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Who was the best CFO you ever worked for and why?

I was recently talking to Max Murphy, one of the journalists I most respect and enjoy on the CFO beat in the Wall Street Journal. He asked me who was the best CFO I ever worked for/with and why. I thought I would share that story here and ask others for their input as well.

When I was early in my finance career I was fortunate to work for Cisco, then under the CFO leadership of Larry Carter. He didn’t simply lead the organization, he helped me respect, enjoy and value the myriad roles within corporate finance and what they could do to add value to the whole enterprise. When he ran an earnings call you just knew he was fully on top of his game. He knew the numbers, but he also knew the business and what drove those numbers. Then, between earnings calls, he was instrumental in helping the company get where it was going. He was a CFO’s CFO. He was one of my influences on the road to becoming a CFO myself.

I would love to hear from our audience who you think your best CFO was (or is, present day examples are very welcome) and why. I think there would be some great stories to share and learn from.

Answers

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

As a board member, I've had the privilege of working with Doug Buttrick, Chief Financial Officer of Optimist Youth Homes & Family Services, who demonstrates an unwavering focus to ensuring financial resources are allocated in a way to deliver optimized benefits to the at-risk youth the organization serves. He continuously strives to make the financial summaries more intuitive to facilitate efficient and effective decision making for the Board. I see him not only at the board meetings but also events throughout the year engaged with the youth at the Home. He's just not the Finance Leader but also a great "people" person which is wonderful combination.

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP of Finance & Operations
Company: RBA Consulting
(VP of Finance & Operations, RBA Consulting) |

The best CFO I worked for was Martyn Redgrave, probably the key issue was he made us all less 'those finance people' and more business partners.

He pushed all of us to understand the business, understand the issue and how to assess the financial ramifications (accounting, cash flow, etc.). Without each, then we were still in discovery and not to burn up other's people time until we completed.

His philosophy was to share issues when you could provide answers or guidance. If you shared earlier, then people would fill in the gaps and you simply created more chaos and views that would need to be unwound.

He also was strong at making sure we gave an even-handed view of issues in terms the business teams could use - even if it was an accounting issue, why was it relevant to the business. This was probably the greatest contribution because it really changed the image of the finance team.

Topic Expert
Mary Driscoll
Title: Senior Research Fellow
Company: APQC (American Productivity and Quality ..
(Senior Research Fellow, APQC (American Productivity and Quality Center)) |

I have had the opportunity to meet and interview many tremendous CFOs during my journalism career. What strikes me is that CFOs who can truly lead people--e.g. nudge people with logic and emotional intelligence to try a better way of doing things--are the ones who can have a discernible impact on corporate agility, reputation, and all-around appeal. Daylynn Hoch, of Zurich North America, is a CFO who has that special gift. She got to her current spot after leading a multi-year process transformation initiative that aimed to put the global enterprise on a streamlined and standardized financial reporting model. I was lucky enough to get the chance to develop a case study on her work--and to document how she pulled it off. I've seen her present her "lessons learned" to a ballroom full of peers. There's no question. She's got the intelligent edge.

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

The best CFO I have ever worked for is Mark Patterson, currently with TransCard. I worked under him at a different company. What made him the best CFO I ever worked for was that he challenged me to be better than a staff accountant.

He believed in my ability before I did, enough to promote me to a senior accountant, gave me the pay before I had performed anything spectacular, and gave me a couple of direct reports to instill in me that I could do it. He spent time with me to help grow me into the accountant I think he wanted me to be. He taught me a lot of hard lessons as a young professional who needed a little polishing around the edges. As tough as he was on me for certain things I did, he had a huge amount of grace when he dealt with me.

I truly looked up to him, and still do because of a few other reasons. He took a company to its IPO, leading the financial process the whole way, he was or still is on the board of directors for a public company or two. He is like me in that he is a small town Tennessean that was given a chance to be great. My hope is to one day be as great, or greater, than Mark Patterson.

If I were given a chance why couldn’t I help a company to its IPO or be on a board of directors? I believe I can be, largely due to the time I had with Mark. Had I worked with him at a different organization than the one I did I would probably still be with him at whatever company he was/is/will be working. However, a daily commute from Knoxville to Chattanooga is out of the question for me, so I am not knocking on the doors of TransCard.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

The best CFO I worked for was Jack McGovern, at the time with Georgia-Pacific. I was at a point in my career when transitioning from being a business unit Controller to more involvement in corporate activities, i.e. M&A, investor relations communications, etc. He was demanding, focused on what was important and expected that we understand the business, not just the numbers. He helped to create a great foundation for my experience in the private equity world.

David Rubinfeld
Title: Finance Manager (FP&A)
Company: searching for my next opportunity
(Finance Manager (FP&A), searching for my next opportunity) |

The best CFO I worked for was Jim Tolonen at Business Objects. He was humble, brilliant, curious, not a micro-manager and had deep insights into the business.

Topic Expert
Keith Perry
Title: Consulting CFO and Business Operations A..
Company: Growth Accelerator
(Consulting CFO and Business Operations Advisor, Growth Accelerator) |

My shout-out is to David Pefley, currently CFO at Adaptive Planning. A few of his traits that make him an outstanding CFO include:
-He stays abreast of the basics, which these days in SaaS and related is a moving target. When I needed consultation on a particular rule, he was able to provide counsel, guidance and feedback. While it's been a while since he's been heads down in the GL, it is clear that he's still got the chops for the job, so understands and can support the breadth of the organization.
-He avoids micro-managing, fostering trust and competence. If, for example, you know he won't be second-guessing how you approach a task, you need to be creative *and* can use your particular skills to do it. Similarly, if you know that your input will go in unfiltered, you'll make sure it is coherent and correct.
-His leadership stems from strategic thinking. When discussing tactics (as in, what do we do this year), he keeps the long-term direction in mind, ensuring that non-value added items are discarded, and non-urgent but strategically critical items are given priority.
-He leads through personal and knowledge authority, eschewing positional authority. As CFO, you've got a lot of positional authority to throw around. He develops and fosters the other types of influence, making him much more of a team player.
-He gives mindful counsel. He neither holds back nor pushes his opinion. He takes the time to figure out what needs addressing, and addresses it in a constructive manner that leads towards resolution.

ArLyne Diamond
Title: Owner - President
Company: Diamond Associates
LinkedIn Profile
(Owner - President, Diamond Associates) |

Mr. Mutterperl at Marlene Blouse when I was in my teens and was an Assistant credit Collections Manager. I've written about him. What recall best was an overheard conversation that went something like this: "Mr. Mutterperl, why do you teach Andy everything you do, aren't you afraid he will take your job?" Reply: "No, the more I teach him, the more it frees me to do more important and creative things."

That's true Leadership and Management.

Terry Kees
Title: CFO
Company: Third Quadrant Energy, LLC
(CFO, Third Quadrant Energy, LLC) |

My most respected mentor dates back years ago when I was working as a Sr. Internal Auditor at Mattel, Inc. in Southern California. That group was organized as one of the results of serious SEC sanctions on the Company and its original founders. The group's initial director was Warren Pinckert. Over the years, I have lost track of Warren but to this day continue to practice the various professional (and personal) "lessons-learned" he so graciously gave us.

ArLyne Diamond
Title: Owner - President
Company: Diamond Associates
LinkedIn Profile
(Owner - President, Diamond Associates) |

Growing up and working in New York City I encountered many people in the finance department. Generally speaking, people in New York said what they believed as they thought it - so you always knew where you stood. No holds bared. Lots of comments that would be illegal in today's squeaky clean and politically correct environment.

But, I much prefer knowing where I stand with people rather than them always being nice and polite even when they are firing someone they never gave enough advance negative feedback to.

One of my favorite bosses was Glen Ched who the Credit & Collections Manager at IPCO Hospital supply. Mr. Ched (we were more formal in those days) gave me many opportunities to grow professionally, trusted me, respected me, and encouraged my learning new things. It was while working for him that I developed my plan for a customer service department - and with his permission - sold my idea to upper management - and got to be the manager of the newly formed department.

Mr. Ched was a great manager because he treated each of us as we uniquely deserved. Didn't play favorites, but didn't think "one size fits all" either.

James Scott
Title: Consulting CFO
Company: Early Growth Financial Services
LinkedIn Profile
(Consulting CFO, Early Growth Financial Services) |

John Zielinski at Greater Media was the first CFO I ever worked for, personally interviewing me for a menial accounting job was impressive and hiring me a risk that he took. The success of the company during his long career there speaks to his professional excellence. His easy communication style and ability to focus the team on the numbers that matter instead of trying to get every penny accounted for has stayed with me.
The second CFO, James Luke at Blessings Corporation, supported every new initiative and enabled his team to stretch and try new things. His leadership enabled me to complete my MBA, prepare SEC reports and observe board meetings, participate in IT and telecommunications projects and become familiar with the operations of the company by performing internal audits.

Both CFO's were strategically focused, visionary and willing to support new ideas. Both empowered the team to solve problems, and nobody was considered just a "bean counter." Neither ever publicly rebuked or discouraged an employee, or played the boss card they obviously held. Both encouraged involvement with operations, and field work, to learn the business.

Great mentors.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

I have contemplated how to answer this. Sadly, my experience in the accounting profession, I learned by watching my leaders how to lead the wrong way. Thankfully attending college was my savior because through my MBA courses I read "theoretical" situations about leaders who mentored, coached and actually led their teams to success. I knew that was how I wanted to lead my teams, not the traditional way I was used to seeing. My goal then became to look in other leaders of my organization for these skills and learn from them.

I found some great mentors by doing this and eventually sought out companies where I could grow and learn from great leaders.

Rose Suter
Title: CFO/HR Director
Company: Jay Enterprises, Inc dba: Ashley Furnitu..
(CFO/HR Director, Jay Enterprises, Inc dba: Ashley Furniture HomeSto) |

My personal mentor, Michael Mavrides. I learned that the CFO should not just be chained to the numbers. The numbers have meaning. You must learn from the numbers. I see in most of these comments what I believe to be the true key to being a good CFO, CEO, COO, whatever. It is knowing the business, being a true business partner, and staying in touch with everything around you. That includes the most important asset, PEOPLE. The numbers don't mean a thing if the people aren't part of the formula.

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