One of the unspoken truths about interim CFO roles is that they sometimes don’t lead to an actual CFO role—a fact that has turned more than a few seasoned finance executives into chronic nail-biters.
For Jared Poff, who ultimately cleared all hurdles as an interim chief to land inside the CFO office at Designer Brands (formerly DSW), the job title ended up leaving a lasting impression.
“I sat in the interim role for nearly 6 months, and they were absolutely the most grueling 6 months of my career—outside of COVID, maybe,” recalls Poff, who was recruited to Designer Brands back in 2015 with the expectation that he was going to be groomed by the company’s then-CFO to take over her role within the next few years.Read More
For Poff, a former Cardinal Health finance director and more recently treasurer at retailer Big Lots, the plan was to join Designer Brands as treasurer and take a year or two to beef up his accounting and controllership experience before entering the C-suite.
The fact that he was swapping a treasurer role at Big Lots for a treasurer role at an organization which at the time was only half the size of Big Lots didn’t seem to matter, as Poff viewed the Designer Brands opportunity as one that offered a viable on-ramp to the CFO office.
However, Poff tells us that within months of joining the company, Designer Brands’ board put in motion a CEO change at roughly the same time that its then-CFO got recruited to fill another CFO opportunity.
“I was named “interim” because the board was not 100 percent comfortable that a first-time CFO was a good match for a first-time CEO,” remarks Poff, who remembers wondering whether his career calculus may have been faulty.
“I was treasurer, I was controller, and I was CFO, and because I didn’t know whether I’d be keeping the CFO position, I couldn’t hire for the other two roles,” reports Poff, who came across a list of 70 possible CFO candidates that was circulating among board members.
“It was as if I were interviewing for the position every day, but I did get the nod,” comments Poff, who recalls his early days at Designer Brands as a period of accelerated learning.
Says Poff: “I would do it again in a heartbeat—when it’s trial by fire, you just learn everything.” –Jack Sweeney
“Strong finances are the outcome of strong businesses. Be aggressively curious about the drivers of the business and understanding the organizational and expense structures. Think beyond finance.” –Jared Poff, CFO, Designer Brands
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CFOTL: What part of Designer Brands’ strategy is data-driven today?
Poff: As we have become a brand builder, having access to data around the consumer is massively important. For us, this is data unlike that of most other brands that we compete with from a brand standpoint. We have the luxury of having 30 million VIP program members inside our DSW shop who can feed us all kinds of data we use for product development on our brand side. Most brands don’t have the huge retail and consumer component that we do, but for the brands that we distribute besides DSW, we are always looking for more and more consumer data. What’s changing? Where are they shopping? Are they still going to Macy’s? Where are they going? Is it now Anthropologie, somewhere like that? This is the type of information that we can’t get enough of, and we’re building as many data lakes and pipes as we can to constantly get this data so that we can access it.Read More
Our business is in a highly discretionary industry. Every indication is telling us that there is going to be very high pressure on the consumer, in a high-pressure economy. Maybe not potentially a recession, but certainly people are pulling back, not extending. Our biggest focus during the next 12 months will be on becoming as efficient as possible. How do we make sure that we control expenses aggressively while not getting upside down on investments around planned sales that may not happen? So, we will be all about not making huge investments in inventory, not overstretching teams around new projects and capex, and really just focusing on the next 12 months. We think that there’s some pressure coming—and especially pressure on consumer discretionary spending
Designer Brands | www.designerbrands.com | Columbus, OH