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Slice of a CFO’s Life: An Interview with Peter Oey

Peter Oey, CFO,

Celebrating his one-year anniversary as CFO of the social networking site, Peter Oey has experienced a lot of change in a short time. He’s had to adjust to working at a private company with fewer than 200 employees and a recent flurry of rebranding and product launches, having left his post as corporate controller at the 7,000-employee gaming software company Activision Blizzard in 2012.

Besides handling the financials for MyLife’s new efforts, Oey also oversees IT and is in the process of moving MyLife’s infrastructure to cutting-edge cloud systems. Even though he has his hands full, Oey made time to participate in last week’s ProformaTECH 2013, Proformative’s corporate finance, accounting, and treasury technology conference in San Francisco, where he sat down for an interview to discuss how his role at MyLife has evolved and his approach to technology changes.

Proformative: After moving from a big public company to a small private one, what have you learned?
Peter Oey: It has been a great 12 months, but the first few months was really navigating that shift from a big corporate culture to a rapid, fluid small company with the character of a startup but established revenues. I’ve had to make some adjustments in learning what drives the business. A couple of takeaways are how test-driven and data-driven the Internet space is. Analytics play a key role.

In making that adjustment, what tasks and decisions did you take on?
Early on, I knew the job description was going to be ever changing. When I signed up, legal was not part of my portfolio, but I took on that function three months into the job. I took on the customer care function a month later. The role got bigger and bigger, but that’s typical at a smaller organization where it’s more fluid. We don’t have a COO, so between the CEO and myself, I play in between a finance person and an operations person.

A big takeaway for me is to be mindful and adaptive to changes in the organization. The second one for me is you have no choice but to roll up your sleeves. In my first three months, it was my objective to meet and talk to every single employee, which I couldn’t do in a 7,000-person company. I wanted to understand the culture, know what were the issues bubbling up that I may not have seen in my early days on the job, and then fix some of those broken issues before they get too big.

The cloud is a big topic of conversation at ProformaTECH. What do you think of it?
I’m a big proponent of the cloud. It’s where technology is going, and we’re in a transition of more financial systems going to the cloud. One of the first things I did at MyLife was look over the financial systems and make them cloud-based. For small organizations, the cloud even makes more sense because you don’t have the resources or the capital investment for a huge IT department or to buy multiple servers. We need to be quick, build scale, have agility, so it made sense to go to the cloud.

One of the advantages gained from that move is data visibility. I can be on the road, log in through the web browser and see my CFO dashboard. I can get alerts. Rather than being a money-driven move, the cloud gives me more data and insights that help me make decisions for the business.

“Future-proofing” the company’s technology was also discussed quite a bit at ProformaTECH. How are you doing that at MyLife?
We’re migrating out all our platforms, moving our business-to-consumer platform to open source, and that’s to build scale and efficiency in the business. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been migrating our back office infrastructure to cloud solutions. Each step of the way, we’ve been getting ready to build scale into the business and also strengthening our controls as part of that process, as we look at potential IPO aspirations. So a lot of our future-proofing is looking ahead as well as juggling the capital expenditures we have, because these moves are not cheap. We’re balancing all that so we don’t take on too much at the same time.

As CFO, what role do you play in making decisions about technology?
I’ve been very fortunate in previous organizations in that I’ve had a seat at the table for making financial systems decisions and when it comes to capital expenditures related to tech. I’m a big believer that if IT is not in the CFO’s office, then a strong partnership has to be developed. I’ve been fortunate where the CIO and myself were peers and we were joined at the hip. He wouldn’t make a decision without me, and I wouldn’t do the same without him, so we had a great partnership. Where I’m now, I’m fortunate that that the IT role is in my portfolio, and it’s another lever I have in making decisions for driving and shaping the biz at the same time.

For CFOs who don’t feel tech-savvy, what advice do you have for them to become more so?
Get a CIO or whoever is in charge of your business’s technology and partner with that person. Network within your sphere of friends and peers. Leverage your auditors – they have a wealth of connections, within their own networks and with other CFOs who are tech-savvy. And attend events, like this Proformative conference. You definitely learn a lot.

Vanessa Richardson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.

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