While tours of duty at struggling companies are seldom viewed as enviable career chapters for most professionals, finance leaders are often apt to savor the lessons that such tours of duty bring forth and even draw attention to such early chapters.
Such is the case with CFO Jason Lin, whose career journey includes chapters with a rapidly rising juggernaut (TripAdvisor) as well as with the revitalization of a flickering fallen star (Monster.com).
When asked why he singles out his “Monster chapter” as an experience that prepared him for a finance leadership role, Lin recalls the valuable lessons learned from “having to manage people through tough times—to motivate them without being able to offer a bonus or a salary increase and still be able to move the team forward.”
“There are challenges in both environments, and I think that having been at both ends of the spectrum has been beneficial for me,” says Lin, while quickly segueing to his days at TripAdvisor, where a cash-rich balance sheet and seemingly unlimited growth summoned finance to remain a calming influence and the guardian of responsible spending practices.
At Centage, Lin is opening yet another growth chapter, where scale is now top-of-mind and manual processes are being closely scrutinized as the upstart developer’s new CFO seeks to unclutter the path and prepare the runway for unencumbered growth. –Jack Sweeney
Guest: Jason Lin
Headquarters: Natick, MA
CFOTL: What comes to mind when we ask for a finance strategic moment?
Lin: I think that one finance strategic moment that kind of crystallized for me what it really takes to drive change within and across an organization came with an initiative that my finance team ran at TripAdvisor that we called “The Biggest Loser.” As you may remember, a few years back there was a reality TV show called The Biggest Loser that was essentially a weight loss contest. Whoever lost the most weight won the contest. If you’re losing the most weight, you’re the biggest loser, but actually, you’ve won. So, during one of our forecast cycles, we challenged all of our business partners to find the most cost savings possible in their updated four-year forecast without having a material operational impact.
Going through that exercise, as we met with all the different business partners, it was just amazing how much misalignment there was around the numbers and the budget. I’m talking everything from, “Oh, I didn’t even know that that was approved and still in the budget—we’ve been moving forward without it” to misunderstandings around larger company goals and initiatives. It was an extremely eye-opening experience for me that drove home the importance of communication and true collaboration. I took away from this that never again would I make any assumptions around those two things. Never assume that a communication has happened and never assume that you’re aligned with the business. My strategic insight—is that to truly drive change within an organization, it starts with the open communication and the collaboration.
That’s what I would pass on to future finance leaders—that we are right in the middle of all of this change. Forbes had an article last year with the title, “The New CFO Is a Changemaker in the Age of AI.” They essentially called out that the CFO and the office of finance are now looked to as “architects of growth.” You need to think outside of traditional accounting, outside of budgeting, forecasts, and the CFO as finance. We’re being looked at to drive growth within an organization, and that, to me—especially with my FP&A background—is just extremely exciting.