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Seamless’s Finance Chief Takes on a Peer-to-Peer Strategy

Ted Pastva, vice president of finance, Seamless

As vice president of finance at Seamless, which helps companies manage their corporate food expenses, Ted Pastva has a pulse on the habits of his peers. They have invested in Seamless services to gain better visibility into how much their entire company spends for food delivery and catering and, possibly, to expand the benefits they offer employees.

The company’s clients sign up their employees for access to Seamless’ site to place delivery orders from area restaurants (the company’s network is made up of more than 13,000 dining establishments). All those orders – whether they’re made during late nights at the office or regular, weekly lunches – are included in invoices “that are integrated directly into a company’s accounting system,” Pastva says. “They can see specifically how much each person is ordering, and time of day, so that they can get a better handle on the amount of individual meals or catering that’s being purchased on a daily or weekly basis by individuals, departments, or cost centers – and most importantly, proactively control this spending with custom budgets and rules.”

Pastva recently shared with Proformative the insights he has picked up while at Seamless, which was spun out of Aramark last year. An edited version of the interview follows.

Proformative: How long have you been in the food services industry?
Ted Pastva: I started a while ago and held various roles within the Aramark organization, including its auditing and controls group and financial planning, to get a broad view of the overall business model and strategy for the operating business units and  the overall organization. Then, for the past six years, when Aramark purchased Seamless, I came on in a temporary role to be part of the integration team and have stayed on ever since.

You have written about how the CFO position has evolved in recent times. Could you elaborate?
Over the past several years, even prior to the financial crisis, the focus had been on establishing scalable processes, controls, back-of-the-house efficiencies. The role really has shifted. Now, it’s part of the strategic team. Being the CFO means being a business partner of the CEO and not just a business partner from a finance perspective but as someone who is involved in establishing and truly understanding the overall business. A true CFO not only understands finance but is also an overall great generalist. They have to understand how the overall marketing flows to impact the growth of the organization, the sale cycle, and the resources that are going to be needed on the back end as the business grows. The more that they understand about the overall business – not only the business model but the overall business strategy and the relationship to the other functional disciplines – that’s where they create value.

How can CFOs maintain the stature they have earned?
It’s a several pronged approach. One is making sure they have the right controls and processes in place. Two, they need to understand and use technology to help them drive the business. And three, they have to have really good resources that the CFOs can trust to handle the daily operating metrics and activities. CFOs can then take a step back and focus on the strategy and growth of the organization.

Do you see opportunities with your existing clients?
Once we have a client, there’s always opportunity for us to streamline their processes and therefore enable them to reallocate their food dollar volume spend through our site, whether it be catering, whether it be overtime meals, or whether it be just individual meals. We find clients don’t really have visibility into how much they’re really spending on their various food services because it’s such a decentralized process. Once we’re able to centralize it for them, they see how valuable that insight and control is, and that’s when our clients want to put additional orders through our website. We are then able to provide them with one consolidated invoice that is customizable to their requirements. The output being additional oversight and information that enables our clients to make data-driven decisions.

How do companies lose sight of how much they spend on food?
For one thing, it’s a very small line item on the financial statements compared to many other larger expenses. But it is one of those lines that can get out of control if someone’s not monitoring it. We provide visibility and enable the client to set up specific controls into the system so they can manage their cost structure better. This is particularly important for professional services firms, like law firms, agencies, consultants, etc., because they often need to bill these food charges out to clients.

What do your clients’ activities tell you about certain companies?
I don’t want to be too general, but we see several overall themes. One is that we see certain firms that provide meal service for their employees throughout the day. We also have many clients where employees can order meals or catering based upon specific criteria established by each firm. This provides “rules” that can limit purchases or specific dollar amounts until specific criteria is obtained (i.e., the ability to order meals after 7 p.m.). Second, we see a segment of firms that provide catering for meetings such as client meetings or internal team meetings, but again can be rules-based to limit the spend based upon the clients’ custom criteria.

One additional segment we see, popular with the technology firms, is providing employees with food as a benefit – for example, a daily lunch program. What is common among all the segments is an understanding about the important role that food plays in the office. These companies understand the power of sharing a meal with colleagues and clients and how that can help foster communication, collaboration, and strengthen relationships.

Sarah Johnson is a freelance business writer and editor.

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