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574: The Age of the Real-Time CFO | Mike Ellis, CFO, Flywire

CFO Thought Leader

Release Date: 02/23/2020

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Knowing that Mike Ellis has been the CFO of several growth companies, we can’t help but ask him about his tour of duty at the Massachusetts Port Authority, where the experienced finance executive served as controller from 2006 to 2009.

Although the Port Authority is not exactly the type of employer that you would expect to find on the resume of an accomplished “growth CFO,” Ellis is more than happy to answer our question.

“The Port Authority was not tax-funded—it was a bona-fide business with multiple revenue streams generating profits,” he explains, while characterizing the government agency as a $600 million business that contributes enormous value to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“I had never worked for a not-for-profit from the inside, but what made me excited about the Port Authority was the sheer size of it,” says Ellis, who during his tenure as controller would sign off on the accounting operations of three airports and a patchwork of revenue streams across Boston’s sprawling seaport.

Looking back, Ellis says that up until the Port Authority, his senior finance leadership roles had permitted him to make decisions on his own, whereas inside the Port Authority—as in any large enterprise businesses—decision-making had to be more collaborative.

“I had 40 people reporting to me at the Port Authority, and whether you are public or private or a not-for-profit business, decision-making has to be more collaborative,” Ellis explains. “It was awkward at first, but in the end, being able to achieve collaboration and innovation as a group versus having to just make the call myself made me a better CFO,” says Ellis, whose Port Authority career appears to have been well timed when you consider that it roughly coincided with the beginning of the CFO role’s ongoing march toward requiring more overtly cross-functional leadership and regular collaboration with other functional groups and leaders. –Jack Sweeney

 

CFOTL: Tell us about the history of the company's capital structure?
Ellis: I started with Flywire four years ago. We were basically a series C business at the time, basically a break-even business, so we really didn't need any additional capital. We have raised our series D, which came in approximately 18 months ago and was about a $100 million round. We've raised roughly $140 million for the business over the course of its nine-year history, and we still have plenty of it left. We've done a really good job of being efficient with our capital structure as well as making sure that the business model itself works appropriately and is efficient across all of its different tailored offerings to its customers. We're able to show that we're basically a moderately break-even business with respect to the business data analytics. We get real-time data on an hour-by-hour basis, essentially, so I'm able to understand our revenue and our transaction counts well by different verticals, by different geographic locations, by size, and by everything else across our different verticals. That's really robust, and there are no issues there.

With respect to the financial investments, this really came down to the ability to close more quickly in order to get information out to the business leaders in a more timely fashion. This is really what the investment has done historically, enabling us to be really strong and robust on the business operations side and have the business at our fingertips on a real-time basis as to our clients so that the business leaders have the same view into that information. It took some time to kind of get that financial information and be able to close more rapidly. We have a different program within the organization, our business operations team, which basically--with the help of the data architects--really augments and creates the analytical function as it relates to what we're seeing in the data. This is a shared services model, with multiple people working together collaboratively to be able to share with the executives what's really happening in our business, and we can cut this up in multiple ways.