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631: Explaining the Business Reason Behind the Number | Steven Springsteel, CFO, betterworks

CFO THOUGHT LEADER

Release Date: 09/06/2020

646:  Making Finance a Workforce Whetstone | Michelle McComb, CFO, Bluecore show art 646: Making Finance a Workforce Whetstone | Michelle McComb, CFO, Bluecore

CFO THOUGHT LEADER

Just as Michelle McComb was imagining that she would shortly be joining another Silicon Valley start-up as a finance leader, the CFO of Lucent Technologies helped to upend her plans. Back in the early 2000s, McComb’s first CFO tour of duty was coming to an end with the successful sale of her company to a larger, publicly held software firm. However, within a matter of months, the buyer was itself acquired by the giant telecommunications player, and Lucent’s CFO offered up a question to McComb: “What would it take to keep you?” The coveted query is one that career builders long to hear...

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645: The Investor Came Knocking  | Glenn Schiffman, CFO, IAC/InterActive show art 645: The Investor Came Knocking | Glenn Schiffman, CFO, IAC/InterActive

CFO THOUGHT LEADER

There’s little question that 2020 will long be remembered as a year of crisis for the casino industry. Commercial gaming revenues in the U.S. were down 79 percent during the second quarter when compared to Q2 2019, a fact that made IAC/Interactive’s August announcement that it was purchasing 12 percent of hospitality and gambling giant MGM all the more headline-grabbing. “We think we found a once-in-a-decade opportunity to find a meaningful position in an iconic brand,” explains IAC/InterActive CFO Glenn Schiffman, who says IAC’s balance sheet remains flush with cash (more than $3...

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SPECIAL EPISODE: Workplace Champions featuring CFOs Michelle McComb, Brian Whalen & Markus Harder show art SPECIAL EPISODE: Workplace Champions featuring CFOs Michelle McComb, Brian Whalen & Markus Harder

CFO THOUGHT LEADER

More keenly aware of the competitive price of employee burnout and workforce attrition — many midsize companies are today busy rethinking how they attract, hire and inspire employees. The Workplace Champions Podcast explores the innovative workforce practices of talent-minded business leaders tasked with opening a new chapter of growth for their midsize organizations.

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644: Thwarting COVID By Rethinking Opportunities | Mike Brower, CFO, Office Evolution show art 644: Thwarting COVID By Rethinking Opportunities | Mike Brower, CFO, Office Evolution

CFO THOUGHT LEADER

Back in the late 1980s, Mike Brower’s list of audit clients included a roster of oil and gas companies as well a local university and a number of different state and local government entities. It was the type of client list that any accountant based in and around Cheyenne, Wyoming, might covet, a fact made all the more undeniable by having Taco John’s International top the list. A restaurant franchisor with over 450 restaurants nationwide, Taco John’s first began serving local Cheyenne customers in the 1960s, before expanding rapidly across the Plains and upper Midwest as it outfitted...

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643: The Rise of People-Centric Finance  | Katie Rooney, CFO, Alight Solutions show art 643: The Rise of People-Centric Finance | Katie Rooney, CFO, Alight Solutions

CFO THOUGHT LEADER

Back in 2015, Katie Rooney was only 7 months into her first industry CFO role at Aon when her boss asked her to exit the office. “He came into my office on November 1 and said, ‘I’m retiring, and I want you to take on my role. I’m leaving in 8 weeks,’” recalls Rooney, who says that the news triggered a mix of surprise and fear, which she recalls outwardly expressing with the words “Oh, my God!” Her boss quickly sought to ease her concerns. “He said: ‘You know what? It will be the best thing for you. If I stick around, you will never get the credit from the team,” explains...

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642: The Virtues of Top Line Growth  | Sachin Patel, CFO, Apixio show art 642: The Virtues of Top Line Growth | Sachin Patel, CFO, Apixio

CFO THOUGHT LEADER

It’s not uncommon for career-building executives inside the finance realm to obtain an MBA in order to pivot their careers in a new direction. Such was the case for Sachin Patel, who after finding some early success as a systems engineer at IBM Corp. began to study the path before him more closely. “One of the things that you don’t very often get to do as an engineer is to articulate what you did by using the written word or even verbally. Just having this not be a feature of the job was something that began to be evident to me,” says Patel, who as the years passed found the laconic...

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641:  The IPO Playbook & Creating Opportunity for Others | Steve Cakebread, CFO, Yext show art 641: The IPO Playbook & Creating Opportunity for Others | Steve Cakebread, CFO, Yext

CFO THOUGHT LEADER

“It’s not cheap to go public,” concedes CFO Steve Cakebread, echoing the oft-repeated refrain that founders and CFOs confront when considering the prospect of selling shares in their companies to the public. Concessions aside, it will come as little surprise to Wall Street and private investors alike that Cakebread—a seasoned finance leader who has taken public such companies as Salesforce, Pandora, and his latest firm, Yext—has come not to bury IPOs, but to praise them.  And 2020 might be the year when founders and CEOs are prepared to listen.   Certainly, few of...

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640: Communicating Your Strategic Plan | James Samuels, CFO, EXUMA Biotech show art 640: Communicating Your Strategic Plan | James Samuels, CFO, EXUMA Biotech

CFO THOUGHT LEADER

Jamie Samuels still recalls some of the raised eyebrows that he saw after having completed in short order both the verbal and written portions of an exam that his future employer administered to job applicants. Not unlike most of his fellow applicants, Samuels had been invited to take the exam after responding to a newspaper advertisement, but, unlike his peers, he had been the only foreign applicant—or, more important, the only foreign applicant able to complete both portions of the exam in fluent Chinese. “At that time, my written Chinese was very good because I had only recently...

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639:  Thriving at the Deep End | Catherine Birkett, CFO, GoCardless show art 639: Thriving at the Deep End | Catherine Birkett, CFO, GoCardless

CFO THOUGHT LEADER

Back in the early 2000s, Catherine Birkett found herself being pulled into confidential meetings where her company’s senior management was discussing restructuring plans with the company’s largest investor. The company—a fiber optics telecom firm known as Interoute—was not yet 6 years old, but its days appeared to be numbered as the company sought to weather the telecom industry’s historic collapse.   As Interoute’s top FP&A executive, Birkett knew from the ongoing business plan’s numbers that massive changes were urgently needed, and she as well as others were not...

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638:  The Path to Being Cost Smart | Jim Gray, CFO, Ingredion show art 638: The Path to Being Cost Smart | Jim Gray, CFO, Ingredion

CFO THOUGHT LEADER

It's the type of business restructuring capable of striking envy in the hearts of many a company board member—and particularly those known to favor one oft-repeated bit of business wisdom: Never waste a recession. At food ingredient maker Ingredion, where the recession’s bite is directly linked to the eating habits of consumers, a 2-year-old restructuring strategy dubbed “Cost Smart” has begun to deliver on its cost savings promises. In fact, last month, the maker of sweeteners and starches announced plans to increase its Cost Smart run-rate savings target from $150M annually to...

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Back in the early 1990s, Steven Springsteel nabbed an interview for a CFO role with a high-flying tech start-up. At the time, he was controller for Apple’s worldwide manufacturing operations, but the buzz surrounding the brash start-up intrigued him, and the young but accomplished executive shortly found himself waiting to be interviewed by the firm’s CEO.

According to Springsteel, his interview aspirations quickly became somewhat tempered as he sat listening to a stream of expletives originating from the CEO’s office. 

Within minutes, the CEO’s door swung open and several long-faced engineers beat a hasty retreat, to be followed by a smiling and gracious Steve Jobs extending a hand to Springsteel.     

“I’ve heard a lot of great things about you! Can I get you something to drink? Are you hungry?” Springsteel remembers the legendary tech innovator saying before explaining the role that he had in mind for the CFO of NeXT, Inc.

Recalling the interview, Springsteel says that he felt that he had just met with “the nicest, most charismatic guy that you would ever meet in your life.”

Of course, Springsteel had reason to doubt first impressions, having for a number of years worked at Apple, where stories circulating about Jobs’s darker side were plentiful. What’s more, a book titled Steve Jobs & The NeXT Big Thing (Scribner, 1993) had only recently been published, and Springsteel had made a point of reading it prior to his interview.

According to Springsteel, the text relates the experience of an Apple employee who was hired by a very gracious Jobs only to experience his darker side a short time after joining the company.

Springsteel says that Jobs’s evil twin was only one of several issues that led him to look for CFO roles elsewhere. In the end, he says, “I just didn’t believe in the business model.” –Jack Sweeney

 

Springsteel: First, let me start off by saying that with every management role that I take there are four key operating principles that I run by, and I explain those to the team right upfront. The first operating principle is, never say no without giving options. It's very easy, particularly in G&A roles, when someone comes to you with a proposal to say, "Well, you can't do that. "Sorry, Jack. I know you want to spend that money or structure the deal that way. We just can't do that." But you're not adding value when you do that. But, if you can now have that conversation with Jack, understand what's the business result he's trying to achieve, work with him on developing options, now you're adding value. So the first principle that I sell is, never say no without giving options.

The second principle that I sell is, think in terms of the business. When someone comes and says, "Well, what happened that our expenses went up last quarter?" Let's say I have an answer of "Well, we had a large accrual for compensation." Well, that doesn't tell you anything. Give the business reason behind everything. Look behind the numbers to articulate the story of what happened that answers their question.

The next two are open communication. My staff, we're going 200 miles an hour, but everybody knows what the other people, the other groups within my organization, are always doing. That helps because then you can leverage. And then very often, somebody will hear something that sales is thinking about a promotion that affects maybe some other groups within my team that they didn't know about it, and so that open communication is key. Then the last thing is, no surprises. Bad news does not get better with age. Let's get it out upfront. We don't like surprises. Give me an early head's up on things, and if I have an early head's up, then I can help you. Or other people on the team can help you get past this, and all of a sudden, what was the negative we can turn into a positive. So, I start off with those four key operating principles.