When Peter Walker looks back on his career, he doesn’t hesitate to highlight “the big asks,” or those times when he asked a boss to “take a chance” on him. One such instance occurred when he asked his CEO to sponsor his studies as he pursued an executive MBA on nights and weekends at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“He said ‘Yes,’ and the degree really flipped my brain from being that of an accountant to that of a big picture finance partner,” comments Walker, who was working for Assurant, a provider of risk management products and services.
Still, an even bigger “ask” followed—one that engendered a response that even today seems to surprise Walker.Read More
“It was only a couple of months later that I found myself on a plane to Atlanta, about to step into the CFO role at a $2 billion business unit,” explains Walker, who recalls that this divisional CFO role opened up shortly after he completed his MBA—which allowed him to make the pitch, “Hey, you made this investment in me—the company needs a good ROI off this, so why not put me in that CFO role?”
Today, Walker doesn’t hesitate to characterize his leap upward at the company as a case of “right place, right time.” However, he points out that the promotion came 9 years into a 17-year tenure with Assurant—a hefty investment of career years that spanned such milestones as the company’s 2004 IPO, multiple acquisitions, and expansion overseas. Other promotions followed and in 2014 Walker was named Assurant’s finance chief, followed by a stint as chief strategy officer.
“As I sat in the chief strategy officer role, I really missed finance, as I view the CFO role today as the trifecta of finance, strategy, and leadership,” remarks Walker, who notes that during his strategy chief stint he had become increasingly interested in the deal-making mechanics of the private equity realm, an area to which his career thus far had offered only limited exposure.
Comments Walker: “I had had a lot of M&A experience within a public organization, but I wanted a turn at being the CFO leading the sale of a PE-owned organization so that I could gain another set of experiences—which, as it has turned out, have proven critical to reaching where I sit today.”
Walker was recruited to lead the sale of Jackson Hewitt from H.I.G. Bayside Capital to Corsair Capital and in 2017 was named CFO of Jackson Hewitt, a firm in Corsair’s portfolio.
“I specifically went after a private equity opportunity and was looking for something where the sponsor was going to want to sell in the next year or two,” explains Walker, who would remain as CFO of Jackson Hewitt for another year (post-transaction) before stepping into the CFO office at Sterling in 2019.
Looking back, no matter how many CFO tours of duty or transaction milestones he achieves, Walker seems resolute in believing that none of them could have been achieved if not for “the big asks.” –Jack Sweeney
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CFOTL: Tell us about Sterling … what does this company do, and what are its offerings today?
Walker: The big picture in terms of the industry in which Sterling operates is identity and background screening. It’s about an $18 billion-plus global industry. The 5-year CAGR on the revenue in this industry is about 12%. Whenever I take a role, I always start with the big picture of what the industry is and how it operates? Sterling is one of the leaders in this space, which is ultimately why I took the role. The services that we provide range from identity verification all the way through to the background check process within the human capital space. We are a critical component of the talent acquisition, which really is all about getting the right person in the seat for our clients.Read More
One of the particular services that we provide is to ensure that you are who you say you are. Identity verification for a job is even more important than ever in this virtual environment that we operate in today. Depending on a client’s program, we can offer a suite of criminal background checking; verification of employment history, education, and certifications; and drug and health screening. We are really a full-suite solution in terms of onboarding clients. We also see opportunities in post-hire monitoring, and we’re doing some of this today. This means that when somebody comes on board within a company, we run programs based on client specifications to monitor somebody’s behavior after they have been employed—social media, for example. A lot of our financial services clients are very interested in ensuring that their employees are not on social media posting things that would be negative to their brands, so that is a great example of post-hire monitoring.
“The modern CFO focuses on value creation by operating at the trifecta of leadership, finance, and strategy.” Peter Walker, CFO, Sterling
Sterling | www.sterlingcheck.com | New York, NY