Avalara CFO Ross Tennenbaum remembers that back in 2018, when he was a managing director at Goldman Sachs, he had conversations with a number of senior executives from Slack Technologies, Inc.
At the time, the fast-growing workplace messaging and communication platform was preparing to go public, and the company was making a special effort to educate bankers and analysts alike about the firm’s business. As his questions became more pointed, Tennenbaum says, he noticed that members of Slack’s senior management team would frequently permit other executives stationed along the conversation’s periphery to supply the answers.
“At first, I thought that they served sort of a chief-of-staff type of role, but what I realized was that when the executive was pressed with a question, one of the sidekicks would always be turned to for the answer,” explains Tennenbaum, who found his conversations with Slack to be highly informative.
Later, Tennenbaum learned that the sidekicks were members of Slack’s business operations team, a cluster of analysts that he describes as being “cousins” to Slack’s finance and FP&A teams.
It was the kind of teamwork that often distinguishes strong company cultures and management teams, explains Tennenbaum.
CFOTL: What are your priorities for the coming year?
Tennenbaum: One is building out our finance and accounting talent to take us to a billion dollars’ worth of revenue and beyond. We’re at close to half a billion of revenue, and we’re looking to go well beyond that. You really need the talent that has experienced a larger scale, knows how to achieve it, and can take you there. So, talent has become really important, and you have to remain constantly focused on it—today, I spend around 20% of my time on it.
CFOTL: What does the phrase “workforce culture” mean to you?
Tennenbaum: Beginning in my investment banking days, I’ve studied many companies and management teams. I’ve seen teams that were really high-functioning, really strong, great cultures. I’ve also seen management teams and executive teams that were not cohesive. There was a lot of distrust and backstabbing. Each of these scenarios could generate great numbers and be performing well, but I would only want to invest my money in the one that has that trust and has a cohesive team—and where this is really being driven forward in a cultural way. I don’t think that Wall Street really has a view of this. There is really no metric internally—and certainly not externally—that gives this view on culture. But I think that investors are increasingly trying to get this view into talent and culture.