This article was originally published on Forbes.com
“Protect your people,” “Engage with customers,” and “Be agile” were among the early admonitions issued by a group of CFO “first responders” when asked to reflect on the month that seemingly began as business as usual and suddenly flipped on a dime.
TRIAL BY FIRE
Andrew Casey, CFO, WalkMe, San Francisco, CA
Before joining San Francisco software developer WalkMe as CFO in early March, Andrew Casey spent nearly six years with cloud computing steady-climber ServiceNow, of Santa Clara, California, where he served as senior vice president of finance and business operations. Prior to its ServiceNow entry, Casey’s resume is populated with a string of Silicon Valley marquee names, including Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Oracle Corp., and Sun Microsystems.
Casey: “It’s been a crazy few weeks, and I will tell you that it’s been trial-by-fire since I became CFO early this month. The first day I joined, we were talking about canceling our user conference and what the implications were of going to a virtual format.
Every day, it’s been about reviewing some of the basics and questioning assumptions: “How many customers do we really believe we’re going to sign up this quarter?” “How many Receivables do we really believe we’re going to be able to collect by the end of the month?” I think that this is going to be a defining moment upon which we all look back and hopefully find ourselves able to say, “We did the right things.” …We had the French Ministry of Health ask us to ensure that they could get doctors on board as quickly as possible. We didn’t wait for the paperwork. We just did it—that’s the response that I’m so proud of.”
KEEP YOUR COOL
Sameer Bhargava, CFO, Clark Construction Group, Bethesda, MD
Ten years ago, the construction industry was not where you might have expected Sameer Bhargava’s future to reside. At that time, Bhargava was at the midpoint of a 13-year-career stint at The Carlyle Group, where he had managed the firm’s investment activities. Bhargava migrated to Carlyle’s corporate side of the business as the company prepared for its 2012 IPO. According to Clark’s CFO, he very likely would still be at Carlyle had the possibility of working alongside Robert Moser, CEO of Clark Construction, not taken shape.
Bhargava: “Part of this has been about making sure that we try to stay as agile and nimble as we can and then try to keep a level head around all of it. We’ve got to take care of our people. We not only have our people at the job sites and in the corporate offices, but we also have a lot of subcontractors on our job sites. It is so very important that we take care of everyone and that we do all of the right things to make certain that this is a priority. Then we are also trying to make sure that our work keeps going. We believe that it’s important that we continue to do the work with the right precautions and guidelines in place. We have been really focused on following every CDC guideline and keeping everything safe as precisely as we can. We’re just continuing to work through trying to make the right decisions day to day. Economically, this is definitely different from what 2008 looked like or 2001. Still, there were a lot of lessons learned from those periods that I think are applicable here, and ultimately what we have to do is to play both defense and offense. We do need to make sure that we protect the company, but we cannot lose sight of our goal being that when this period ultimately passes, we are as strong as possible. I am at home in McLean, Virginia, and sheltered in place, trying to work in one of our rooms. The kids are at home. They’ll start online school next Wednesday, and this week they were on spring break, technically, but they’ve all been in the house. But it’s actually worked out fine.”
SUPPLY CHAINS ARE SLOWED NOT BUSTED
Tod Nestor, CFO, Energy Focus, Salon, Ohio
Tod Nestor’s early finance career resembled that of many other finance leaders when, as a manager inside Pepsico’s finance function, he regularly sought to bring financial insights to the attention of his peers. However, in the years that followed, Nestor rejected more traditional finance corporate roles in favor of positions that tasked him with driving organizational change. According to Nestor, his latest tour of duty as CFO/president of Energy Focus, an LED lighting company, is yet another change chapter.
Nestor: “We happen to have a fair amount of our product sourced out of China, so we’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. What we’ve learned is that on the supply chain side there has been an impact by COVID-19, but I would say that it’s been more of a deferral, a timing impact—it hasn’t ceased shipments or any of that. We also did contingency planning and moved some production to other countries. This was critical, as far as timing goes. But as this relates to just China itself, we have found that they were able to get their factories back up and running through a very robust certification process. Then the real problem was downstream, with the suppliers. This took a little longer. So as people returned back to their factories to work, the production got ramped back up. We did see timing impacts, but nothing permanent or long-term on the supply side for going forward. The other locations that have a significant presence of coronavirus, other than China, are in the U.S., where we also source. Clearly, we don’t understand the impact of this yet. Each area of the U.S. is dealing with this differently, and it’s real-time. Honestly, my biggest concern right now is the customer side and what this does to the psyche of a buyer, what it does to the customer. I say this from the perspective of thinking that there’s been such a response to this that it concerns me a little bit from the customer side. As a leader in an organization, I can’t afford to panic. Nor do I want to. I want to send a strong signal to the organization that we are calm, we are thoughtful, and we are taking this on in a very well-thought-out manner.”
TIME TO BUCKLE UP
Carolyn Koehn, CFO, Boomi, Round Rock, TX
Prior to being named CFO of Boomi, a Dell Technologies company, Carolyn Koehn was VP of finance for all of Dell’s global sales compensation. After spending most of her career in helping to grow hardware and infrastructure technology businesses, Koehn found that Boomi provided her with a door of entry into the Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) realm.
Koehn: “I think we are in times that are harder than we are imagining. I don’t know how to say it any better. All we can do is manage the things that we do know and be agile when we come across those things that we haven’t yet thought through. I can tell you
that my team and I spent an hour yesterday just brainstorming and assessing what we know and considering where we may want to be proactive with support from other teams. At this point, you could model several financial scenarios. Nobody knows exactly what this economic impact is going to look like for the globe, much less for Boomi. I think that we’re still just making sure that we’ve got staying power for the very foreseeable near future. We’re seeing which customers generally pay by check and reaching out to them to coordinate electronic payments versus physical checks. We’ve also looked at how to do a better job of planning so that we actually can leverage the electronic tools for accounts payable versus approaches that typically involve a manual check. From an accounting perspective, we’re already looking at Month 2 of our close cycle and figuring out where we need additional support because we won’t have the same levels of productivity when folks are working from home. It’s not an uninterrupted work environment. So we’ve asked our accounting leader to very quickly lay out where we think we need to complement our accounting team.”
EYES ON THE CUSTOMER
Terry Schmid, CFO, Topia, San Francisco, CA
Among the different breeds of finance leaders that populate the tech realm these days, Terry Schmid is a standout not just for the number of times that he has occupied the CFO office (we counted nine), but also for the cool, straightforward manner he’s known to use when explaining emerging business opportunities to investors, customers, and employees.
Schmid: “Here in San Francisco, we’re in shelter-in-place in the area where I live right now. You can’t leave your home unless you’re going to the grocery store or the doctor.
This started this week on Tuesday, but the week before, we as a company made the decision that at least for 30 days we would close all of our offices around the world and send everybody home. I think that this was the right thing to do. Right now, we’re doing what we can to keep our employees safe and to limit—at least as much as we can as a company—their exposure to COVID-19. We use Zoom and Slack and stay in close touch using these tools for meetings. I think that the big thing for all of us right now is the uncertainty. We’re trying to understand and pay attention to the behavior of our customers. Are they engaging? Disengaging? We can’t go to meet them. We’re trying to understand what it looks like for our deal flow. What does it look like for our forecast? How is it going to impact this? What do payment histories look like? Are they slowing? Do customers remain engaged?” – Jack Sweeney