When Sharif Metwalli decided that the time was right to accept a CFO position with Vantage Data Centers, he was confident that he had found a company that allowed him to check all of the boxes when it came to his finance leader search criteria.
Box #1: Know and respect the management team. Box #2: Know and respect the owner. Box #3: Know the industry and be bullish on the sector.
Says Metwalli: “After 19 years of banking, I wanted to apply my skillset on the corporate side, and an opportunity arose to work for a client that I knew very well.”
As for the nearly two decades that he spent inside the world of investment banking, Metwalli says that he was fortunate to have latched on to opportunities and roles that shielded him—not once, but twice—from the mayhem brought on by economic downturns.
“Back before the dot-com bubble burst, I had started off in an area of the bank that was heavily focused on equity and M&A, and I made a proactive effort to move to a different industry group,” explains Metwalli, who may have landed in the bank’s lending business just in the nick of time. “I figured that we’d never get out of the lending business, and I could learn the debt side of the balance sheet. Not only that, but I could become a more well-rounded banker in general.”
Fast-forward seven years, and Metwalli says that he was able to successfully weather the Great Recession because by that time he had developed an expertise in telecom infrastructure. The CFO recalls spending his days burrowing down deep into the wireless space, a realm quickly being populated by spectrum towers and data centers.
“When the banks began to consider who they wanted to keep inside the different industry groups, even though I wasn’t a senior banker at the time, my expertise allowed me to survive and maintain a career,” explains Metwalli, whose expertise around data center infrastructure only continued to grow in the years to come, allowing him to check the boxes with confidence when the opportunity with Vantage Data Centers came along. –Jack Sweeney
Guest: Sharif Metwalli
Company: Vantage Data Centers
Headquarters: Santa Clara, CA
CFOTL: What comes to mind when we ask for a finance strategic moment?
Metwalli: One strategic moment that comes to mind is the idea that you don’t need to rush to an answer. Take your time. Be thoughtful with your analysis. Be thoughtful with the materials that you put together for a customer. That customer could be my CEO or, for example, when I was a banker, that customer could have been the different companies that I called on. It’s better to take your time and be thoughtful than to rush to a conclusion and then have to backtrack or re-explain yourself. Having been a banker, I interacted with a lot of different CEOs and CFOs. I had one close CFO friend, in particular, share with me something that he lived by: A good CFO manages and reports the numbers, but a great CFO drives the numbers.
What does this really mean? The way I think about it is that on a day-to-day basis I need to be thinking about how we drive the numbers. This doesn’t need to be a change every day, but over the next 6, 12, 18, 24 months, how do I help the business drive our numbers? These can come from a number of different things, such as construction cost per megawatt, but they can also come from other areas. How do my finance team and I help the business to use capital—both debt and equity—as a strategic advantage? We’ve started to implement this here at Vantage, through leadership in the capital markets to finance our business.