For those executives residing inside the private equity and investment banking realms who aspire to someday occupy the CFO office, it’s not uncommon to seek out an “operator’s role”—one that allows recruiters “to check the box” and confidently present a leadership candidate (operations credentials intact) to a company’s management team or board members.
“Inspect your chute carefully and jump smart,” might be the abbreviated advice for those looking to land inside an operations role. Once inside, the goal is to canvass the corridors and collaborate with the company functional areas and managers that the banking world seldom sees. Sometimes such operations stints are little more than a year long, while at other points the stays last several years and incorporate roles at multiple companies.
For Michael Linford, whose chute opened wide, the operations tour of duty was at Hewlett-Packard, and the multiyear stint would arguably afford him more operational insights than most aspiring CFOs could ever hope to glean.Read More
“When I joined, the decision to separate HP’s consumer and enterprise businesses had already been made,” explains Linford, recalling his 2015 arrival inside the firm’s M&A integration team. The historic split-up of Hewlett-Packard had been structured such that the former company would change its name to HP Inc., spin off Hewlett Packard Enterprise as a newly created company, and sell off its enterprise services business.
“As the split-off was happening, we knew that we had to continue to grow the company—there was a duality to it because if you want to achieve change, you must continue to buy and sell companies at the same time,” comments Linford, who tells us that he quickly became involved with helping to integrate a recently acquired networking firm that had stumbled since having been added.
“The networking business had been growing quickly, but as it came into the HP mother ship, it just stalled, so we spent a lot of time getting this business back on track as the larger separation was simultaneously under way—so we were tasked with building a real business at the same time that we were shedding these other businesses,” explains Linford, who adds that the role taught him to be mindful of distractions.
“If you didn’t focus on getting value from the acquisitions that were being made, what was left wouldn’t have any value,” continues Linford, who notes that the networking business ultimately became a “material part” of the larger business.
Roughly 2 years into his M&A stint, Linford joined HP’s software business, where he served as finance leader for newly formed HP Enterprise.
“This was where I encountered one of the hardest problems that I’ve ever had to solve in my career,” remembers Linford, who points out that the succession of business separations within HP had led to a talent shortage, as employees found themselves attached to one or another entity.
“By the time we got to the software business separation, there was nothing left in the cupboard, so we had to stand up a whole new technology stack to operate the business—and we had to hire a whole new team to support it,” reports Linford, who once again emphasizes the stiff price exacted for having to deal with distractions.
He concludes: “Staying focused on the job at hand while all of this change was happening was a tremendous leadership challenge, presenting technical, operational, and finance challenges that were all very real for every one of us.” –Jack Sweeney
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CFOTL: Tell us about Affirm … what does this company do, and what are its offerings today?
Linford: Affirm’s mission is to build an honest financial product that improves lives. We’re a payment network that helps consumers to purchase the things that they want and need. In doing so, we help merchants to grow their businesses. Many people—especially Millennial and Gen Z consumers—are not happy with the choices that they have for their existing credit products. They do not want to be revolving on credit cards. They do not want the ball-and-chain that comes with compounding debt.
With Affirm, they don’t have to have it. We have never charged late fees. We don’t compound interest on interest. We give consumers immutable certainty of the cost of financing when they check out.Read More
We can bring zero percent options as well as interest-bearing products to help merchants to offer a differentiated set of financing offers to their consumers. All of this is done with an eye toward attacking what we think are a lot of areas of potential harm for consumers that cause them to fall into a lot of traps.
I have nine siblings. I grew up as one of 10 kids. I like to tell folks that no matter how wealthy you are, financially caring for 10 human beings is something that will put an incredible amount of stress on your financial life. For my family as I was growing up, there were always constraints even on access to credit. My parents were certainly not unlike from those who fall into the spiral of never-ending credit card debt.
I saw what our cofounder and CEO Max Levchin was building, and I said, This is going to be something that has the opportunity to change the world. This was my criterion. I did not want to work on something if it meant getting out of bed and going to the gym and going to my stop my five times a week as an ongoing routine. If I were going to do all of this, I wanted it to be for something that I thought had a good chance of changing the world.
Still, even given this audacious statement—which it truly is, saying that you want to get out of bed and change the world—I wanted to do this somewhere that I thought was going to do it responsibly. Affirm, for me, fills this bill, offering a combination of financial services, technology, a solution for a real problem facing consumers, and a plan that never charges late fees—all while being positioned on real principles. We like to say that we will never profit off a consumer’s misfortune or mistake.
Affirm | www.affirm.com | San Francisco, CA