, when Transactis was acquired by Mastercard. Along the way, King got to work alongside seasoned entrepreneurial CEO Joe Proto, who counted Transactis as his third start-up and had a “playbook” when it came to scaling a business. While King’s C-level appointment gave her new stature within the company, the move to leverage real-time data cross-functionally within the firm demanded something more. “Change management is typically very difficult,” comments King, who observes that frequently during her tenure she came to rely on the power of consensus-building. “I had to get the CTO on board because we needed some ‘dev’ resources—which are always hard to obtain—and I needed to convince our CRO that he would be better able to communicate his needs to management,” remarks King, who notes that the initial stages of the effort involved integrating data from the company’s operations, accounting systems, and sales pipeline. Says King: “We were able to see in real time how much revenue we had made on a given day or month-to- date, and by seeing the pipeline data, we were able to forecast what the rest of the month would look like.”   Still, the value of the data was not immediately apparent to each of the functional groups, and King would sometimes have to demonstrate how to put the data to work. Such was the case with the Transactis sales team, which had been amplifying a request for additional resources in response to reports of new customer activity. However, management had been somewhat reluctant to give approval, given that the reports remained more or less only anecdotal.  “We were able to show via new dashboards that there was new customer activity, which allowed them to get them the resources that they needed,” points out King, who adds that one functional area’s experience with real-time data soon led to its spread to other areas. Concludes King” “Change management is really about how you communicate and tell the story and build the consensus.” –Jack Sweeney
835: Understanding Your Business | Andrew Gehrlein, CFO, Park Place Technologies
5d ago
835: Understanding Your Business | Andrew Gehrlein, CFO, Park Place Technologies
When Andrew Gehrlein is asked about experiences that prepared him for a finance leadership role, one week from his 25-year career climb quickly comes to mind.   Back in 2008, Gehrlein was a controller with ERICO International Corp., a manufacturer of specialized electrical components engineered to better foster a building’s safety. “Construction companies used us to ensure the safety and integrity of their buildings, and, as a result, we commanded premium margins in the manufacturing industry,” reports Gehrlein, who recalls that as the economic downturn began to grab headlines, he found himself sequestered in a conference room for at least a week with his CFO, poring over ERICO’s different budgets. “The overall lesson for me was that when you have the data and understand the business, you can then apply it to whatever situation may face you,” remarks Gehrlein, who notes that during the sequestered week, the company’s FP&A was deployed to execute and analyze alternative scenarios. “We ended up not having any layoffs within the business,” remembers Gehrlein, who adds that the experience also left him somewhat in awe of the depth of knowledge of the business that both the CFO and the CEO had brought to the analysis. While Gehrlein credits numbers and data with providing much of the strategic insight that he has gleaned during the course of his career, he underlines one particular piece of advice that his then-CEO personally delivered.   “He pulled me aside and said, ‘Andy, words matter!,’” comments Gehrlein, who says that the CEO told him that it was very important to be very specific when it came not only to choosing words but also to how the words were spoken.  According to Gerhlein, this leadership lesson applied to gatherings big and small in attendance as well as in importance. Says Gerhlein: “He would plot out exactly what message he wanted to deliver to the board and how to say it—and he would just always counsel us to in effect do the same thing.” –Jack Sweeney
834: Where Paths Converge and Leaders Emerge | Tracy Curley, CFO, iSpecimen, Inc.
Sep 18 2022
834: Where Paths Converge and Leaders Emerge | Tracy Curley, CFO, iSpecimen, Inc.
We are nearly at the end of our talk with CFO Tracy Curley when she mentions her two adult children. “I’m really blessed that they knew how important my career was to me when I was raising them,” remarks Curley, who recalls that during their younger years, it was not unusual for the children to find their mother in bed late at night answering emails on her laptop. Suddenly, the questions populating the margins of our handwritten notes no longer seem to nag at us. Why did she work for KPMG as long as she did (6 years)? Why did she move to Honolulu? Why did she not arrive in the CFO office sooner? Certainly, Curley is not the only finance leader and parent who has confessed to us a woeful email habit. However, she may be the first to allow us to witness the habit through the eyes of children.  With one stray comment, the career path that we’ve been discussing for 40 minutes comes more sharply into view. Like many of the women finance leaders with whom we’ve spoken, Curley has taken longer to reach the CFO office than our average CFO guest (21 years), and indeed her path has clearly been punctuated by more than her own professional priorities. During the early years of her career, Curley was married to a military officer—a match that she says placed her in a life where “the spouse followed along.”  At once, her stints with KPMG in Kansas City, Honolulu, and Boston make better sense to us. Still, it’s worth mentioning that marriage was not Curley’s only experience with the military. It turns out that she was among the third class of women admitted to the U.S. Military Academy and attended West Point from 1979 to 1981.  When she left West Point without graduating, she was not alone. The high attrition rate for West Point’s female cadets among its early classes—particularly their 3rd year—was alarmingly high. Besides the rigors of a military educational program, women cadets often faced the wrath of certain male cadets who wanted to see the women fail. “They now have more than 100 women who have graduated from Ranger School—to me, this is just phenomenal,” says Curley, referencing The Airborne and Ranger training program at Fort Benning, Georgia, known to be one of the most grueling courses in the Army.  As is the case with most women finance leaders, it’s not always what appears on their CFO resume that’s most important, but what doesn’t. Comments Curley: “My son decided to become a CPA and is now a partner at KPMG, and my daughter is now an elementary art teacher.” –Jack Sweeney
833: Keeping the House in Order | Aaron Hartwig, CFO, Edgewood Companies
Sep 14 2022
833: Keeping the House in Order | Aaron Hartwig, CFO, Edgewood Companies
Turn back the clock to the mid-1990s, and Aaron Hartwig is standing behind the front desk of a Las Vegas hotel, checking in guests and welcoming them to the always spirited city. “I always loved hospitality—I love the idea of having people come to your property to enjoy themselves,” reports Hartwig, who first landed in “guest services” as a recent college graduate with a degree in hotel administration. Still, at the time, he remained uncertain with regard to within which functional area in hospitality he should try to build his career. Then came word that MGM Grand Hotel & Casino was looking to hire a number of accountants—or, rather, a number of accounting interns. Hartwig signed on, envisioning that the program could lead to something more permanent with MGM’s accounting department—a notion that soon became a reality. “I did accounts receivable at $8.65 an hour, and from there I worked for a number of different people—some of whom became my mentors—which allowed me to learn and move forward in my career,” explains Hartwig, who notes that years later, one of his mentors recruited him to fill a controller role for a casino about to file for bankruptcy.   “To make a long story short, I trusted him and it became a tremendous learning experience for me,” remarks Hartwig, who adds that the casino’s turnaround involved having two audits by the Nevada Gaming Control Board within a single year.  “Typically, you have one gaming audit from the board every 2 to 3 years, but these were back-to-back and it was like we had to cram 3 years of work into one,” comments Hartwig, who found that his controllership tour of duty helped to validate his credentials for future CFO roles at some of Nevada’s flourishing small to midsize casinos. Says Hartwig: “I like the people aspect of hospitality, but the casino business is so fast-paced and dynamic that it makes the days that I spend here all the more special.” –Jack Sweeney
832: Achieving a Holistic View | Kate Bueker, CFO, HubSpot
Sep 11 2022
832: Achieving a Holistic View | Kate Bueker, CFO, HubSpot
When Kate Bueker first left the world of investment banking for a corporate finance role, she was ready to savor the fabled congruity that a business finance career often offers. “I felt that what would be more interesting and motivating to me would be more consistent,” recalls Bueker, who shortly after joining Akamai Technologies in 2007 became the first business finance executive to become “embedded” with the technology company’s network team. “At the time, Akamai’s cost of goods sold—which was mostly their network costs—was growing faster than revenue, so the CFO at the time asked me if I could like figure out what was going on, or ‘what was driving this,’” explains Bueker, who reports that she and her team quickly zeroed-in on the company’s spiraling co-location costs, the fees being paid to operate the physical facilities that housed the company’s network servers. “We worked together on an operational change that would basically rebuild the existing co-location facilities and free up capacity from within the space that we were already paying for—and it ended up that we did not add another dollar of co-location fees for the 2 years following this change,” comments Bueker, whose nine different future business partnering activities at Akamai ended up involving both the product engineering and go-to-market sides of the business. “What makes these different parts of the organization successful is a bit different—and the personalities and perspectives are a bit different—so the holistic view was something that became increasingly valuable to me,” remarks Bueker, who today assumes a similar vantage point when reflecting back on the personalities and perspectives that once populated her investment banking days. “As with many roles, over time mine transitioned to one that determined more by relationship management and sales,” observes Bueker, who notes that she came to realize that while she excelled at financial analysis and the negotiation aspects of being an investment banker, she was not always “a comfortable salesperson.” Says Bueker: “I think that the irony of the whole thing is that as you get more senior in your career, your success is more about partnering across the business and influencing people outside of your core area, which—when you step back and think about it—is really sales after all.” –Jack Sweeney
831: Building Your Credibility | Chuck Triano, CFO, Xalud Therapeutics
Sep 7 2022
831: Building Your Credibility | Chuck Triano, CFO, Xalud Therapeutics
Unlike many CFOs who tell us that their finance career paths did not intersect with the investor relations (IR) function until shortly before their arrival in the CFO office, Chuck Triano relates that his actually began inside the IR function. In fact, most of the experiences that he credits with shaping his finance leadership portfolio were gleaned during a multi-chapter IR leadership career. Still, Triano’s expansive IR resume is not unusual among life sciences CFOs, who say that high-calorie IR/communication skills have long distinguished the sector’s finance leadership.    For Triano, whose resume includes a 13-year IR leadership tour with Pfizer and 8 years with Forest Laboratories, the IR path provided an uncompromising view of CFO leadership—one that other members of the finance rank-and-file are unlikely to experience. According to Triano, it’s not unusual for IR executives to find themselves seated alongside their CFOs and at times actively assisting the finance leader as he or she seeks to achieve a discerning and influential narrative about the business. Along the way, Triano recalls, his powers of narrative storytelling were put to the test nowhere more than at Pfizer, where at one point he became responsible for “putting down on paper” the company’s 6- to 7-year plan. Providing investors with an extended view into the future can be a delicate task, but inside the world of pharmaceuticals—where drug patent expirations loom large—providing an over-the-horizon look for investors can be especially hazardous, admits Triano. Still, Triano realized that there was no turning back.   “We had to make the long-term picture clearer, so we needed to talk about these things and get out in front of them,” reports Triano, who notes that the experience became liberating for the business in a way. Looking back at the task of helping to create Pfizer’s long-term outlook, Triano says: “I began by thinking, ‘How do we weave a story out of this?,’” –Jack Sweeney
830: Riding the Technology Convergence Winds | Sandra Rowland, CFO, Xylem
Sep 6 2022
830: Riding the Technology Convergence Winds | Sandra Rowland, CFO, Xylem
When Samsung acquired Stamford, Connecticut-based Harman International for $8 billion in cash in 2017, it was not the first time that the South Korean company’s appetite for convergence IP had intersected with the career path of Harman CFO Sandra Rowland. A little more than 7 years earlier, Samsung executives had sat across the table from Rowland when she was head of corporate FP&A for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York. At the time, Kodak was busily negotiating IP licensing deals with several smartphone manufacturers, including Samsung, that were eager to leverage what Kodak had amassed—an inventory of more than 1,000 digital-imaging patents. “Kodak was the inventor of the digital camera, and there was a real opportunity there to leverage the intellectual property and create a key funding source,” reports Rowland, who left Kodak in 2012 after a Harman board member recommended her for a top IR role. She would enter Harman’s CFO office 2 years later. “There’s a high correlation between investor relations and company strategy, and at Harman the role involved the execution of M&A transactions as well as the corporate strategy,” comments Rowland, who adds that IR remained her primary focus for the first six months, after which point she took on a variety of corporate development activities. Not unlike the case during her years at Kodak, the winds of technology convergence were steadily blowing at Harman, a publicly held company specializing in designing and integrating in-vehicle technologies. Observes Rowland: “Whether it is automotive technologies or consumer technologies, there is a lot of convergence—and people want the same experience in their cars today that they have with smartphones at home.” Of course, Samsung’s $8 billion in cash afforded the electronics giant something more than Harman’s IP and technologies—it also acquired long-term relationships with most of the world’s largest automakers. “As part of the transaction, the Samsung’s team asked our key leaders to stay because they were new to the automotive space,” states Rowland, who as part of her agreement with Samsung remained as CFO of a newly formed Harman independent subsidiary for a period of 3 years.   It was less than 30 days beyond the expiration of her Samsung agreement that Rowland was named CFO of water technology company Xylem—thus opening a new CFO chapter for her with plenty of converging technologies to explore. Asked about parting from Samsung, Rowland admits, “I did want to go back and become a public company CFO once again.” –Jack Sweeney
829: All Aboard for Accelerated Learning | Jamie Britton, CFO, Texas Security Bank
Aug 31 2022
829: All Aboard for Accelerated Learning | Jamie Britton, CFO, Texas Security Bank
The expression “accelerated learning” has been used by a number of our recent CFO guests to distinguish periods within their careers when circumstances demanded a hastened pace of knowledge gain. For Jamie Britton, this period of time began when an economist at SunTrust Bank pulled him into a conference room and offered him a position on a newly formulated team being tasked with supporting the bank’s senior management in the midst of the economic downturn. “All eyes were on capital adequacy due to the massive losses that banks were having to recognize, and I had to come up to speed very quickly to learn how to calculate regulatory capital for the bank,” explains Britton, who was first hired by SunTrust in 2006 to help develop to a scenario analysis process for the bank’s operations. The new role, which Britton eagerly accepted, involved the creation of tools and metrics capable of serving senior management as it sought to maneuver away from the economic calamity. Recalls Britton: “We were charged with coming up with something that was fast, reliable, and reflective of all of the types of decisions that the board and senior management were having to make almost on an hour-by-hour basis.” Having added some luster to his risk credentials, Britton eventually joined Texas Capital Bank, where doors swung open to the finance executive as he introduced stress-testing processes to a number of functional areas. “When we did a good job in one area, we were then asked to partner with another area,” says Britton. “It was just a great way to learn the different parts of finance as well as the organization.” –Jack Sweeney
828: When Finance Talks to the Business | Claire Bramley, CFO, Teradata
Aug 28 2022
828: When Finance Talks to the Business | Claire Bramley, CFO, Teradata
From the very start of our talk with CFO Claire Bramley, she let us know that she has long been part of the bigger conversation represented by the everyday back-and-forth discourse that punctuates decision-making inside a business. “I’m always saying that If you can’t explain it to the business, if you can’t explain it to a customer, it doesn’t matter how great your insight or idea is—if they don’t get it and you can’t communicate it, then it’s wasted,” explains Bramley, whose June 2021 appointment as CFO of Teradata had been preceded by a 15-year multi-continental climb up Hewlett-Packard’s finance career ladder—an impressive stint that ended with Bramley serving as the tech giant’s global controller. Turn back the clock on her HP years, and we see Bramley being recruited as a technical accountant in the UK before shortly thereafter being dispatched to the FP&A trenches of HP’s EMEA headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.        “It was intense learning for me at the time, but it was really helpful because it immediately made me realize that you have to understand the business to add value,” comments Bramley, who let us know that it was during her early days in Geneva when she first started joining HP’s bigger discussion, where she quickly began to amplify the concerns and challenges facing HP’s EMEA’s country management. “I was pushing corporate, and I was pushing the worldwide team and, to be honest, I think that they were like, ‘This is really becoming quite annoying—who is this person?,'” recalls Bramley, who received a number of promotions before being transferred to the U.S. to oversee HP’s worldwide FP&A team from its Palo Alto, California, headquarters. “Suddenly, I was on the other side of the fence looking back from the corporate perspective, and I realized how there’s not just one way of looking at things,” says Bramley, who lets us know that her contribution to the bigger discussion broadened as she climbed into upper management. Before advancing into HP’s global controller role, Bramley would once more be stationed in Geneva, this time serving as EMEA’s head of finance—a role that required her to be regularly engaged with EMEA’s sales leaders. It was here, Bramley tells us, amidst the everyday back-and-forth with some of HP’s top sales professionals, where she really began to glean an insight that every finance executive should keep in mind as they join the broader discussion. She explains: “There were explanations as to why something wasn’t what we expected it to be, and I remember taking these at face value and not digging down to the next level of detail. About a month later, I came to realize the error of my ways, and the strategic lesson for me was to let the data tell the story.” –Jack Sweeney
827: The Leap Beyond Tax | Debbie Schleicher, CFO, EasyKnock
Aug 24 2022
827: The Leap Beyond Tax | Debbie Schleicher, CFO, EasyKnock
When Debbie Schleicher tells us that a football game between the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Clemson Tigers became her door-opener to the CFO office, we can’t help but want to listen. Back in 2014, she and her family were invited by a former client and serial CEO to one of the most anticipated games of the season. “Unfortunately, Georgia Tech beat Clemson 28 to 6,” remembers Schleicher, whose husband is a proud Clemson alum.    As the game unfolded, Schleicher recalls, her one-time client asked her if she would consider joining his start-up company as finance leader. “I was really surprised, and I remember taking a really long pause before saying anything,” comments Schleicher, who can still hear the question “Am I ready to be a CFO?” echoing through her head. “He looked at me, and said: ‘Is there anything about this role that you don’t think you can do?,’” explains Schleicher, who says that she immediately replied, “No.” To add more substance to her reply, Schleicher says, she subsequently began sharing some of the experiences from her past to add some luster to her CFO candidacy. Reports Schleicher: “The reason that I thought I was ready was that I knew that I had the technical ability. I had a track record of building teams and I had built service lines from the ground up, so I was confident that I could build a company.”    Looking back, Schleicher notes that besides the Clemson loss and the CFO job offer on the infamous “game day,” the outing can also be credited with putting in motion one other unexpected development: It seems that Georgia Tech gained a second win when some time later Schleicher’s  collegebound son opted to become a Yellow Jacket.  –Jack Sweeney
826: Along the CFO Continuum | Pat Dillon, CFO, Flock Freight
Aug 21 2022
826: Along the CFO Continuum | Pat Dillon, CFO, Flock Freight
When Flock Freight CFO Pat Dillon thinks back to his investment banking days at Morgan Stanley and considers the variety of CFOs from whom he once sat across, the banking veteran is struck by how at times the CFOs seem to have had little in common with one another. “What I saw was that their roles could be very different from one to the next,” explains Dillon, who notes that he came to view the CFO position as not one but many roles along a continuum across which that finance leaders migrate as their companies mature. “It wasn’t like a split, where this person was an accounting CFO and that person was a strategic CFO, but really more about the mix of responsibilities and where the CFO was allocating their time,” recalls Dillon, who observes that it was during conversations with CFOs that he would seek to make the finance leaders aware of where along the continuum they would need to begin allocating more of their time. Reports Dillon: “It’s no longer just about a good technology or about acquiring market share. You have to have predictable results. You have to understand that the role of the CFO and of the finance team is going to change and the requirements are only going to go up.“ Asked whether as a banker he had ever had to coax a finance leader to make finance team staff changes or beef up the company’s FP&A team, Dillon remarks: “I think that you have to tread lightly when it comes to making a particular staff recommendation. As an advisor, we have exposure to senior members of the finance team—but not enough to make a judgment regarding operations day to day.” Still, Dillon says, “You make very clear what kind of output and results the finance team is now going to have to produce as the company is evolving. Whereas it used to be just kind of providing information, you now have to hit your results.” Undoubtedly, every banking relationship has its own unique challenges, and certain finance leaders are better listeners than others. Comments Dillon: “The best relationships that I had as an investment banker were where I could talk about that evolution and say, “Hey, I can’t tell you how to run your organization, but I can help to preview where you’re going to start confronting a higher set of requirements and where you could experience pain points with investors if you don’t make certain changes.’” –Jack Sweeney
825: The Leader's Intent: Helping Others | Bona Allen, CFO, KBD Group
Aug 17 2022
825: The Leader's Intent: Helping Others | Bona Allen, CFO, KBD Group
Bona Allen was never a country doctor—but he recollects feeling like one at one point in his finance career. Or, rather, being paid like one.      By the early 2000s, Allen had served in multiple CFO/controller roles, a series of consecutive appointments that from time to time had led different Georgia business owners to seek out his financial advice.      These discussions—which frequently focused on raising debt—opened his eyes to opportunities in the realm of financial consulting. “Often, I’d be engaged to raise debt for specific deals—a couple of clients were in the renewable energy sector, and then there were other deals involving big equipment,” recalls Allen, who notes that it was not uncommon to have his consulting fees structured as a “success fee” or a fee contingent on the success of the deal. Still, the owner was always expected to pay a small fee up front to cover some expenses, explains Allen, whose portfolio of clients would geographically grow beyond the greater Atlanta metro region to frequently send him to the state’s outer reaches to meet clients. It was from one such client visit in northeast Georgia that Allen returned home with a couple of cartons of fresh eggs. “My wife was like, ‘So now you’re getting paid in eggs?,’” remembers Allen, who recounts the story when asked to identify experiences that have influenced his mind-set as a finance leader.  He observes that the experience of being face-to-face outside of a traditional business environment with people tackling debt and other business challenges left a lasting impression. Says Allen: “The lesson that I learned there was stay humble because it’s the chicken farmers and the manufacturers and the people who often don’t work in a high rise who keep this country going.”   It’s mind-set that certainly any country doctor would understand. –Jack Sweeney
824: An Appetite for Change | Rajesh Gupta, CFO, OakNorth Bank
Aug 14 2022
824: An Appetite for Change | Rajesh Gupta, CFO, OakNorth Bank
When Rajesh Gupta tells us that he likes change and fixing things that are broken, we can’t help but wonder how a finance career that has encompassed more than 20 years with General Electric has come to satisfy that appetite. Certainly, we reason, this number of years with a single company is more likely to accent the resume of a change-averse executive than that of someone who actively pursues it. However, as we quickly learn, Gupta’s GE years were spent across three continents, and 15 of them involved ever-acquisitive GE Capital. “Because GE Capital grew from a lot of different acquisitions, each of its new companies would in effect have its own culture—and rather than try to force their own culture on it, GE would instead introduce its leadership training and financial management approaches,” explains Gupta, whose career with GE began in India after he was first hired by a GE joint venture that was shortly thereafter acquired by GE Capital. “I was asked to join a leadership training program, which basically opened the door to opportunities through which I could take on different roles inside GE,” reports Gupta, whose vocational track quickly found traction inside GE’s M&A and commercial business partnering activities. From restructuring acquisitions to dealing with credit card operations, Gupta tells us, his appetite for change found a wealth of avenues to pursue. “I was heading down a path that I felt would someday allow me to become a general manager of a GE business unit—but then 2008 happened,” comments Gupta, who notes that the economic downturn of the late 2000s became something of a wakeup call. “When I looked at my CV, I saw that I had had a career that was difficult to explain to people and that I needed to make a choice rather than continue to straddle the general manager and finance worlds, so I decided to go down the finance track,” recalls Gupta, who in short order was named CFO of a bank owned by GE Capital in the Czech Republic. “I took hold of the position with both hands,” remembers Gupta, who years later doesn’t attempt to conceal the grave uncertainties of the time. Nonetheless, from that day forward—whether inside or outside of GE—Gupta has always had the CFO title preceding his name. Adds Gupta: “What became clear to me was that the outside world typically thinks about future roles based on the last role that you occupied.” –Jack Sweeney
823: Courtside with a CFO All-Star | Larry Angelilli, CFO, MoneyGram
Aug 10 2022
823: Courtside with a CFO All-Star | Larry Angelilli, CFO, MoneyGram
Looking back to the mid-1980s, Larry Angelilli knows now that he was at the time witnessing something that others would not see for decades. Before Jack Welch declared war on “green eyeshade” auditors or Indra Nooyi endowed Pepsico with a strategic finance function or conference promoters added the edgy words “The Changing Role of the CFO” to their event agendas, Angelilli was sitting courtside, observing the game-changing moves of Chrysler Corp. CFO Steve Miller. Angelilli—a banker then in his late 20s—had joined Chrysler Financial Corp. shortly after CFO Miller had arranged for loans from hundreds of banks under a government-insured loan program that would permit Chrysler to avoid bankruptcy—a feat that helped Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca to later achieve icon status. “At the time, Miller wanted to populate the finance team with bankers and people who knew credit risk and understood what could go wrong in the type of cyclical business that Chrysler was in,” explains Angelilli, who credits Miller with having had a survival instinct that enabled Chrysler to navigate the ups and downs of America’s auto manufacturing sector in the 1980s. Recalls Angelilli: “When Chrysler began to have trouble again, Miller became that pivotal person who had a strategy. It had everything to do with managing the balance sheet, generating liquidity, and picking winners and losers.”      In short, Angelilli describes Miller as “probably the best CFO in the United States” at that time. “I was a junior guy, working in M&A and asset-backed securities, but he showed us what was possible for the CFO role,” comments Angelilli, who notes that Miller was “totally plugged in to strategy and connected to the CEO.” Still, Angelilli says, Miller’s calm demeanor was what perhaps made him an exceptional CFO. “We’d be going through this epic change as a company and everyone would be nervous, and here was this incredibly calm person with a steady hand,” remarks Angelilli, who further compliments Miller as being “friendly and warm.” Says Angelilli: “If business were a democracy and you could vote for your CFO, Miller would have gotten 100 percent of the vote.” –Jack Sweeney
822: CFO Trifecta: Finance, Strategy & Leadership | Peter Walker CFO, Sterling
Aug 7 2022
822: CFO Trifecta: Finance, Strategy & Leadership | Peter Walker CFO, Sterling
When Peter Walker looks back on his career, he never hesitates to highlight “the big asks,” or those times when he asked a boss to “take a chance” on him. One such instance occurred when he asked his CEO to sponsor his studies as he pursued an executive MBA on nights and weekends at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “He said ‘Yes,’ and the degree really flipped my brain from being that of an accountant to that of a big picture finance partner,” comments Walker, who was working for Assurant, a provider of risk management products and services. Still, an even bigger “ask” followed—one that engendered a response that even today seems to surprise Walker. “It was only a couple of months later that I found myself on a plane to Atlanta, about to step into the CFO role at a $2 billion business unit,” explains Walker, who recalls that this divisional CFO role opened up shortly after he completed his MBA—which allowed him to make the pitch, “Hey, you made this investment in me—the company needs a good ROI off this, so why not put me in that CFO role?” Today, Walker doesn’t hesitate to characterize his leap upward at the company as a case of “right place, right time.” However, he points out that the promotion came 9 years into a 17-year tenure with Assurant—a hefty investment of career years that spanned such milestones as the company’s 2004 IPO, multiple acquisitions, and expansion overseas. Other promotions followed and in 2014 Walker was named Assurant's CFO, followed by a stint as chief strategy officer. “As I sat in the chief strategy officer role, I really missed finance, as I view the CFO role today as the trifecta of finance, strategy, and leadership,” remarks Walker, who notes that during his strategy chief stint he had become increasingly interested in the deal-making mechanics of the private equity realm, an area to which his career thus far had offered only limited exposure.    Comments Walker: “I had had a lot of M&A experience within a public organization, but I wanted a turn at being the CFO leading the sale of a PE-owned organization so that I could gain another set of experiences—which, as it has turned out, have proven critical to reaching where I sit today.”    Walker was recruited to lead the successful sale of Jackson Hewitt from H.I.G. Bayside Capital to Corsair Capital and in 2017 was named CFO of Jackson Hewitt, a firm in Corsair’s portfolio. “I specifically went after a private equity opportunity and was looking for something where the sponsor was going to want to sell in the next year or two,” explains Walker, who would remain as CFO of Jackson Hewitt for another year (post-transaction) before stepping into the CFO office at Sterling in 2019.   Looking back, no matter how many CFO tours of duty or transaction milestones he achieves, Walker seems resolute in believing that none of them could have been achieved if not for “the big asks.” –Jack Sweeney
821: When Leaders Want More | Michael Sumruld, CFO, Parker Wellbore
Aug 3 2022
821: When Leaders Want More | Michael Sumruld, CFO, Parker Wellbore
Michael Sumruld recalls that after investing 10 of his finance career–building years in oil field services giant Baker Hughes, he found a deep fog settling on the career path before him. Unlike the case with BH engineers—who could always be confident of being able to place a foot on the next rung of an ever-present career ladder—the climb upward for finance executives was becoming less and less visible. Or at least such was the case for any of BH’s finance rank-and-file who aspired to advance beyond the ranks of middle management. Rather than land a more senior finance position at another company, Sumruld set out to leverage some of what his 10-year BH investment had afforded him.   “In a decade’s time, I had developed relationships with different senior leaders, so I spent time with them and interviewed them to try to get a sense of what it would take to become CFO of Baker Hughes,” comments Sumruld, who adds that a research document highlighting his discussions with senior leaders later would later land on the desk of BH’s vice president of human resources. Part of what the document highlighted was the different experiences and knowledge sets that finance executives can gain when they are rotated into different positions. Says Sumruld: “We were able to put this in play—not formally, but informally—with a number of executives who were in my situation and had also become siloed as they had gone down a particular career path.” Along the way, Sumruld remembers, a number of his finance peers became mystified by career jumps that didn’t always align with their rank or tenure within the organization. “They’d say, ‘Mike, why are you exiting a finance VP role to become a director of IR?,’” recalls Sumuld, who notes that he views the director of IR role as a worthy prerequisite for any future CFO. Ultimately, Sumruld’s career with BH would end up spanning two decades, with his last 3 years spent as company treasurer—a position that the CFO granted after Sumruld expressed great interest in the role.   “He gave me a shot,” remarks Sumruld, who observes that the CFO was confident that if needed, his team had the bandwidth to support BH’s newbie treasurer.    “It’s uncomfortable to take on new roles,” reports Sumruld. “It’s not easy, but I think that this is what we need to do if we want to become leaders.” –Jack Sweeney
820: Establishing Milestones for the Stakeholder Ecosystem | Adam Swiecicki, CFO, Brex
Jul 27 2022
820: Establishing Milestones for the Stakeholder Ecosystem | Adam Swiecicki, CFO, Brex
As the 32-year-old CFO of Brex, Adam Swiecicki has a professional narrative unpopulated by the tales of economic and business hijinks that many of our CFO guests share. Instead, Swiecicki’s forward-looking delivery seems intent on making a clean break from the CFOs of the past, whose career lessons frequently have involved the same one or two finance constituencies.   “I just realized that there is a broad ecosystem of people whom Brex touches,” he observes, “and it’s really important that we keep all of them in mind.”    To Swiecicki, the phrase “stakeholder capitalism” has become much more than a buzzword du jour and indeed a guiding principle for the kickoff of his CFO career. Having entered the CFO office from stints with investment banks and hedge funds, he realized quickly that he needed to make a “big change” when it came to his management mindset.    “I had heard about stakeholder capitalism, but I hadn’t really given it much thought until I stepped into the CFO role,” comments Swiecicki, who shortly after assuming the role of finance chief found himself engaging with not only investors and board members but also customers and employees.   “Historically, there has always been a view that shareholders and stakeholders are not aligned, but what I have come to realize is that they are very aligned when it comes to maximizing value for them both together,” reports Swiecicki. Meanwhile, having spent more than a few hours over the past 9 months with company customers, Swiecicki seems intent on removing any doubt that such an alignment exists, particularly when it comes to serving Brex’s customers. “The question that we like to think about is ‘What is the value that we’re creating for our customer?’—and this is really not so much a finance metric as it is a goal that the whole company can rally around,” remarks Swiecicki, who notes that executives from product management, engineering, and operations can now share the common goal of finding new value for the customer. Once this value has been created, the ball is back in finance’s court, where the finance team must determine a pricing model hopefully appropriate to achieving an even better alignment of common goals. Says Swiecicki: “From a pricing perspective, we want to extract some of this value for ourselves but ultimately deliver a lot of ROI for the companies that are buying our software products.” –Jack Sweeney