Asked to reflect on those experiences that she feels prepared her for a finance leadership role, a cash flow statement quickly comes to mind for Anna Brunelle, CFO of Kinestral Technologies.
Only months into her first industry finance job, Brunelle was tasked with preparing her company’s cash flow statement, and she didn’t like some of what she discovered about the business.
“I realized that there were a couple of businesses that the company had acquired a few years earlier that had some elements that were kind of dragging down our profitability,” explains Brunelle, who after digging a little deeper and more closely studying the businesses realized that the areas negatively impacting profits frequently involved certain offerings of recently acquired European businesses that offered limited cross-selling potential.
“Not knowing any better, I went to the CFO and CEO and said, ‘Hey, have we ever thought about transferring some of the elements out of these businesses?,’” recalls Brunelle, who even today as a CFO appears somewhat surprised by her early-career assertiveness.
She continues: “I say ‘I didn’t know any better’ because I was only two months on the job, and I didn’t know that there was probably more of a process of going through your manager to do this. Instead, I just said, ‘Hey, has anybody thought about this?’”
According to Brunelle, only days later she was boarding a plane to Europe to help execute on her suggestion and sell off underperforming assets and parts of the business that were perhaps not as profitable as was desired or in line with the company’s future direction.
“I got on a plane having never traveled to Rome before, not knowing any lawyers or accountants or bankers there. I worked through getting an introduction to a banker to help us package these businesses and find buyers and then getting an introduction to an attorney who could help us with the local Italian law and how to structure the contracts for these transactions,” says Brunelle, who credits the resulting deal-making with helping to distinguish her as an executive “who gets things done.”
“They were relatively small transactions,” she adds. “I think that one was about a $10 million sale and one was about a $30 million sale. But for me, so early in my career, this was the moment when I realized that finance was the way to open the door to being part of the more exciting strategic business conversations.” –Jack Sweeney
Guest: Anna Brunelle
Company: Kinestral Technologies
Headquarters: Hayward, California
CFOTL: Tell us about your top-of-mind metrics …
Brunelle: We’ve been selling commercially for about two quarters now out of our factory in Taiwan, so we think carefully about quite a few metrics. Obviously, cash is very important. We have to finance the company through our early-stage growth until we reach a point of profitability, just like every other growth company. This is very important. Because we have a fairly complex business, we have to have a pretty well thought out strategic plan and metrics. By “complex business,” I mean that we have the Taiwan factory and we also have research and development teams here who are creating new products as well as innovating on existing products to make them less expensive. We also have a chemistry division that applies what you would think of as the ink that causes our windows to darken; they do the chemical formulations and composition here. We have the software division in Salt Lake City.
So, we’re really running a fairly complex business in which multiple elements have to come together in order for us to be successful. When you think of customer experience metrics, you think of how it’s really important for us to be on time. The factory has to be very responsive to customer needs. We have to monitor on-time delivery and make sure that our customers are getting the products that they need to button up their building projects in a timely manner. In terms of quality, we look a lot at yield in the factory in terms of efficiency. We’re thinking about throughput and how much product is being produced on the line per day, per week, per month.
Obviously, because we have a factory and these other elements of our business such as the chemistry and R&D and pilot plant elements, compliance with health and safety is very important, so tracking this and making sure that it’s at the forefront of everything we do is key. And then there’s reducing costs, such as the manufacturing costs per unit or per project and watching that. Finally, the number one metric that can really poorly influence all of your other metrics is sales growth. If you don’t have sales growth, the rest of your metrics will suffer.