Bill Zerella’s path to the CFO office began at a company whose customers largely belonged to a bygone era. At the time, Simplicity Patterns was the largest pattern company in the world, and its most devout customers were sewing machine owners across the United States and Canada who enjoyed making clothes for themselves and their families.
For Zerella, a 20-something-year-old auditor, the critical career decision to join Simplicity was a no-brainer not because of the business opportunity being presented or the position being offered but because of the source of the proffer. The company had recently hired a former Fortune 500 finance leader by the name of Bill Lewis, who was looking to throttle up the company’s business model. Zerella was ready to climb on board.Read More
“I probably learned more from him during the 5 years I was with that company than I’ve learned in the past 25 years,” comments Zerella, who today is a seasoned tech finance leader who has served in a string of CFO roles, including one with Fitbit, where in 2015 he oversaw the company’s $841 million initial public offering (IPO).
Still, when asked about the consequential experiences that allowed him to advance upward, Zerella is drawn back to his years at Simplicity.
“It was a low-tech company that basically just printed sewing patterns—which might not sound interesting to most—but it was incredibly lucrative and probably one of the most profitable firms that I’ve ever been part of,” reports Zerella, who started in an auditing role but quickly found himself reassigned to FP&A as CFO Lewis looked to beef up the company’s performance measurements. However, Zerella’s arrival in the FP&A planning realm coincided with Simplicity’s adoption of one of the desktop computing era’s most disruptive technologies, spreadsheet application Lotus 1-2-3.
In the months ahead, Zerella’s mastery of the tool would allow the former auditor to move the Simplicity finance team beyond calculators and pencils as he led the automation of the company’s entire planning process—and received multiple promotions.
In fact, the former auditor held the position of treasurer at the time of his departure to accept his first CFO appointment—only 5 years after his arrival.
“Looking back, I probably got there too soon—I probably could have used a little more training,” recalls Zerella, whose Simplicity career was also notable for having permitted him to witness firsthand the transformational power of tech—which itself would lead to his relocation only a few years later to a locale he will now likely always call home, Silicon Valley. –Jack Sweeney
Made Possible By
CFOTL: Tell us about ACV … what does this company do, and what are its offerings today?
Zerella: ACV is driving the digital transformation of the wholesale automotive industry. At our core, we’re a data company. To explain this a little more, historically, let’s say that you have a Honda Accord and you want to trade up to a Mercedes. Thus, you go to a Mercedes dealer and you trade in your Honda. Most likely, because of the demographics that this Mercedes dealer serves, it will sell this car in the wholesale market to another dealer for whom this car is more appropriate. This could be a Honda dealer, a used car dealer, whatever.
This wholesale market and this industry, which have been around for decades, have traditionally transacted through physical auctions. In our example, the Honda would be driven to a physical auction. There would be buyers and bidders for the car. Someone would buy it and transact. This is the way that this industry has been for decades. There are roughly 20 million cars transacted annually in the dealer-to-dealer wholesale market, which also includes commercial vehicles such as those that come off a lease and get traded as well. This feeds into the consumer market, which is the roughly 40 million units a year that consumers buy and sell. So, this is a very large market, and in units it’s actually bigger than the new car market. And that’s just the U.S.Read More
What ACV endeavored to do was to move to an online marketplace, leveraging data and essentially putting together a data set on what is a very complex asset: the used car. We did this by using technology to enable our roughly 800 inspectors around the country who will actually physically inspect a car. They will do things like scan the undercarriage, run algorithms that listen to the engine, plug in to the meters, and put together, on average, about 130 data points on a vehicle. This enables that vehicle to be sold online because the buyer can basically understand the condition of the asset without ever having seen it.
As a result, ACV has created the largest online marketplace for transacting used cars through the wholesale market. This year, we’ll handle about 550,000 cars—and mind you, the company was founded only 6 years ago. The firm has grown really, really rapidly, but—frankly—this is just one more example of how digital transformation can change an industry.
ACV Auctions | wwwacvauctions.com | Buffalo, NY