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545: Get in Gear with ARR | Ken Stillwell, CFO, Pegasystems

CFO Thought Leader

Release Date: 11/03/2019

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The way Ken Stillwell tells it, his career as a CFO can be divided into two distinct worlds: the world before ARR and the world after ARR.

ARR, of course, is the acronymic identifier for the widely used SaaS metric known as annual recurring revenue. Stillwell prefers to put his own twist on the acronym by declaring its actual meaning to be annual recurring relationships—as in client relationships.

Says Stillwell: “Whatever metric you use to measure recurring relationships is really misunderstood in the marketplace until you start to track it.” What happens next has led many a finance leader to shout, “Where have you been all my life!”

Or so Stillwell might have us believe in light of his evident passion for the metric and the singular emphasis that he places on it when asked about the career chapter that he has opened as CFO of Pegasystems, a firm specializing in customer engagement solutions.

“Once CFOs track it and begin reporting it, its value becomes so obvious—not just the value of the metric, but also that of the relationship with the customer and of the different mind-set and shift that occurs when you are an ‘as a service’ company and of making customer success a key part of keeping that relationship,” says Stillwell, who began his finance career in Price Waterhouse’s audit advisory services practice, which he soon exited to become part of an early PW mergers and acquisitions group where he would become involved in various deal-making activities outside the US. It was this experience that Stillwell says helped to propel him into a number of consecutive CFO roles, including his latest CFO tour of duty at Pegasystems.

“The one thing that’s different about Pega from my earlier experiences as a CFO is that Pega is one of those rare examples where a company is growing both at an accelerated pace—by this, I mean that it’s growing faster than the market growth rate—and also at significant scale,” explains Stillwell, who adds that Pegasystems is quickly approaching $1 billion in annual revenue. “In my previous experience, the companies were typically slower-growing and focused more on operational excellence and how to maximize shareholder value when growing in the single digits. Pega is an interesting mix of both growth and scale.” –Jack Sweeney

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