A CFO Success Story: Christine Russell, CFO of UniPixel

Christine Russell, CFO of UniPixel

The following is from an interview with Christine Russell, recently hired as CFO of UniPixel, as announced in CFO Moves. This interview was edited for clarity.

SD: Congratulations on your move to UniPixel. What are you excited about in your new role?

CR: I have been a Silicon Valley CFO for 30+ years and I’ve been involved in all kinds of different technologies. I’ve worked in many different industries, but there is a fundamental formula consisting of three elements for success that I’ve found in my companies and if they have this formula to start with, then they are going to meet with success.

First, the company really needs to be serving a large market (in the multi-billions) and that way in your growth cycle if you’re capturing only 10% of market share, you’re still a company with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. I’ve never enjoyed going to companies that are targeting a niche market where you don’t need 80% of the market and you’re a 200 million dollar company and there’s nowhere to go from there.

The second criteria is the product needs to be something that’s really useful and can be differentiated in the market. It can be either technological advantages, cost advantages, usability or some combination of these. It has to be something that people really need, and not something that we need to go out and convince everyone they need. Finally, the CEO needs to be a leader – somebody thoughtful, decisive, and with a bias for action. They need to have an impeccable reputation in the industry. Someone I’m really proud to present to investors and who customers can stand beside. To me, UniPixel has all of these elements – a multi-billion dollar addressable market in touch screen devices that have both technological and cost advantages and a CEO with a deep background in display and optical and who has run public companies before with great success.

  • Quick Takes from Christine on… 

    The formula for a great company:
    1) Serves a large market.
    2) Creates a useful and differentiated product.
    3) Has a really well-rounded CEO.

    Networking: Successful networking means making lifelong friends and giving back.

    Successful Female CFOs: Executives need to make their career a priority. There is no such thing as balance. It’s a compromise. It’s what you choose to do with your life.

    Females on Boards: Recruit your board by individual, irrespective of race, sex, country of origin. Hire the best for the board. Period.

    Managing your Board: Over-communication and transparency creates trust.

    The Best CEOs for CFOs: Confident CEOs are able to share their powerbase with the CFO and treat them as a trusted partner.

    Advice to up-and-coming female CFOs: Be absolutely fearless. Brainstorm with your other executives, and shut up and listen – you will learn a lot.

SD: How do CFOs get matched with great companies? What did you do to get to this company?

CR: I was approached for the UniPixel opportunity by a colleague who I knew in Silicon Valley for many years. He introduced me to the CEO, Jeff Hawthorne, and told me that he had worked with Jeff before and that he was an excellent and effective CEO. He told me that Jeff was respected for his deep knowledge in the display and optical industry. So a personal recommendation is extremely valuable. Always.

The way I joined my prior company was through a board member who was a committee chair who I knew from professional organizations. So again, it’s about who you know.

SD: How did you become so well networked?

CR: First of all, because I don’t really like the concept of networking, I think of people as friends. Friends help one another. I’ll tell you a little story about how I came to know some of these people, especially the gentleman who recommended me at Vendavo: I belong to a professional organization called Financial Executives International and I always enjoyed attending the Silicon Valley meetings. One day they approached me and asked if I would be willing to become the president of the organization. I was doing an IPO for a company at the time so I said I was too busy. I was set straight by one of my corporate outside lawyers. He looked at me and asked if I enjoyed going to the organization and if I found it helpful. So I said oh yeah, the people are wonderful. And he said, so when do you give back? I left his office and I immediately called up the board and told them I would accept the position. I have no idea how I did that while I was doing an IPO, but I did it, and then those people went on to become very good friends of mine and they really helped me. They help you and you help them.

SD: Most Senior Finance Executives don’t do enough networking.

CR: No they don’t, and I think they’re missing an opportunity to meet people who can be a lifetime friend and find out about opportunities that go both ways. They look out for you and you look out for them. And I will say that executive recruiting certainly has its own place. A search firm located me through my LinkedIn profile for a previous position that I held at Evans Analytical Group.

SD: If you look at the percentage of women at the CFO level, it’s not representative of the number of females in finance. What is your take on that?

CR: First of all, I think there are more women in HR and finance than there are in many other positions. I think that you have to have a certain amount of ambition and time that you’re willing to devote away from your family if you want to see the executive staff table. I was once on a panel where one of the panelists got a question asking a woman how she balanced her work and home life. Her response was you don’t. She devoted a lot of time to her work life at the expense of her home life. There is no such thing as balance. It’s a compromise. It’s what you choose to do with your life.

SD: What are your thoughts on the social discussion about females on boards?

CR: I’ve always thought that you should recruit your board by individual, irrespective of race, sex, country of origin, or anything that is unrelated to finding the best people you can who will accelerate your business. I know I’m going against the grain by saying that, but I think that a board member has to be highly qualified to be a board member. Especially in these times of challenges and activist investors. You need to have the very best qualified individual you can find.

SD: How have you as CFO managed to get the best relationship possible with the board that you had at various companies throughout your career?

CR: I have learned to over-communicate with the board. I will communicate very regularly and frequently and I wait for people to tell me “Christine, quit calling me!” Then I know that I’ve done enough communicating. I’m very transparent with them if there are problems or issues. If there is anything they don’t like about something, they can talk to me about it. But over-communication and transparency create trust.

SD: Some CFOs have said that the CEO can sometimes get in the way of effective communication with the board. What’s your take on that?

CR: I think that’s a valid comment. Just as there are all kinds of personalities of people in the world, there’s all kinds of personalities of CEOs. Some are very transparent and some are very controlling, but you’re not going to have someone become CEO if they don’t have a controlling personality. Some are more concerned about protecting their relationship with the board and trying to keep that relationship exclusive, seeing as it’s about power. More confident CEOs are able to share that powerbase with the CFO and treat them as a trusted partner.

SD: Where do you get the energy for all of the many accomplishments you have had in your career?

CR: I don’t know what else to do! I don’t have hobbies, I don’t play an instrument, and I can’t sing or dance… I’m a working cat! That’s what I do. And I’m good at it and I think as long as I have the ability to contribute and help create jobs, companies and ROI for investors, I’m going to keep doing it.

SD: What advice would you give to a young female CFO?

CR: I would say that you have to be absolutely fearless. One of the things that I did wrong earlier in my career was I thought I had all of the answers, but if you don’t get buy-in with some of the other members of the executive staff, it doesn’t really matter. Enter in the brainstorming conversations with the executives. Ask for everyone’s ideas, no matter how crazy those ideas may be. Create a common mind rather than coming in with all of the answers. Shut up and ask others what they think!

SD: What are you most excited about in your new role?

CR: I’m really excited about this being a pivotal time for UniPixel. We just acquired the Atmel touch film technology and the production facility in Colorado Springs. We are combining the best aspects of the UniPixel technology that we worked on with Kodak and the Atmel technology to come up with something that is more than just one plus one. I’m also very excited about the CEO I’m working with. The number of people he knows and who greeted him at a recent information display convention in San Jose was very heartening for me.

I recently visited the newly acquired Colorado Springs facility and the energy level there is amazing. These people are now able to work with a much smaller, more nimble and flexible company rather than being under a small vision of a large company. The energy level there is still like a start-up.

SD: What is the top thing you need to accomplish in this new phase of the company?

CR: Finance and admin are thinly staffed. I have to get comfortable with a minimum amount of support and identify the positions that I need to upgrade, as well as bringing in proper software and processes for finance. Even though that’s a lot of work, it’s an advantage because you’re not inheriting someone else’s ideas for a business.

SD: Is there something that you feel you would like to tell the CFOs who read this blog?

CR: Stick together! Form groups and partnerships. Join professional organizations and become a cohesive group so that if you’re ever in a bind –finding yourself in need of a boilerplate template for a sales commission plan for staff delivered software, for example – you can pick up the phone, email or text another CFO and ask if they have ever dealt with something similar. Those kinds of professional contacts and friendships are amazingly helpful and allow you to shortcut so many of the things that you would otherwise be handling alone.

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A CFO Success Story is a feature of Samuel’s CFO Blog, where Samuel Dergel follows up on his book, Guide to CFO Success, speaking with CFOs featured in CFO Moves, Samuel’s popular and comprehensive weekly report on CFO Movement across the USA.

CEO: When Your Brand New CFO Leaves

Dear CEO,

I noticed in the news that the CFO you hired with big fanfare only a couple of months ago has left. Your press release quoted your recently new and currently past Chief Financial Officer saying that he is returning to his previous employer because the role is too good of an opportunity to pass up.The CFO Revolving Doors

I have never been Chief Executive Officer of a publicly traded billion-dollar revenue company. I do imagine, however, that the conversation your new CFO had with you must have felt like a kick in the gut, among other places. I am sure that it was not a good day for you.

You know more than most that the past can never be changed. The question remains what can be learned from this ordeal.

While I was not involved in the drama that evolved both before, during or after this incident occurred, I have seen it happen too many times in my weekly coverage of CFO Moves across the US, Canada and the UK. Here are some pointers that you can give to other CEOs so that this does not happen to them.

1) Don’t fall in love with the wrong candidate. Technical, interpersonal, leadership, communication skills are all great. But to hire a great CFO to take you to the next level, you need to connect with motivation of the candidate.

2) Be honest with yourself. You may run a great company but your CFO to be is coming from an ever better environment, understand why they are saying yes. If you know you are runner-up, you may find yourself holding the bouquet at the alter.

3) It’s not just about money. Never, ever think that a CFO takes a role just because of the compensation package. Sure, CFOs are money motivated, but once basic needs are met, other needs are much more important.  (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the same for CFOs, except their basic needs are different than most).

4) Select your executive search partners carefully. I know that you understand the value of working with retained executive search for hiring your key leaders. Not all search firms are created equal, and not always should a search firm you have used in the past be the one you use for a critical search like your next CFO. One key differentiator you search firm needs to have is the ability to truly connect with the executive candidates. When looking for a Chief Financial Officer, a great retained search team has the ability to act as an advocate for the needs of the CFO candidate. The closer your recruiter can become a true partner to your CFO candidate, the better opportunity you will have for hiring a CFO where you will be his or her first choice.

If there is a cloud to this silver lining, it is that your recently retired CFO is available to cover until you hire again. I wish you all the best in hiring your next CFO. This time, I know you will make a better choice.

Wishing you continued success,

 

Samuel

2014: Top 5 of Samuel’s CFO Blogs

As we wind down 2014 and get set for the holidays we all take stock of the year past.

In 2014, my blog turned into a website, led to the publishing of a book for CFOs, and multiple speaking and training sessions during the year. For my CFO blog itself, these were the 5 most popular blog posts visited by my readers.

5) Road Map to Successful CFO Relationships

This original posting was the beginning of the thought process that led to my first book, Guide to CFO Success.

4) Negotiating your CFO Employment Contract

What is interesting about the popularity of this post is that the visits have been mostly from Google searches and other blog postings. Posted in 2011, this is still going strong. Ideas from this blog were further developed in Guide to CFO Success.

3) Introducing: The Strong CFO Program – 1st session FREE

My first blog on financial executive coaching continues to be a point of reference for senior finance executives looking for guidance and support to grow and succeed.

2) The First 90 Days of a New CFO

It seems that CFOs are looking for onboarding advice, because this continues to be a popular topic with search engines. The popularity of this topic ensured that it was addressed further in Guide to CFO Success.

1) Presentation Links: The Road to CFO

My presentation in Vancouver in 2012 continues to be a popular point of entry into my blog and website. Someone somewhere referred to it, and this person must be very influential.

With 2015 about to start, I am pleased to continue the development of content and programs that benefit the CFO and the organizations they are committed to. I am excited about the CFO Peer Groups I will be facilitating this coming year, as well as having the opportunity to help organizations hire and develop the best senior financial talent for their needs.

I am also looking forward to making a difference to you.

Best wishes for continued success in 2015!

Samuel

Do CFOs Listen to Podcasts?

As someone who creates content aimed at the CFO and other senior finance executives, understanding what Senior Financial Officers like to consume as content is important. There is a lot of different types of content out there. Traditional content creators like TV, newspapers and magazines are no longer the only providers of professionally oriented content. Professional services firms, associations and groups, software providers and anyone that wants to get the attention of a Chief Financial Officer is creating content to catch the attention of this Very Important Decision Maker.

When preparing to write my book, Guide to CFO Success, I created a CFO Advisor group to seek the opinions of senior finance executives and learn from their actual experiences. As part of my ongoing quest in providing fresh and relevant Finance oriented content, I reconstituted my CFO Advisor group so that we can all learn and grow.

I recently polled my CFO Advisors on their content habits, and will be sharing some of their insights over the coming weeks.

To begin with, I thought it would be interesting to understand whether CFOs listen to podcasts. Most of the content I have created over the years have been in text, whether on my blogs, in other media articles, as well as my recent book. I have never created my own podcasts, but I have been interviewed for a few podcasts over the past while.Do CFOs Listen to Podcasts

As you can see from the graph, about half of my CFOs do listen to podcasts, while 12% of them tune in to podcasts on a regular basis.

It is interesting to see that CFOs are beginning to take a shine to the podcast as a form of content delivery. To get a better understanding of the value CFOs are getting from podcasts, as well as the future of podcasting focusing on senior finance executives, I spoke with Jack Sweeney, host of CFO Thought Leader, a series of podcasts sharing firsthand lessons from leading Chief Financial Officers. I had the opportunity to be interviewed twice by Jack for his CFO Thought Leader podcasts, and appreciated his insights and questions, which led to the creation of valuable content of interest to the CFO.

“Like many people, my “content consuming” behavior has entered a period of great change. I find I’m adopting the ways of my teenagers (early adopters). We depend almost exclusively on our TV’,s DVR and we take an iPad on family trips so we can access Netflix anytime and anywhere. Meanwhile, I’ve begun to listen to the NPR podcast on weekends simply because I added the app to my iPhone.

I find that there is a noticeable shift in my behavior and meanwhile, from everything I’ve read I’m not alone.  Why would the behavior of CFOs be any different? Clearly, it’s not, and while CFOs may be laggards when it comes to behavioral changes, they are without question changing their behaviors with the rest of us.  Also, I’ll mention once again the car industry’s adoption of in-dash apps over the next few years will also quickly grow the podcast listening audience (CFOs included).” – Jack Sweeney

Sweeney also pointed me to this quote from Tom Webster, VP of Strategy at Edison Research.

“The continued penetration of smartphones in America is changing behavior significantly. We are now seeing activities that were dominated by desktop usage in 2013, flip dramatically to become mobile behaviors. For millions of Americans, the smartphone has become ‘the first screen.’”

Podcasting is just one more distribution channel for content of interest to finance executives. Will CFOs choose podcasting as one of the major ways for them to consume relevant and interesting content as time goes on? Is podcasting a great way to get the attention of the busy CFO?

Stay tuned.

Thoughts About Successful CFO Hiring

I was recently interviewed by Jack Sweeney for his podcast series called CFO Thought Leader. This was the second time I was interviewed by Sweeney, and I enjoyed the conversation. I believe you may find the conversation interesting and relevant.

Here are some of the things that were discussed. (You can find the listen to, download or find the iTunes link below)

  • Helping companies hire their next CFO with the correct chemistry for the company.
  • Key reasons a company needs to work with an executive search firm to hire their next CFO.
  • The courtship process in hiring a new CFO.
  • Young CFOs who are “Jumping the curve”.

“Patience is a virtue, and CFOs need to be virtuous.”

“Today’s CFO is all encompassing. CFOs have to be involved and responsible for everything. As CFO, you need to know what you can and cannot do. The importance of the complete finance team allows you to be as successful as possible.”

  • Private Equity firms and the influence they have over the placement of CFOs in mid-size market.

“The CFO is a significant part of the valuation of a company.”

  • The CFO career path – jumping to larger ship vs. niching down.
  • CFO Hiring – from within the same industry or outside the industry?

If any of these topics are of interest to you, you will find this podcast to be worth listening to. (23 minutes)

Which comments resonate most with you? Let me know what you think below, or privately by email.

Download | Subscribe to CFO Thought Leader Podcast series on iTunes | Link to the CFO Thought Leader web page with more details about this podcast

 

The CFO & CHRO: The discussion continues. Listen in.

On Wednesday August 13, 2014, I was interviewed on DriveThruHR by Nisha Raghavan.

In our discussion, we touched on a few points about the relationship between Human Resources and Finance. Here are some of the topics Nisha and I discussed.

  • Who should HR professionals report to? The CEO or CFO?
  • Discussed CHRO Moves and CFO Moves and the difference between the visibility CFOs and CHROs get.
  • Discussed Samuel’s new book, and what it says about the importance of the CFO having a strong relationship with the CHRO.
  • HR and Finance are critical support functions that need to work together to make the business successful. A deeper discussion follows on how HR and Finance can work well together.
  • How CHROs can benefit from a close relationship with the CFO, as well as how the CFO can benefit from a close relationship with HR. A business partner approach is very effective.
  • Where should companies find finance talent? Everywhere. The right senior finance talent is much harder to find and attract. Companies cannot afford to hire the wrong CFO. There is not only the cost of hiring wrong, but companies are missing the upside of hiring a great CFO as well.

Go ahead and listen in to the entire conversation:

Internet Radio with DriveThruHR on BlogTalkRadio
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Samuel’s CFO Blog is published by Samuel Dergel, CFO and Finance Executive Search Specialist and Finance Executive Coach.

Listen In: Radio Interview with Bloomberg Radio May 20, 2014 #BBGCFO

I had the opportunity to be on a panel at the Bloomberg CFO Conference in New York City on May 20th, 2014. I plan on blogging on my experience at this exciting CFO oriented event soon.

In the mean time, you may enjoy listening to an interview I had on Bloomberg Radio with Carol Massar and Pimm Fox. They asked me about my book, Guide to CFO Success, as well as CFOs and the companies that hire them.

If you like what I had to say, please share your favorite quote and point them to this radio interview.

Thanks,
Samuel

BlueSteps Interview – Executive Search Consultant Q&A: Guide to CFO Success

I was recently interviewed by Bluesteps, a service of The Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), on my recent book, Guide to CFO Success.

Here is an excerpt from the interview. To read the interview in its entirety, please click here.

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BlueSteps chats with Samuel Dergel, Executive Search Consultant at Stanton Chase International, who recently published Guide to CFO Success.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with the AESC and BlueSteps about the CFO role and your new book, Guide to CFO Success. Can you tell us about the work you do at Stanton Chase International?
 
I work in executive search, with a focus on the Office of Finance. Working across the United States and Canada, as part of our CFO and Financial Executive Practice, I help companies hire their next Chief Financial Officer, and work with CFOs to build a finance team that will ensure their success. In addition to working with CFOs and other Financial Executives, I do executive coaching.
 
In your book, you talk about the reality of the CFO role vs. what the CFO role is perceived to be. How do you define the CFO role?
 
The role of the Chief Financial Officer is a critical one for all organizations. The Board and the CEO set the expectations for the CFO, and it is important for the CFO to deliver on these expectations. In essence, the role of the CFO is whatever the company deems it to be.
 
Guide to CFO Success focuses on all stages of the CFO’s career, from searching for a new executive job to building out her team. Which career stages are most CFOs unprepared for when managing their careers?
 
Career transition. CFOs may be well trained to be great CFOs, but no Chief Financial Officer has been trained to become a CFO in Transition. My experience shows that CFOs who are focusing on their career at the same time as their CFO role for their employer are at an advantage over those that just give 110% to their employer. CFOs who continue to develop themselves and network properly throughout their career minimize the chances that they will ever be in transition, or, if they end up in between opportunities, their network will quickly activate to their advantage.

Other questions answered in this interview include:

What has changed about the CFO role in the last 5-10 years? How have long-standing CFOs adapted to these changes?

In your book, you discuss in transition CFOs and the best ways to cope with searching for a new position. What advice do you have for CFOs who are currently in transition?

How can a CFO candidate best present himself to get noticed by executive recruiters in today’s marketplace?

In your book, you highlight the importance of “critical early wins” for a newly hired CFO. What should a new CFO focus on during the first few days and months on the job?

A major theme in your book focuses on the importance of focusing on one’s own career even when happily employed. Why is it important for CFOs to focus on both their career and their employer?

Do you have any recommendations for CFOs who have difficulty finding the time to focus on their career while they’re employed?

One unique thing about your book is that you focus on the CFO as a leader rather than the CFO as the technical, number cruncher. A significant part of being a leader is maintaining strong relationships. Which relationships do most CFOs find to be the most difficult and what recommendations do you have for CFOs to navigate those rocky relationships?

What changes should CFOs prepare for in the next 5-10 years? What new skills might they need? What will they need to be able adapt to in the workplace?

To read the interview in its entirety, please click here.

25 Quotes from Guide to CFO Success

A number of my followers are excited about the release of my upcoming book, Guide to CFO Success: Leadership Strategies for Corporate Financial Professionals in the United States and Canada on March 31, 2014. (Available in the United Kingdom on April 9, 2014)

While you may have to wait a little longer to get your copy of the book, I extracted quotes from the book I thought might wet your appetite.

If you find you find these quotes relevant and interesting, you can let others know about the book by:

    • Sharing the Slideshare presentation on social media
    • Sharing your favorite quote on social media
    • Recommending the book to someone who would appreciate reading it.

Stay tuned for further updates, including speaking engagements and book signings.

Thank you for your continued support,

Samuel