CFO THOUGHT LEADER is a podcast featuring firsthand accounts of finance leaders who are driving change within their organizations.
We share the career journey of our spotlighted CFO guest: What do they struggle with? How do they persevere? What makes them successful CFOs? CFO THOUGHT LEADER is all about inspiring finance professionals to take a leadership leap. We know that by hearing about the successes — (and yes, also the failures) — of others, today’s CFOs can more confidently chart their own leadership paths across the enterprise and take inspired action.
870: Amped Up at the Deep End | John McCauley, CFO, Calendly
John McCauley is the first finance leader to tell us that his path to the CFO office began in a pool.
Back in high school, McCauley relates, he was a rebellious student with less than impressive grades when a stubborn and no-excuses-allowed water polo coach knocked him from his wayward track.
According to McCauley, the coach’s philosophy was rooted not so much in winning or losing but in whether the team had done everything in its power to succeed.
Recalls McCauley: “This meant 4:30 a.m. practices before school began and 3-hour practices after class, 300 days a year—and if you were sick, you were allowed to skip practice, but you still had to sit on the pool deck and watch.”
These experiences wed McCauley to a lifetime mantra that has forever filled his tank with the power of preparation.
McCauley’s next pivotal career moment arrived a decade deep into his finance career, when he joined one-time start-up ServiceNow in 2011—the same year that saw the dynamic tech duo of Frank Slootman and Michael Scarpelli take up residence as CEO and CFO, respectively, in the ServiceNow C-suite.
“I found my people,” comments McCauley, who notes that the two business leaders ultimately provided him and others with a “new framework” within which to advance and complete their work.
“It’s all about not simply just raising a problem when you see it, but going ahead and fixing it,” explains McCauley, who adds that fixing problems had always been a natural inclination for him, despite the fact that a string of earlier experiences at different companies hadn’t always supported this approach.
In light of his high regard for ServiceNow’s veteran leadership team, it’s perhaps no surprise that when asked for a book selection, McCauley recommends Amp It Up, Slootman’s 2022 text that argues that the best way for leaders to improve company performance is to raise expectations.
Slootman and a certain high school coach have something in common.
Says McCauley: “At the last four Olympics, there’s been someone from my high school on our team.” –Jack Sweeney
869: Sharpening the Customer Focus | Ravi Narula, CFO, FinancialForce
Looking back, CFO Ravi Narula tells us that he wishes that he had become a “servant leader” sooner, as he references the familiar leadership tag signaling a mind-set focused on serving others.
“If you asked me 15 years ago, ‘Do you have a servant leader mind-set?,’ unfortunately, I would have said ‘No,’” comments Narula, who credits a graduate executive program at Stanford University for helping to raise his acumen when it comes to the role that servant leaders can play in successful businesses.
“I began thinking more broadly as a CFO and seeing servant leadership and company culture as being foundational to the success of firms, as well as to my own future success as a CFO,” remarks Narula, who—in addition to servant leadership—identifies the customer-probing Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a primary contributor to the culture of his current company, FinancialForce.
Asked if FinancialForce’s NPS rating is the most widely known measure across the company’s workforce, Narula tells us that he believes that 80 to 90 percent of the company’s roughly 1,000 employees likely know the company’s current scores, whether by geography, industry, or customer segment.
To support his claim, Narula reports: “At our townhall meeting this morning, 20 of the 60 minutes were devoted to the Net Promoter Score.”
Still, like many tech companies, FinancialForce has a work environment that has evolved in recent years to accommodate more remote workers through a hybrid model that has at times put management practices as well as servant leadership goals to the test.
According to Narula, it’s now up to leaders to extend their reach in order to connect more often to capture the insight required to help an employee succeed.
868: Armed and Sheltered From the Storm | Tom Fennimore, CFO, Luminar Technologies
The Goldman Sachs “anti-raid” team was between conference calls with an embattled client company when word came that a senior member of the target company’s management team had unexpectedly died.
Looking back, Tom Fennimore says that the next few months of his early career years at Goldman then became a transition point—or period of accelerated learning.
“It was a very sad situation—they were in the process of being raided,” explains Fennimore, who lists the anti-raid transaction as one of two times when Goldman ultimately offered Fennimore an opportunity to “step up.”
The second example came after the resignation of a managing director responsible for the bank’s automotive sector.
“I got a battlefield promotion when they said, ‘Hey, we want you to do this, and—depending how you do—we may not replace you,” recalls Fennimore, who notes that while he savored the opportunity and enjoyed success in the role, certain parts of it had little to do with his skillset.
“I have a little bit of a baby face,” points out Fennimore, who also comments that members of management teams within the automotive sector were known to value seniority and often had lengthy tenures of multiple decades themselves.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Fennimore remembers one bit of related post–board meeting feedback with a little bite: “’Hey, look, you did a great job,’ they told me,” he reports. “‘The board loved you, but they did have one comment: This guy’s too young. They would feel a little more comfortable with somebody with a little more gray hair in the room.’”
As for the embattled client company that had unexpectedly lost a key member of management, Fennimore’s youthful appearance turned out to not be enough to deter an invitation for him to fill the company’s sudden management void by relocating to Toronto for a number of months.
“The person who passed away was in the middle of the transaction, so it reflected in a good way on me that the client had enough faith in me to have me go up there to live and help them to get things done,” explains Fennimore, who more than 20 years later is not yet sporting any gray hair.
In conclusion, he adds: “It’s great to be given a lot of responsibility at a young age, but there will be some unique challenges. You try not to take things personally and to just move on.” –Jack Sweeney
Why FP&A Designs the Questions - A Planning Aces Episode
It’s no secret, professionals from various departments must work together to correctly calculate Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), Customer acquisition cost (CAC) or Lead-to-customer ratios. This episode we explore how collaboration and communication is always essential to ensure these calculations and others take into account all relevant factors.
This episode features the FP&A insights and commentary of CFO Thomas Fennimore of Luminar Technologies, CFO Jared Poff of Designer Brands, and CFO John McCauley of Calendly.
About our Guest Host: Soufyan Hamid
FP&A troubleshooter Soufyan Hamid helps finance teams primarily in two ways:
First, he works as an FP&A project leader or team member on mid to long term assignments
Second, he helps finance professionals take their presentation skills to the next level
Visit Soufyan's website or connect with Soufyan via his LinkedIn page
867: Energizing Your Data Relations | Donald Alvarez, CFO, Cyngn
Back in 1993, Don Alvarez was an auditor with Deloitte’s San Francisco office when specialty retailer and coveted client company West Marine went public.
For Alvarez, the day began with WM’s management explicating the novel steps behind pricing its offering, which was followed by the requisite trip to a Bay Area printer.
The long day turned into a long night, so there was little hesitation on Alvarez’s part when West Marine’s CFO offered him a lift back to the accounting house’s office.
Still, the night would turn out to have even more to offer the young auditor. Alvarez remembers that as they were arriving in downtown San Francisco at about 2:00 a.m., WM’s CFO suddenly pulled his car over to the curb and turned to him.
Recalls Alvarez: “He looked at me and said, ‘I am now the CFO of a public company and I have no talent in my organization with public company experience—will you come and work for me?’”
Looking back, Alvarez reports that he did not hesitate to issue a “yes” right on the spot, which was a welcome reply that put in motion a formal job offer that allowed him to land inside the retailer’s controller office in the following January.
Of course, the retail landscape was about to be altered as Amazon (established in 1994) and other shopping destinations began to appear online.
“I heard Amazon coming, loud and clear,” notes Alvarez, who would exit WM in 2007 to step into the CFO office at a dotcom retailer known as FatBrain.com.
“We were selling technical reference books on the Internet, whereas Amazon was selling all books,” remarks Alvarez, who adds that he was only 32 when he became FatBrain.com’s 30th employee hire.
“We were told that we would be taking the company public in 18 months, and instead we took it public in about nine,” comments Alvarez, who still marvels at the notion of an economy where capital seemed to be available around every corner.
Says Alvarez: “I remember being chastised by a venture capitalist because I was too prudent with money—he gave me a lecture on how these were unprecedented times and all that we needed to do is spend, spend, spend.” –Jack Sweeney
866: Metrics for the Masses | Jeremy Klaperman, CFO, Rho
Not unlike many of his CFO peers, Jeremy Klaperman spent the early years of his finance career in trying to rectify the damage brought on by the irrational market behaviors of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Unlike most, though, he found that his repair duties frequently involved visits to a remote Japanese fishing village.
“A lot of the work in investment banking during that 2001 to 2003 time frame involved picking up the pieces of all of these different failed businesses,” recalls Klaperman, who shortly after joining Goldman Sachs as an analyst in 2001 was bequeathed a lengthy “to do” list related to the 2002 bankruptcy of telecom giant Global Crossing.
As Internet traffic projections in the late 1990s had continued to spike, Global Crossing’s undersea cable business had helped to boost the firm’s value to $47 billion by 1999. Still, the business had never had a profitable year, and as headwinds from the dotcom bust bore down, staggering losses and an accounting scandal followed.
For Klaperman, the “cleanup” began wherever the undersea cable ended.
“I found myself trying to sell this subsea cable station built in the middle of a remote Japanese fishing village,” reports Klaperman, who was tasked with completing the due diligence behind Goldman Sachs’s efforts to sell portions of the undersea cable itself or giant substations or both.
“It then became apparent to me how bad business decisions can be made when you overextrapolate the current environment or don’t appreciate the cycle,” observes Klaperman, who adds that his days of working with the fishing village in mind enabled him to better appreciate the stiff price of “overextrapolation” as well as the nuances of the local economy.
Remarks Klaperman: "If you like uni or sushi that village was the sea urchin capital of Japan.”