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Recalling a meeting that took place years ago at an industry conference, CFO Robert Richards remembers that the East Coast sales executive’s face suddenly dropped.
At the time, Richards was more or less his company’s de facto CFO after the company’s finance leader had departed in the wake of the firm defaulting on certain loans. Being only in his mid-20s and with his company’s reputation preceding him, Richards found it hard to generate favorable first impressions—a fact particularly true with the struggling company’s suppliers.
Lobbying the vendors for better credit terms was a top priority for Richards, leading him to attend a number of industry conferences where he sought to nurture credit relationships with in-person meetings.
The East Coast sales executive could not conceal his dismay when Richards introduced himself, but the meeting yielded a fruitful outcome.
“I was able to sell them on the opportunity and supporting us and the exciting growth that we might achieve together,” explains Richards, who credits the newly modified credit terms with having helped to turn around the company.
Says Richards: “We went from a double-digit margin loss in one year to a double-digit margin profit the next, with a new credit facility negotiated.”
Asked to identify experiences that prepared him for a CFO leadership role, Richards says that the memory of the executive’s face dropping has never faded and always returns him to the circumstances and challenges of that place in time.
“That year or two was probably the most important period in my career as far as being formative goes and learning about what’s required to work through a crisis,” he explains. –Jack Sweeney
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Guest: Robert Richards
Headquarters: Chantilly, VA
CFOTL: Tell us about this business. What does it do and what are its offerings?
Richards: Centauri is a government services business. We’ve been growing at about 20% a year, on an organic-only basis, for the past four or five years. We just reached just under $500 million in revenue in 2019, and I’m looking to continue growing in the 20% to 30% range in 2020. We’re really focused on space and missile defense and where those domains intersect and create sort of an ecosystem in the defense world. We focus on employing what we believe really is our strength, which is the top technical and specialized talent needed to support the missions of our customers. What makes us different from other government services providers is our focus on the people. I think that a lot of government services companies see the billable staff as not really employees of the company but just products that are being sold. When one contract goes away, so do their products, and when you get a new contract, you go hire new people.
We really focus on our technical talent as part of the company. They’re not tied to a specific contract or project, but we will develop their career, invest in them from a training and professional development perspective, and move them between projects so that they get enhanced skills that allow them to move up in their career. This allows us to retain a lot of the really critical talent that our customers need and move them between various kinds of mission sets over time. This really separates us from the other sort of body shop types of government services businesses.
The next 12 months are really about process optimization. We’re setting goals right now and objectives for 2020 that are really based on looking at what we’re doing and figuring out how we can do it better. How can we measure this? How can we identify that we’ve successfully improved the way that we do business and operated within the CFO organization to better support the company’s growth through better and stronger processes and optimizing the way that we do business?