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When asked to share an experience or two that prepared him for a finance leadership role, Jason Peterson recalls an early lesson he received not from a controller, FP&A leader, or CFO, but from a group of engineers.
According to Peterson, his company at the time did not operate as cross-functionally as many firms do today, a situation that very often led business functions to focus almost exclusively on their own goals and priorities, with little inclination toward cross-functional collaboration.
“Oftentimes, people in the finance function would say, ’Engineers! They don’t care about the business. They don’t really want to drive revenues, and they don’t care how much things cost. They just want to produce an elegant solution,’” explains Peterson, who says that there finally came a day when he decided to turn his back on the finance team’s conventional wisdom regarding engineers and begin to supply the engineering team with more management numbers.
“What I realized was that if you actually gave them a little bit of a road map as to how they could accomplish what they really wanted to accomplish and then supported them with what I would call generally high-quality management reporting, you could actually get an excellent outcome,” comments Peterson, who notes that his efforts to educate engineers drove down the company’s “bill of materials” costs while improving the gross margins on multiple products.
Today, as CFO of EPAM Systems, Peterson appears to have this early lesson top-of-mind as he seeks to increase awareness across the organization of what impacts profitability.
Says Peterson: “Once we made certain that we were able to report the types of information that were driving changes in profitability, we then made certain that the company understood what the drivers were.” It’s enough to grab even an engineer’s attention. – Jack Sweeney
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Guest: Jason Peterson
Company: EPAM Systems, Inc.
Headquarters: Newtown, PA
We’re looking at not just SG&A, but gross margin …
CFOTL: You first arrived at EPAM in 2017, can you tell us what was top of mind as you entered the office? What were some of your early priorities?
Peterson: I joined a company that was growing rapidly, that’s got pretty solid profitability in it, a pretty capable finance organization. You kind of look under the hood, I guess, and what you’re trying to do is make improvements without breaking anything. One of the things that happened is, the company had grown really quickly. And I think over a period of time sometimes you’ll under invest in certain functions and I think that was probably the case with finance. I started by making some strategic hires, so strengthen the external reporting, the controllership and the tax schemes. And then from a reorganization standpoint, I’ve done a lot of things, but much of my career has been in FP&A, so I work with a head of FP&A who already had some ideas. When we organized the FP&A group, to not only support corporate leadership decisions, but to be able to take information, decision making down to the BU level and be more supportive of the different business units while of course continuing to support the senior leadership.
Then I would say one other focus I introduced and not only with the FP&A team, but with the broader finance organization is to really focus on being more future or forward looking. I introduced a regular cadence around forecasting and processes that I guess would allow us to identify problems or bumps in the road. And the idea was it would give us enough time then to do something about it or if we didn’t do anything, we couldn’t do anything about it, at least we knew what was coming. That’s really probably what I brought to the company in maybe my first year here.