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Before joining Goldman Sachs back in the late 1980s, Mark Lee was a finance manager at Hewlett-Packard Co. Today, Lee fondly recalls being mentored by a senior controller while situated deep inside the technology behemoth’s computer support division. The finance executive, explains Lee, viewed controllership as a strategic role where executives could acquire and build their leadership skills that could be applied elsewhere. “He told me that his next job could be the head of marketing,” explains Lee, who credits his early mentor for outfitting his finance mind-set with a wide lens rather than a narrow one.
After four years inside an HP cubicle, he set off on a finance adventure by entering the investment banking world via a seven-year tour of duty with Goldman Sachs in New York. While the banking chapter of Lee’s long finance career is the most robust of his career book (which is nearly 20 years thick), it is perhaps not the most intriguing. This designation arguably belongs to Forge Global where he and his finance team are focused on cultivating a fresh class of investors outside the traditional venture capital ecosystem. To be clear, Forge is one of a number of trading platforms that help employees sell their shares in pre-IPO companies. It’s no secret that the number of IPO delays has been steadily growing as venture firms keep funneling more money into large private companies as they seek bigger payoffs down the road.
As more “unicorns” supposedly worth billions of dollars—at least on paper—delay going public, Mark Lee and his team are seeking to satisfy a growing appetite for liquidity among Silicon Valley’s IPO-hungry entrepreneurial rank-and-file. It’s an opportunity where customer retention and talent retention are one in the same, and one that places Forge’s finance team along the outer reaches of the finance function’s evolutionary path. ¤
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Guest: Mark Lee
Headquarters: San Francisco, CA
CFOTL: Is there a period in your career about which you can share a finance strategic moment?
Lee: What I would like to share with your audience is about my time at Stanford and my time at Schwab. In my senior finance role at those two organizations, I had a lot of involvement in and visibility on strategic discussions with senior leaders.
For example, at Schwab, I had the opportunity to attend and present at quarterly division reviews with the key leaders of Schwab at that time—Charles Schwab, Chris Dodd as the CFO, and Dave Patrick as the CEO. I would work with the head of the division to build these presentations and develop the content and what we wanted to present to Schwab leadership. This gave me the opportunity to experience talking to Chuck and Dave about capital markets and trading, within the context of a vast retail brokerage and RIA business. It really gave me insight into how these visionaries really viewed the investment in the brokerage business.
At Stanford, similar story: I helped to prepare the quarterly board meetings with the leadership at the university, including the provost and the CFO of the university. Stanford has an incredible roster of investment leaders who are part of the Stanford Management Board. As a board, we would talk about topics ranging from investment theory and strategy to global macroeconomic trends, all the way to the inner financial workings of financing and funding one of the top universities in the world.
I mention these things because I think that both of these experiences helped me to understand the perspectives of extremely successful business leaders, to put myself into their shoes, to see how they thought about the business—what questions they would ask, what they were concerned about, and where they thought there was opportunity.
I think that most successful finance professionals are business leaders. For example, it’s not uncommon to see a CFO move into the CEO’s seat at some companies. As you are going through your finance career, you can always try to stay broadly focused on really understanding the business. Of course, you have to have your finance tops, you have to do an incredible job doing your accounting and financial reporting, whether it’s tax or treasury work. But eventually, it’s going to be the breadth of your knowledge of the business that’s going to drive your ability to contribute to the company.
So I think of myself not just as a senior finance person, but as just one of the important members of the senior management leadership team that happens to know his way around an income statement, balance sheet, and changing cash flow. At the end of the day, it’s all about the business. ¤