Such was the case with CFO John Evarts, who entered the downturn as a CFO for a not-for-profit and exited as CFO of Mediafly—a small content asset management company that in the coming years would open a new growth chapter by answering the demand for more compelling content in sales enablement.
Ten years or so ago, the expression “never waste a downturn” became a popular maxim among business leaders who viewed the economy’s downward spiral as an opportunity to trim waste and restructure portions of their businesses. The expression also summed up the mind-set of a unique class of executives who, despite a bleak hiring environment, viewed the period as being potentially transformational for their careers.
“From late 2008 to 2009, there were some challenges inside the not-for-profit sector, so I started looking for an opportunity to broaden myself beyond the not-for-profit realm—I was comfortable in taking that risk and making a bet on myself,” explains Evarts, who had originally transitioned into the not-for-profit sector from the world of investment banking and has also taken on the title of COO during his Mediafly tenure. “When I shifted from the not-for-profit area into ‘start-up land,’ I was fortunate to have this amazing opportunity to play a more strategic role and determine how to deploy resources in a more strategic way.” –Jack Sweeney
Guest: John Evarts
Headquarters: Chicago, IL
CFOTL: Tell us about a finance strategic moment of insight …
Evarts: Our first opportunity for mergers and acquisitions was really what I would say was a watershed moment for me. I had never had the opportunity to pursue an acquisition before, and I needed to figure out for myself what a framework would be in order to determine whether this was a good one or not a good one. It’s very different from what’s in the textbooks. When you get into the actual practical matter of pursuing an acquisition, you need to be very disciplined in how you look at it, how you think it through. We had to come up with this construct that we call our 100-day plan. When I started thinking about how to make that construct and 100-day plan–what we call “one Mediafly”–it really started driving home the point that culture is critical.
The reason why we’re acquiring this company is so that not only do we get the benefit of the products, but also we get the benefit of the really great people who are on the team. We were able to get this 100-day plan around M&A as a way for us to think about and philosophize about this “one Mediafly” concept, which is, for example, the way that we look at how to source the capital that is necessary and we begin to think about how people work within the organization. So, it’s not only how many resources we need in order to acquire this company, but also what does the construct in the comp model look like afterward? What is the expectation of revenue production that’s going to come out afterward?
Then, over time, you get to the point where you’re also talking about culture and its impact. What do you think about when more than 50% of the company is outside of the Chicago headquarters? What do you do? How do you think about remote work? So, all of this goes beyond the typical finance conversation. It’s really about the culture, by the time you get it all the way out. This, for me, was kind of an “A-ha!” moment, once we got to this concept of “one Mediafly.”