By the time Russell Lester landed inside Intuit’s department of analysis in 2009, the unremarkable career path on which he had first set out nearly 10 years earlier had become brimming with possibilities.
Back in the early 2000s, Lester tells us, he was hired by the company Harland Clarke (now Vericast) as an analyst specializing in customer information and insights.
“This was not traditional finance, and I was sort of tiptoeing around what we would broadly call ‘analytics’ today,” remembers Lester, who notes that his adeptness with data analysis eventually resulted in his assignment to a role responsible for pioneering the company’s performance management discipline, which subsequently helped to open the door to Harland’s financial planning and analysis function.Read More
At the time when a recruiter for Intuit called, Lester was responsible for overseeing Harland’s FP&A discipline. It seemed that one of Intuit’s divisional presidents was seeking to hire a senior finance executive with a distinguished data insight and analysis resume.
“I had the FP&A background, and at the same time it was clear that I had been involved with things that touch the customer as well as the go-to-market team,” recalls Lester, whose career at Intuit is notable in part for his inclusion on the due diligence team involved in the headline-grabbing sale of Intuit’s financial services data insight division to private equity firm Thoma Bravo for more than $1 billion.
No longer an anomaly, Lester’s customer-centric, data insight resume was now capable of opening doors to both senior finance and operational roles.
In 2017, Lester accepted a VP of marketing operations position with Keap, a CRM applications vendor that immediately tasked him with establishing a single source of truth for data across the organization. It wasn’t long before Lester’s world was once again intersecting with the finance function, a development that eventually led to broader planning and analysis responsibilities across both operations and finance.
A couple of years later, Keap found itself in search of a new finance leader—a development that Lester was monitoring somewhat passively until a mentor challenged him to throw his hat in the ring.
“He told me that he thought that I was already ‘doing the work’ and that I should have a conversation with board—so I did,” explains Lester, who would be named CFO of Keap in early 2020.
Reflecting on the career path behind him, Lester can’t help but draw our attention to the quarries of customer information that he once mined daily.
Says Lester: “We all perhaps have heard the advice ‘Connect yourself to numbers, and you will always have a job.’ Well, someone once told me: ‘Connect yourself to the customer, and you will never go hungry.’” –Jack Sweeney
“Explore opportunities to bolster your operational experience. Don’t be afraid to take a nontraditional path to get as close as you can to the customers and those who support them. Asking the right questions is key to effective leadership. View finance as a teaching part of the organization and empower others to be inquisitive about the data.” –Russell Lester, CFO, Versapay
Made Possible By
CFOTL: Tell us about Versapay … what does this company do, and what are its offerings today?
Lester: Versapay is the leader in collaborative accounts receivable. Our collaborative A/R network is the first solution that empowers what we call “the genius of teams.” This means that we bridge the gap that exists between supplier and buyer. If you think about the way that the purchasing process works, you realize that between the A/P side and the A/R side, there’s this gap that exists. Our focus is on creating a shared digital experience to facilitate the flow of funds between two functions. Great Hill Partners, our owners, are indeed great partners. From our offices in Toronto, Atlanta, and Miami, we serve over 9,000 clients and the more than a million buyers engaged on our network.Read More
What guides me here is our mission, which is to be achieving our vision of being proactively persuasive. We are getting closer to reaching this gold standard because we are continuing our focus on providing timeliness, accuracy, and now relevance, which is the next step in this progression. We’re working on presenting relevant data that helps teams to make the decisions that they need to make.
We’re just on the beginning edge of being proactively persuasive. Getting there will be powered not only by employing data science but also by building strong partnerships. We need to be able to better anticipate the needs of the business. My hope is that by a year from now we will have automated a lot of our pipelines so that they’re not so difficult to transport. After all, in the payments world, our unique competitive advantage means that we have hundreds of data pipelines that we analyze. Our goal is to get these automated, get them integrated, and get them democratized in a way such that all of our stakeholders across the company can consume and self-serve the data in them in a reliable and secure manner.
Still, as much as I will enjoy seeing how our team has moved this strategy toward success 12 months from now, I really think that what is equally important if not more so is what you might call the “tactical stuff.” I want people to see finance as a thought partner and strategic advisor and to look at us as not being here just to say “no” or just to give a report. I want people to think, “I have something that I need help on—I’m going to call finance.”
Versapay | www.versapay.com | British Columbia, Canada