Not unlike that of many of his CFO peers, Derrek Gafford’s career path has been shaped in part by geography—specifically, by having its origins in a city that was at once home to a state college, the corporate headquarters of a marquee company, and a Big Four accounting office populated with new college grads.
In Gafford’s case, the city was Boise; the college, Boise State; the marquee company, grocery giant Albertsons; and the Big Four accounting house, Deloitte.
“I had worked my way through Boise State in an Albertsons grocery store, which actually paid for a lot of my education,” explains Gafford, who upon graduating with an accounting degree would end up nabbing a job with Deloitte’s Boise office.
“Originally, the only job that I had ever really wanted was to work in finance at Albertsons,” he continues, “and guess what company became the first account that Deloitte assigned me to?”
After about 2 years with Deloitte, Gafford joined Albertsons’ internal audit staff, from which he eventually advanced to oversee the company’s audit department while reporting directly to Albertsons’ CFO.
“As an internal auditor, I had traveled the country visiting stores and distribution centers, so I had gotten a feel for the various aspects of the business and how the company operated,” recalls Gafford.
However, after 6 years with Albertsons, Gafford began to consider different finance leadership roles beyond Boise’s city limits.
“The way things were headed,” he remembers, “it seemed like I was going to be a lifelong leader of internal audit—which is not where I wanted to be. There was this small, privately held grocery company in Seattle that was looking for a CFO, and the CEO and I got along, so we packed up and headed north.” –Jack Sweeney
“The world of work continues to change, and we’re providing services to help our clients to navigate this world. ‘Just In Time’ inventory is really where the labor force is headed right now. In fact, just about everything has become part of the Just In Time world. Consequently, providing the ability to reposition a workforce and quickly scale it up or down is the central part of our value proposition.” –Derrek Gafford, CFO, TrueBlue
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CFOTL: Share with us a finance strategic moment that you have experienced?
Gafford: Well, back in 2019, we did a major implementation of Oracle. I can talk about that in a moment. But back to your question that why that was really defining for us was, I can remember for two or three, actually more years, we would get together and there was just so much complaints about our technology. And, if we were to go back half a dozen years ago, we had 20 separate applications, some on-premise, some cloud. But we had so many challenges. We were lacking middleware in a lot of areas. We didn’t have documentation. And the output of all that is it seemed like something was always broken. We were always doing an implementation. Something was always broken. I remember one time where I had to go to the CEO and go, “We might not make earnings. These technology platforms, they’re giving us some real challenges.”Read More
The movement, there was a defining moment, actually out of a couple respects. One, I can remember us talking about this for a few years, where everybody was just complaining about the technology. And then we had a strategic meeting, and it really came around to me challenging the team, like, “Okay, so are we going to just continue to complain about this, or are we going to do something about this?” Long story short, that was the genesis of us really moving onto a complete cloud solution. One of the best things that we’ve ever done. I hope I don’t have to do another one of those, but it’s really nice to have at this point in time.
We replaced over 20 separate applications in one year. We were encouraged to be a little more conservative, but we were trying to also balance the risk of the project with the risk of not moving forward. You heard about some of the challenges that we’ve had, and that really set the stage for us not only to have that foundation in place, but to innovate in many other ways.
But if we fast-forward today, and say, “What results have we gotten?” We’ve produced a 40% return on investment out of that, which it’s harder to do with back office operations. Right? You don’t have the revenue component to help you out, so a lot of this is cost, quality, efficiencies. That’s been really big for us. Our finance costs are down 20% since then. Our employee engagement scores are up 14 points. Actually, our employee engagement scores, we are leading the company for years now in employee satisfaction. And our customer satisfaction has also went up by equal measures, which is really great, because if you’re in a leadership position you’ve got to ask yourself, “What are you really here to do? What’s your purpose?” And hopefully somewhere in that answer is about making life better for employees.
I’ve never heard an employee talk about they went home and had dinner with their family and talked about how many transactions they processed. But I do hear people talking about being something that they’re part of that makes a difference. And at the end of this, we’re taking routine tasks out of the hands of our finance professionals so they can focus on higher value work. That’s good for the company. It’s also great for people, because 70% of people find real meaning in the jobs that they do. I think that’s one of the things that gets missed by technology. You’ve got a real opportunity to actually make people’s lives genuinely better. We spent a lot of time at work. Right? That was definitely a career point that was important to me and to our company.
CFOTL: Tell about TrueBlue … was does this company do, and what are its offerings today?
Gafford: Well, it’s a very different company today than the one that I joined in 2005. We were a general labor company back then. We’re a much more well-rounded workforce solutions company today. The world of work continues to change, and we’re providing services to help our clients to navigate this world. ‘Just In Time’ inventory is really where the labor force is headed right now. In fact, just about everything has become part of the Just In Time world. Consequently, providing the ability to reposition a workforce and quickly scale it up or down is the central part of our value proposition.
Specifically, what we do is to provide contingent labor. This is sometimes referred to as “temporary staffing,” but we don’t like this term because we think that describing somebody “temporary” does justice neither to them nor to the job that they’re doing. But what we’re talking about is contingent labor in industrial settings: manufacturing jobs, construction jobs, all of these industrial types of positions.
On the other side—less industry-focused—we provide something called “recruitment process outsourcing,” through which we handle part or all of a client company’s recruiting function. This is not just headhunting: It’s the complete process. We go and find candidates, screen them, and then turn them over to a hiring manager, who chooses two or three candidates. We get paid a fee when they select someone.
With regard to priorities, we’re obviously watching the demand for our services, which means revenue. We also are very cognizant of customer satisfaction—what do they like, what do they not like?—and getting these metrics out to every branch.
TrueBlue | www.trueblue.com | Tacoma, WA