The corporate headquarters of Bend All Automotive may have been a mere 30-minute drive from KPMG’s offices in Waterloo, Ontario—but Melissa Howatson had to put in a 6-year career investment at the accounting house before she came to realize that it was time to go the distance.
Not unlike those of many of her peers, Howatson’s years in public accounting were laden with mentorship generously supplied by a partner (and a number of senior managers). The Waterloo office was an enviable launchpad populated by many professionals who remain in Howatson’s life today, as she explains when we make inquiries to better understand the motivations and choices made by this future CFO.
When Howatson arrived inside Bend All’s corporate offices in late 1999, she used the preferred door-of-entry for accountants far and wide: controllership. She would have a lengthy tenure there (10 years), which leads us to prod her in hope of better exposing what she perceives to be the return on this career-years investment.Read More
In the early 2000s, it seems, auto parts manufacturer Bend All may well have had traditional expectations for whoever filled the role of controller that didn’t necessarily include undertaking menu of strategic finance initiatives.
Looking back, Howatson tells us that she now wishes that she perhaps had been “more deliberate” when it came to acquiring financial planning and analysis experience during the early years of her career. Still, she lets us know that she satisfied her growing appetite for financial insight by tapping finance expertise that resided with professionals outside Bend All’s existing accounting and finance functions.
“We had a very strong engineering leader who was very financially astute, so I would really lean in to try to understand how his part of the business worked,” recalls Howatson, who notes that she eventually sought to build her own “tight” network of professionals across the company.
“I had to build my own network in order understand how the key inputs could help me to build a financial plan, but this was something that I really had to learn on my own as I went along,” she continues.
Fast-forward a few years, as Howatson finds herself in a conference room seated alongside the company’s top management and a number of bankers. The topic for discussion is the potential sale of the company, and Howatson is expected to participate in a presentation to a prospective buyer.
“This was when I realized that I needed to practice those skill sets,” explains Howatson, who reports that although she had never really feared presenting to groups before, the possibility that she’d be presenting to the future owner of the business presented circumstances altogether different.
She adds: “While our CEO and president covered a lot of the material, I appreciated the chance to present. I was a little nervous, but it did help that I had the confidence of the CEO behind me.” –Jack Sweeney
“You are only as good as the team that you build up around you.” –Melissa Howatson, CFO, Vena
CFOTL: Tell us about Vena … what does this company do, and what are its offerings today?
Howatson: Vena is an intelligent platform for complete planning. What’s unique about it is that it’s natively integrated with Microsoft 365. We serve over 1,500 customers, ranging in size from SMB to enterprise, across a wide variety of industries. Finance and business professionals are the main users of the system, which they employ in really three different areas. The first is finance-led planning. Think of your traditional budgeting and forecasting, your what-if analyses, your finance and business reporting. We also do extended planning. Here, think cash flow planning, workforce planning, sales and operational planning.
“I think that what makes us different is that while a lot of other systems in our space try to get finance to move away from Excel, we embrace it.” —CFO Melissa Howatson
We also have a third category, which we call Beyond Planning. This is things like account reconciliations, incentive compensation, management. So, we start with FP&A but then can go much broader than that. I would say that the value prop is really about helping companies to plan to grow through anything.Read More
I think that this is really relevant. If you think about the current macroeconomic environment that we’re in, there can be lots of what-if scenarios around having to think about different ways to plan your business. This is really where Vena plays. I think that what makes us different is that while a lot of other systems in our space try to get finance to move away from Excel, we embrace it. We look at Excel, we work very closely with it, we closely integrate with it, and then we enhance it with our own powerful, multidimensional, data model. We take all of the goodness that Excel has and then add to it to drive even more ability for finance.
I think that what this does is to make Excel a more intuitive system because people get to stay with the systems that they know and love within Excel itself. In fact, more than 80% of companies that have moved away from Excel have moved back to it. We’ve been there right from the beginning, which I think is great and a testament to our flexibility. This is what drew me to Vena. I really do believe that the Office of Finance can be a more strategic value driver, but what we need to do in order to enable this is to get out of the day-to-day manual tasks so that we can free up time for more strategic thinking, value-added insight, business partnering, and scenario development. A solution like Vena really does help an Office of Finance to do exactly this.
Vena | www.venasolutions.com | Toronto, ON