506: Boarding the Moving Train | Sean Sobers, CFO, Quantenna Communications

Listen to the Episode Below (00:27:38)

Asked to supply us with a finance strategic moment, CFO Sean Sobers recalls an acquisition completed during an earlier chapter of his career. Convinced that the acquired company was capable of yielding only a meager profit, Sobers and the finance team set out to expose the company’s shortcomings, only to discover the opposite. “It was probably the most profitable business unit that we had,” explains Sobers, who says that the discovery came as part of a broader effort on the part of finance to require management to apply ROI measures to their investments across the company. Meanwhile, certain opportunities that had garnered steady investment over the years would lose their luster as finance fine-tuned its ROI lens and began tracking returns more closely. “As we went forward, if you were going to ask for funding, you had to supply an ROI measurement that was approved by finance,” explains Sobers, who adds that the ROI performance of investments would be tracked annually and frequently quarterly.

CFOTL: What changed over time in terms of how you internally produced these reports and put numbers out there into the organization?

Sobers: To me, there’s the obvious change from being a smaller company to being a growing smaller company, let’s call it. We’re still only about 400-plus people, so we’re not large. But we’ve gone from what I would say was completely manual to being very much automated with the SaaS systems that we use. Generally, I’m a big believer in full automation, and I want to give that turnkey kind of data to my customers internally. It could be the head of sales, it could be the head of R&D, it could be our CEO. Providing dashboards and the ability for them to see what’s going on is really important. You see a big evolution toward that in my time here at Quantenna, and the same thing happened when I was at Cadence and EMC previously.
I do a lot with body language and talking to the sales force, talking to my staff, trying to get an understanding of what they think is coming, where they’re headed, how excited they are. In a nonfinancial way and in a nonmetric way, I’m looking at my confidence or the confidence, let’s say, of our sales leaders and the sales teams down below them. I do a little bit of that as we progress. One of my ideals is to not just sit in my office, not just sit at headquarters, but to get out to the offices and talk to the people locally. It gives me a better view on what’s going on in our China office or our Taiwan office or our Russia office. How are sales going there? How is the financing there? It’s not really a metric, it’s more of a kind of a body language read. jb