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For many future finance leaders, the year 2020 is destined to provide the dark moments of doubt that sweeten the upsides to be savored in years to come.
Certainly, few business lessons are more widely cherished than those related to challenging economic times—and few are summoned more by finance leaders when it comes to explaining their business-building philosophies.
Such is the case with Narvar CFO Jim Emerich, who in recounting the experiences that have prepared him for a finance leadership role always singles out the year 2001, when the September 11 terrorist attacks disrupted an economy still reeling from the burst of the dotcom bubble.
That May, Emerich stepped into a controller position at Salesforce, the pioneering SaaS developer that had only recently entered the ranks of midsize companies.
“We were burning cash throughout that year, and we were getting pretty close to the end. What saved us was the knowledge that eventually people realized that the world hadn’t ended,” recalls Emerich, who confidently and swiftly draws a line from his early Salesforce days to his arrival at Narvar earlier this year. As at Salesforce, Emerich is now tasked with building the financial infrastructure of a SaaS developer in the midst of economic uncertainty. But now is a time well suited to experienced leaders accustomed to quelling doubts and exposing the path to the future. –Jack Sweeney
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Guest: Jim Emerich
Headquarters: San Francisco, CA
CFOTL: Please share some thoughts on COVID 19’s impact on the business and what steps you may be taking to manage the business in this challenging environment?
Emerich: This is a humanitarian challenge that we’re dealing with here. It’s completely global in that everybody’s impacted by this. Having said this, I think that there are definitely some things that we can do internally. We’re now looking at our costs, and we’re thinking about things that we can trim back. But we also know that there are opportunities out there for partnering with our customers to help to make them successful throughout all this. There are opportunities for us because of what we do. We’re helping traditional retailers and businesses that are typically doing digital themselves or they’re heavily into stores and they need a digital presence right now. They need an e-commerce component, so there’s interesting opportunity here for us.
When I reflect back on Salesforce, for instance, I think, “Why did we succeed?” It wasn’t that much fun when I got there, to be frank about it. I was working probably 16-hour days. It was 2001. I was happy to have a job because the market had imploded and Salesforce was one of the few tech companies that was still around that was of some size. But we were burning cash throughout that year, and we were getting pretty close to the end. What saved us was the knowledge that eventually people realized that the world hadn’t ended. There was a lot of tragedy going in the world, and it was right after 9/11 on top of that, but business still needed to function like the world hadn’t ended.
This is what gave us some of the energy to see how to partner with our customers to make them more successful throughout this time. I remember talking to the people that were supplying us and people that were partnering with us and deploying Salesforce in boutique kinds of PS firms, and they were almost running out of cash. How do we help to support them during this time? This is the one chance that we have as a company to look at our broader business partners and really become a partner with them. It’s easy enough to say, “Hey, I’m not going to pay you.” But what would this mean? So it became more of a conversation around “How can I help you now, and how do you help me in the future if I can help you now?”