Had Valerie Burman entered the CFO office a decade ago, you wonder whether the role would be as good a match for the accomplished finance executive as it appears to be today.
Back in 2007, after working nearly a decade in M&A as an investment banker, Burman exited a banking career to take on a corporate development role at Business Objects, a French software company that was soon to be acquired by SAP.
Post acquisition, Burman quickly found a groundswell of opportunities coming her way inside SAP, where she would serve in a variety of roles involving technology partnerships, business development, and product management.
Fast-forward a few years, and we find Stanford Law graduate Burman serving as general counsel first to Mindjet and then to crowdsourcing innovation upstart Spigit.
“I would say that working from those perspectives—although it is a bit of a roundabout way to become a CFO—has really led me to a place where I can be a CFO with a business-minded, strategic approach,” says Burman, who points out that along the way, she was given the opportunity to closely observe the board room decision-making behind certain acquisitions designed to drive growth.
“The breadth of experiences that I have taken with me are not necessarily specific to my core finance role, but speak to my ability to understand cross-functionally what’s important to my peers,” Burman observes, while underscoring the growing cross-functional role that finance plays in business today.
For just as Burman’s resume has evolved, so too has the role of CFO. – Jack Sweeney
Guest: Valerie Burman
Headquarters: Redwood City, CA
CFOTL: Tell us about your team and what steps you’ve taken to make an impact on the organization?
Burman: The areas that I’ve really been working to take the team to are more about not only making sure that we can adapt to change, but also that we’re in a position to proactively drive that change through the organization. What this requires is that everybody on the team both is excellent their finance role and also understands the context in which we work—things like market dynamics, value proposition, competitive landscape, really understanding the product offerings deeply. I believe that ensuring that team members have the time and opportunity to get exposure to these things so that we all intuitively understand the business in the same way that our business partners do will really allow us not only to anticipate change but to drive it.
There are three ways in which we’re pursuing this right now. First of all, I’ve instituted a regular team meeting in which we talk about company strategy and products and cascade learnings from various departments. The second is that the leaders on my team are now part of the extended leadership team at GuideSpark. We do regular cross-functional meetings where we work on initiatives that span various aspects of the company’s business. Third, the various team members are now part of mentor circles that allow them to grow not just their individual finance skills, but also any other skills outside of those that they want to learn or pursue.
(The other thing is regarding our ability to provide insight. Our team was really spending too much of its time on reporting. The reporting was excellent, but these were not necessarily forward-looking insights. The business needs to really make solid business decisions and drive growth in an evolving, changing market. This is one area where we’re working very closely with sales ops and marketing ops to ensure that we’re really giving our business partners the most meaningful leading indicators and predictive data to help them in their endeavors.