300 episodes

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.

CFO Thought Leader Middle Market Executive

    • Careers

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.

    636: Being Part of the Team | Marsha Smith, CFO, Siemens, USA

    636: Being Part of the Team | Marsha Smith, CFO, Siemens, USA

    Members of Siemens USA’s finance team would probably not be surprised to learn that when their CFO, Marsha Smith, is asked to reveal the experiences that prepared her for a finance leadership role, the ones that she relates most often originate from being part of a team.
    Such was the case in 2004, when she had been assigned to a Siemens joint venture as a commercial project manager.
    “I’ll never forget: It was my first week on the job, and the project manager came up to me and said, ‘Hey, Marsha, we need to ask for a change order on this one, so write a letter to the customer,’” comments Smith, who recalls thinking at the time: “I know how to use spreadsheets, I perform calculations—but I don’t know how to word this letter.”  
    Later, Smith says, she reached out for guidance from the technical team, followed by the legal team, before sitting down and writing a letter to the customer. Very often, the customer relationship would involve multiple partners and payment schemes, she explains.
    “This was the beginning of my external-facing experience,” comments Smith, who at different times during her career has found herself seated at conference tables flanked by dozens of customer executives and their attorneys.
    Says Smith: “I’ll never forget when at a certain meeting I asked a question and one of the managers asked: ‘And who are you?’”   
    From her early customer-facing experiences on forward, Smith’s business mind-set has become largely influenced by teams.   
    “Everybody has to work together because everybody has a piece of the puzzle and we must make sure that we’re collectively doing the right thing for the customer,” says Smith, who believes that teams can also help to bring clarity to each individual’s contribution. “You see who goes the extra mile,” she says. –Jack Sweeney
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    • 51 min
    635: Finding Your Finance Team's North Star | Markus Harder, CFO, Contentful

    635: Finding Your Finance Team's North Star | Markus Harder, CFO, Contentful

    The Berlin headquarters of software developer Contentful occupies an old brick warehouse with heavy metal doors and broad functional corridors and spaces native to its industrial past.
    Standing six stories high, the structure once accommodated its worker population with a miniature kitchen on every floor, a favorite employee perk perhaps first introduced by a coffee-loving tenant.   
    Still, not everyone at Contentful loves coffee—or at least its CFO, Markus Harder, doesn’t.
    “My secret is that I hate coffee—I just don’t like it,” says Harder, who shortly after his arrival at the firm put in motion a mandate to remove the small kitchens.
    “It was arguably one of my biggest career gambles,” says Harder, as he captures our attention and leads us to wonder why a finance leader would make a point of championing such a seemingly misguided decree.
    Of course, Harder’s actions are only Part I of a two-part tale. The second part involves the creation of what he dubs “a central watering hole” complete with a coffee machine worthy of Berlin’s trendiest “third-wave” coffee shops.
    “With all of these floors and their little coffee machines, we were never seeing each other—we never talked to each other,” explains Harder, who reports that Contentful hired a champion barista for a 2-week period to teach every employee how to properly use the new machine to render an excellent coffee.
    Says Harder: “Whatever you want to drink—a coffee, a latte, an espresso—you’ll find that there’s always somebody there who has been to the training or someone in line who is ready to train somebody else.”
    According to Harder, skeptics of the original mandate have largely been won over, but outsiders still find the coffee-making arrangement hard to imagine.
    “Three hundred people, just one coffee machine—how does that work?” asks Harder, echoing the thoughts of coffee drinkers beyond Contentful’s four walls.
    “Well, actually, it works. And it’s about the line. It’s a social experience, and one that I celebrate each morning,” remarks Harder, who says that on any given morning he’ll spend a minimum of an hour at the café.
    Says Harder: “We’re all in the open. I’m available. Ask me something.” –Jack Sweeney
     
    Harder: We're in the fortunate, but also tricky situation that historically we've doubled or more than doubled revenue over basically every year of our history. And that brings challenges toward pipeline generation. Because if you want to double the revenue again, you need to have a massively bigger pipeline. So we are doing more with existing customers. Our existing customers have certain requirements that today we can't fulfill. So how do we get them to be successful in all those things they want to do? We have just relaunched our partner program.  So oftentimes Contentful gets implemented through a large partner who is either specialized in building web presences, or building workflows for the customer without touching any internal user interfaces and so forth. So you can think of the Accenture's and Capgemini's of this world, or Razorfish or ... There are certain marketing agencies that use Contentful.
    So you were trying to work more with partners, enable them to be more educated with how to best implement Contentful. We're investing a lot in enablement and training and coaching. So the learning materials about Contentful are out there are heavily downloaded. We have a Contentful certification. So if you are a developer, you can actually graduate with a Contentful diploma. And we try to be industry agnostic, such that our solution really works for a broad variety of customers though. Yeah. So I continue to invest in the team. I continue to invest in automation and systems. I'm actually accelerating hiring at this point and I'm getting Contentful ready for being a public c

    • 48 min
    634: Milestones for M&A Success | Steve Young, CFO, Duke Energy

    634: Milestones for M&A Success | Steve Young, CFO, Duke Energy

    It was a little over 40 years ago when Steve Young first joined what would become Duke Energy, the giant electric power holding company headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina.
    “Not only has it been a long tenure, but also it is the only post-college job that I’ve ever had,” says Young, who first roamed the energy giant’s corridors as a finance assistant.
    In the years that followed, Young says, he became involved in various finance-related projects as different executives sought him out because he had become recognized as a hard worker. One such senior executive, who sat inside Duke’s rates and regulatory affairs realm, approached Young about a staff position in the department.
    “It was a smaller group and outside of finance, but from what I could see, the group intersected with the lifeblood of the company’s profitability and revenue streams and pricing,” explains Young, who accepted the position and in short order acquired the regulatory executive as a dedicated mentor.
    Says Young: “This person was a tough, hardnosed executive who had a reputation for being that way.”
    Years later, when the executive retired, Young advanced to his mentor’s position, a promotion that firmly planted him inside Duke’s executive ranks.
    Along the way, Young’s regulatory focus and experience afforded him a keen sense of how the changing legal landscape would alter the industry in the years ahead.
    “I was pulled into that process,” recalls Young, who says that back in the mid-1990s, he enjoyed a ringside seat as Duke pursued and acquired one of its early M&A targets, PanEnergy.
    “Mergers were rare in the utility industry back then, and certain laws had to be repealed—they were, and other mergers have since occurred,” explains Young, who in the decades that followed influenced and championed a string of transactions that would reshape Duke’s business over time.
    “I found it a fascinating challenge to pull the pieces apart, put the new pieces back together, and come up with a cohesive business plan that was understandable to the SEC, regulators, and shareholders,” remarks Young, who would find himself at the center of Duke’s M&A activities in the mid-2000s, a period during which Duke sold off its international and merchant businesses and merged with energy company Cinergy of Cincinnati, OH.
    “All of this happened within 2 years,” says Young, who advanced into a number of organizational CFO roles during that period and was named senior vice president and controller for Duke Energy in 2006. He would be named CFO and executive vice president in 2013, following the energy company’s 2012 merger with Progress Energy—yet one more transaction along Young’s career path. – Jack Sweeney
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    • 49 min
    633: Marching to Fintech's New Beat | Matt Briers, CFO, TransferWise

    633: Marching to Fintech's New Beat | Matt Briers, CFO, TransferWise

    Among the more transformative chapters of Matt Briers’s finance career was his 3-year stint monitoring and forecasting margin performance inside Google’s UK operations.
    “The core role was really to understand what was happening in the organization from a revenue and margin performance perspective and then help to operate the organization so that it could better drive that revenue,” explains Briers, who says that his responsibilities included an unyielding effort to expose new drivers of Google revenue “even down to keyword searches.”
    “My role was to provide a hotline back to product in Mountain View,” says Briers, who notes that UK customers are known to be among the most advanced users of Google’s advertising offerings, outpacing users in the U.S. and other markets by as much as 3 years.
    The insights gleaned by Briers and his team would become an important strategic voice for both sales and finance at Google and allowed Briers to add an impressive FP&A chapter to a career that up until Google might have advanced in any number of directions.
    Still, his subsequent hire as CFO of TransferWise might have surprised certain finance career builders, given that Briers’s pre-Google career had largely involved consulting roles rather than traditional accounting or audit work.
    Today, Briers says, his consulting background has routinely informed his finance leadership as he helps TransferWise’s finance function to sharpen its customer focus and collaborate across the organization.
    Still, he admits that during his early days at TransferWise, his consulting past led him at times to too frequently focus on achieving “buy-in” across the organization.
    Eventually, he reports, “the two founders told me, ‘Stop trying to achieve consensus—make up your mind and get on with it!’” –Jack Sweeney
    Briers: In all my time in consulting, we spent a lot of time working with people driving mission statements, and I can't honestly tell you that I believed in it back then. But since joining TransferWise, it's kind of this slightly religious maniacal focus on mission, which runs deep, and it's pretty amazing.
    So my challenge is how do I help on this mission of pushing the product forward, such that we get faster, cheaper and easier, for a wide range of customers. The things I focus on:  Are we growing? Are we getting new users? Are they putting volume through TransferWise? We know we're being used and we know we're useful if customers are engaged. ... But when I say volume, the amount of money people are sending across borders,  I worry about those metrics.
    The second thing I worry about, is what's happening to price, so not just revenue, but price. Price times volume gives you revenue, but price isn't going down. Many CFOs might ask what is he talking about? Why does he worry about price and revenue going down? Surely you want to drive this up?
    Well, actually, no, because if we're going to be successful in the future, we know that we need to get cheaper over time. Because we believe it can be done and we believe it should be done and we can solve this problem of hidden fees. That's equal to $200 billion and it gets paid to banks. So I worry about price. - Jack Sweeney
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    • 55 min
    632: Exposing the Connection Between Financial and Operational Data | Jacqueline Purcell, CFO, Deputy

    632: Exposing the Connection Between Financial and Operational Data | Jacqueline Purcell, CFO, Deputy

    Jacqueline Purcell’s path to the CFO office began inside an Australian law firm where as a young attorney she was advising corporate clients and their bankers on how to best address some of the legal hurdles that their M&A deal-making might confront.
    At the time, her routine collaboration with different banking executives gave her a point of comparison to the seemingly less energetic legal world.
    “They seemed to be having a little more fun and a lot more impact on the outcomes,” she recalls.
    “This is what sparked my interest in moving into finance,” continues Purcell, who was soon headed to Stanford University for an MBA and then to New York, where she joined Morgan Stanley’s M&A practice.
    “I spent just over 8 years there focusing on a full spectrum of mergers and acquisitions transactions,” comments Purcell, who says that it was during those years of M&A deal-making that she grew to respect the CFO role and the executives who filled it.
    “CFOs were very often the ones in the driver’s seat for the deals, and they were just particularly influential,” notes Purcell, who realized that the CFOs across from whom she sat often applied deep operating experience to their decision-making.
    Determined to add an “operations” stripe to her sleeve, Purcell would exit Morgan Stanley in 2017 and return to Australia, where she would step into her first CFO role at Culture Amp, a workforce management company headquartered in Melbourne. – Jack Sweeney

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

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

    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

    • 50 min

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