605: When Finance Sings a New Tune | John Cappadona, CFO, School of Rock

Listen to the Episode Below (00:41:33)

Unlike the music artists and instructors recruited by School of Rock to provide music lessons at its 270 locations around the globe, John Cappadona was first hired by the firm to provide a crash course in accounting.

“The day I joined, my controller and I walked through the door together not knowing anything,” explains Cappadona, who stepped into the CFO role at School of Rock shortly after its CEO, Rob Price, moved the music lesson provider’s headquarters to the Boston area.

Says Cappadona: “For the first couple of months, it took us almost 25 days to close the books—and we needed to shorten that number in order to start making decisions sooner.”

Next, Cappadona set out to enhance the management team’s visibility into the business.

“We wouldn’t have known that we were going to run into an iceberg until we hit it,” comments Cappadona, who adds that while his team did not come across any icebergs, the company’s sales reporting numbers were just not visible enough.

After making a number of accountant hires, Cappadona says, he became focused on developing School of Rock’s FP&A function to better reveal the performance at its 270 locations—49 of which were company-owned. The company’s finance team keeps a close eye on the number of new students as well as School of Rock’s net promoter score.

Still, when it comes to measuring customer behavior, Cappadona believes that as a consequence of the pandemic, School of Rock‘s lines of sight into customer behaviors are poised to grow rapidly.

“We are deriving 100 percent of our revenue right now from something that did not exist 2 months ago. We were an in-person education business. We had to pivot immediately to deliver a remote solution,” says Cappadona, who recorded an episode with CFO Thought Leader in May 2020.

As it turns out, a customer lesson delivered remotely would appear to be a nice complement to School of Rock’s in-person lessons.

Notes Cappadona: “At the end of the day, the mission is really the same—and it’s our sense of community that sets us apart.” –Jack Sweeney

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Guest: John Cappadona

Company: School of Rock

Connect: www.schoolofrock.com

Headquarters: Canton, MA

CFOTL: Tell us about a finance strategic moment …

Cappadona: I’ll tell you about my time at WB Mason, where I was really charged with bringing up the FP&A department, with creating it. Previously, they really hadn’t had the sort of financial insights coming forth that they needed. What really comes to mind is Hurricane Sandy, or Superstorm Sandy, which hit the East Coast hard, as you may recall. WB Mason was primarily focused in the Northeast, so pretty much all of our operations were out of business for several days. We had to quickly engage our forecast models, and there were some tough decisions that we had to make. We had to shore up costs because we had bank covenants that we had to maintain, and we had to make sure that given the decreased revenue, our cost structure was going to be fine.

This was one of those strategic moments when we had to look ahead to say, “Well, when are these businesses going to be coming back?” It was very similar to what we’re facing today with the pandemic. Now I’m digging back into my bag of tricks just as I did seven or eight years ago when I was trying to model things out. There was a lot of pressure to do the work and get the answers right. What I’ve found is that you’re never going to have all the answers. You have got to make the decision based on what you know at the time and monitor it. And then if you’ve got to course correct, course correct. That’s the approach that we’ve been using here. If we had waited to get all of our data in to make sure that we knew every answer, we still wouldn’t have a remote offering right now. School of Rock is now remote, and we did that it in 12 days. So if you’re going to fail, fail quickly and move on. jb