487: Putting Your Organization on an Even Keel | Robin Gantt, CFO, Northwest Pipe Company

Listen to the Episode Below (00:35:53)

It’s unlikely that this is the first sentence ever to include the phrase “even-keeled” alongside the name Robin Gantt, but this is a pairing that bears repeating here to reveal not only an obvious character trait of our latest guest, but also one that frequently sets apart CFO leadership at large.

Gantt, already a seasoned finance leader, arrives at Northwest Pipe as an advisor to the CEO, who is seeking to better align finance with the steel pipe manufacturer’s overall strategy. We don’t learn all of what needs to get done, but Gantt’s subsequent advance to the CFO office makes clear that the alignment is being achieved as the organization responds and is placed on a more even keel.

Listeners will enjoy hearing Gantt offer a short, concise overview of the uncommon business of manufacturing steel pipe that ranges from 2 feet to 13 feet in diameter. Meanwhile, her modest appraisal of both her early career and communication abilities informs finance newcomers that they too can learn and achieve along the finance career track.

Along the way, Gantt refuses to sugarcoat the inbred challenges that the business faces. “This is a very heavy working capital-intensive business, with a long cash flow cycle. Anyone who works with governments and municipalities knows that you’ll get paid, but sometimes it can be quite a while,” she explains. Just like the pipe Northwest manufacturers, Gantt’s words run deep beneath the surface. — Jack Sweeney

Guest: Robin Gantt

Company: Northwest Pipe (NASDAQ: NWPX)

Headquarters: Vancouver, WA

Connect: www.nwpipe.com/

CFOTL: Does anything come to mind when I ask for a finance strategic moment?

Gantt: Yes, I do have a story from my Oregon Steel days. We had had several bonus programs and they were just not working. And these were programs for all the employees-–everyone throughout the organization. We needed a program that was transparent, that was tied to positive and controllable results. And it needed to be simple.

Read Full Transcript

The profit participation plan, which we referred to as the PP plan, was based–ultimately we came up with this–it was based on a percentage of operating income that was then distributed to the employees.

We had an information campaign that explained the program. I went to several department staff meetings throughout the organization to explain it. We had a couple of quarters of payouts and things were going pretty well, but I actually didn’t realize how well. I was in the break room preparing my lunch one day, and I overheard this conversation between a couple of staff, people from two different departments.

One staff member was questioning the other on whether a recent job posting to add a position in that department was necessary because, as the one guy said, “That reduces our PP if you add costs.” The conversation was respectful. The employee really just wanted to be sure that the additional cost was truly in the best interest of the company. It was a very direct correlation between the company doing well and an employee benefiting.

I heard several other similar conversations over the years, and when I joined Northwest Pipe Company, we implemented a very similar plan for exactly that reason–because we really felt like it encouraged appropriate behavior.