A CFO Success Story: Ken Goldman, CFO of Everbridge

This following is from an interview with Ken Goldman, recently hired as CFO of Everbridge, as announced in CFO Moves. This interview was edited for clarity.Ken Goldman

SD: Ken, congratulations on your recent hire by Everbridge as their new CFO.

KG: Thanks Samuel. This is my 10th CFO assignment in 34 years. I had the advantage before joining Everbridge of having known Jaime Ellertson, the CEO, for 8 years. I had lots of points of reference that allowed me to come in with more information than most people have when they join a company.

SD: What is it about the tech space that keeps you coming back again and again and again?

KG: Of my 10 CFO assignments, 8 of them were in technology (new world), 2 in the old world.

What I like about technology is the fast pace, the amount of innovation that takes place. It is higher risk, higher reward. I love the feeling of the wind in my hair. I like the idea of driving fast. This is one of those opportunities where my only frustration is that there are not enough hours in the day. I feel very fortunate that 34 years into my career I am very excited to go into work every day. I get up at the ungodly hour of 4:45am and I’m in the office at 6 o’clock. Not because I have to but because I love what I do.

SD: It’s great to be in such an environment. You mentioned ‘higher risk, higher reward’. I’d like to touch on that just a little bit. Imagine you weren’t a CFO and that you only had general business experience, and you would say the words “Chief Financial Officer”. The perception of such a CFO would not fit who Ken Goldman is.

KG: If you think about, going back 20 – 30 years ago. CFOs were thought about as the Chief Accountant, Green Eye Shade, Risk Manager. They were someone to protect the company. While protection is part of my mandate, I would say that it really starts with enablement. My job is to enable the company to achieve success and greatness. I spend all of my time thinking about “How to do I do that?” Yes, protection is important, limiting the downside. But nobody ever built a company by just limiting downside. It’s about investing in upside.

SD: I’m interested in learning from you how you bridge the gap in a technology environment where you have visionaries and creatives that are running around you and coming up with hair brained schemes that can or cannot work, that needs to be thought through. How do you deal with being the grounded business person in an environment of giddy creatives?

KG: I’m not always the most popular person at the cocktail party being the voice of reason. The good news is that having done this a few times I can strike the appropriate balance between yeah, let’s jump out of the plane and put the parachute on the way down vs. let’s jump with 2 parachutes on firmly in place.

Part of the reason a company like this hires somebody with my amount of grey hair is because they want somebody who can do this. When I talk about risk / reward, downside, risk mitigation, alternatives, it’s from a position of having done it before, I’m not just thinking about it for the first time. I have the scars and the failures to prove it. It’s all about balance. You can be a gambler or put it all on red or black, you can win everything or lose everything, or you can be more conservative and take a more thoughtful approach.

As a good CFO, it’s about understanding the upside potential compared to the downside potential. It’s about making informed intelligent decisions as opposed to just rolling the dice.

SD: You talked about not enough hours in the day. In my peer group recently, I asked my CFOs how they are doing. They all say that they are busy. I have never met a CFO who ever said that they weren’t busy. How do you manage? What is your key to dealing with ‘there is not enough hours in the day’?

KG: It’s about being really good at juggling lots of balls at the same time. It’s about understanding the concept of triage. It’s about hopefully seeing around corners and out of the back of my head and hoping that in the 100 things that I have to do in any given day, I get the most important 99 done. I have what I call 51% days, where I consider it a good day because I got 51% of what I had to get done, done, but I’m frustrated that I didn’t get the other 49% done. In some ways I call it job security, because it’s not like I am going to die of boredom, but the other side of it is worrying about what was that one thing I didn’t get to today that was mission critical?

And a lot of it is because I am 3 weeks into the job and I’m still developing relationships with my team and making sure that they understand that if something is mission critical, don’t just send me an email along with the 150 that I got that day and assume that I understand the mission criticality of that email. If it is really important, come see me. If it is really important, text me. If it is really important, find the appropriate channel to communicate so that it does not get lost in the fray. Eventually I am going to get to all 150 emails, but like everyone else I use emails for time shifting. Some emails I’m going to take care of tonight when I get home. Some of them I will not get to when I clean up my emails this weekend when I get to the 400 emails I didn’t get to this week. I try as best I can to look at the header on every email as it comes in to try to figure out ‘is this something I need to drop everything else for’? Some of that is luck, some of that is skill, and a lot of it is experience.

SD: You talked about team. Most CFOs agree with me when I say that a CFO can only be as good as the team they have allows them to be. What is your approach to ensuring you have the best team possible to support you?

KG: In an ideal world, you get to go out and hire all superstars. Start with the fact that the hiring process is imperfect, all the people that you’d like to hire are not necessarily available at the time you’d like to hire them, and there is a time to ramp up. There is a lot of value to incumbency. I am very fortunate coming in to Everbridge that I have a team, some of whom have been here 5 to 7 years, They have incredible institutional knowledge, a good core skill set, and in some cases it is a question of the right management and mentorship. I believe that great employees are not necessarily hired, they are developed over time. I believe based on what I have seen so far, the people that I have today are keepers.

Even in my own job, in my own career, I believe I earn my job every single day. If I do a good job today, I get invited back tomorrow. If I don’t do a good job today, I probably don’t get called back tomorrow. It’s not that you are at risk every single day. The number one thing I look for in an employee beyond being qualified and capable, is work ethic. I want employees who have that solid work ethic, because to me, that is what gets you through the times when you don’t have enough hours in a day.

Again, I’m fortunate here to have a good core team. I think one of the things that experience teaches me is how to assess that pretty quickly. I said before hiring is imperfect because everyone puts on their best suit in the hiring process, we sell the candidate why are a great place to work, a candidate tries to sell us on why they can walk on water and turn lead into gold. It’s not till you’ve worked with someone for a while that you realize their strengths and weaknesses. If you’re lucky, you make a reasonably good choice. Perfect choices, sometimes happen, sometimes don’t. You try to do the best you can.

SD: Let’s switch over to what you are excited about at Everbridge. What’s on tap for you to accomplish going forward?

KG: Every time I look at a job opportunity I start with thinking at it from the standpoint of “if I were an investor, would I invest in this company”. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m taking a job, I am making an investment. I can either invest my money or my time, my career and my reputation.

I look for 4 things. Large addressable market, good financial results, company with a leadership position and elements of their business plan that make them / gives them a strategic competitive advantage and a great team.

At Everbridge, this is a team with a proven track record. They have all worked together multiple times. Jaime Ellertson, our CEO, is probably among the best CEOs that I have ever come across. We have a great team, with a large addressable market, great financial results, and lots of development that give us a strategic advantage. If I wasn’t given the job opportunity, I still would have invested in this company.

What I’m excited about is, we’re moving fast, we’re growing quickly, and that doesn’t happen just by momentum. We’re growing quickly, not because we are doing everything right, but almost everything right. I can say we are doing everything right, but nobody is perfect. We’re getting market validation, we’re growing at a rapid clip, picking up signature accounts, and rolling out new products. At the end of the day, the market votes with their dollars. If your revenue is growing, you’re probably doing something right. And we’re doing more than something right. That’s the most exciting thing because we have that growth, and that gives us options.

When I say options… I describe the role of the CFO – create, maintain, increase and ultimately realize shareholder value. At the end of each day, I measure each day by whether I helped create, maintain, increase or realize shareholder value. If I can check that box, than I can probably come back tomorrow. To me, this opportunity is about creating great shareholder value. We are a for profit company, we have investors, we have stakeholders besides outside investors (employees and customers). Increasing shareholder value benefits everybody.

SD: Ken, thanks for taking the time to share you CFO Success Story with my readers. Your passion for what you do comes through, and I wish you continued success and fun.

KG: Thanks Samuel.

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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

Finance Executives: Should you take an overseas posting?

An article today in WSJ’s CFO Journal by Kimberly S. Johnson (Career Booster for CFOs: a Stint Abroad) discusses the opportunities that exist for finance executives in taking an overseas posting on their way to the CFO chair. The article is well written and researched, and has many positive points to consider for finance executives on the rise.

You may remember playing snakes and ladders as a youngster. The article makes it seem like an overseas posting is a ladder to get you to the top. I have seen instances that it has been such a ladder for up and coming finance executives.

But beware. What very well looks like a ladder could be a snake that gets you to slide down and out.CFO Snakes and Ladders

In my experience as executive search consultant, I have spoken with a number of disillusioned finance executives locked out of the most senior roles in an organization because they took an overseas role thousands of miles from head office.

From my perspective, one of two things happened. These finance executives either lost the opportunity to move up by being so far away from decision making, or they were pushed there because senior management did not consider the executive the “A” player they thought they were.

Opportunity or Kiss of Death? Ladder or Snake?

Here are some pointers.

Have the conversation – know what is expected of your time overseas. Listen and ask questions, especially for what comes after the posting. Only hearing vague promises of great things after your stint is not enough. You need to understand what is expected of you during your tour of duty, and what the plan is after. Also, have the conversation as to what knowledge, skills and experiences you should obtain during your expatriate experience, and how they are needed to “complete you” for your next tasks ahead. Oh, and get it in writing – who you speak with about the plan to leave and return may no longer be with the company when it is time to come back.

Stay close – In Guide to CFO Success, I discuss the importance of relationships to your success with your employer. Your Relationship Map will be a key tool to ensuring that you continue to manage the important relationships needed for your success overseas. Being in the corporate loop is difficult enough when everyone you need to speak with is down the hallway. Being an multiple times zones away makes staying close that much harder, and critically more important.

Impact your success – Use this as an opportunity for to impact your three critical career success factors (discussed in my recent book). Plan how this new posting will impact your Brand. Network inside and outside your company is more important than ever, and maintaining your visibility takes a lot planning and effort.

If you are offered an overseas move, don’t just jump at the offer. Make sure the move will land you on a ladder, not a snake.

The C-Suite Relationship Map

I am fortunate to speak with hundreds of executives each year, in addition to those that I follow and track. Over the years, I have learned a lot about success, what works and what doesn’t, from these talented leaders.

One area that successful executives have in common is their ability to get the best out of their corporate relationships. No matter the discipline of the C-suite executive, their technical ability is just the base upon which they start having an impact on their organization. The CXO is not an island, but is integrated into an ecosystem that is mutually dependent. The success of any executive relies on others. Those who recognize, nurture and sustain successful corporate relationships are those that accomplish more.

My blogging and recent book, Guide to CFO Success, focuses on my primary audience, the CFO and the Office of Finance. Some of the content is CFO specific, but the guidance with respect to relationships applies across the executive suite. Guide to CFO Success spends a few chapters dealing with relationship management for the Chief Financial Officer. A key tool in this discussion is my CFO Relationship Map, a copy of which is visible below.

CFO Relationship Map - October 2014

While I created the Relationship Map for my discussion with my Finance audience, this Relationship Map is useful to all executives who wish to succeed in their own environment.

The Relationship Map is a graphical representation of the areas of corporate relationships. They include who you work for (at the top of the map), who you work with (internally, on the right of the map, and externally on the left), as well as those that support you (your team).

In the CFO Relationship Map, you’ll notice that the CFO reports to the CEO, Board and Investors, and works with the other executives of the company internally. The CFO has a number of important outside relationships, which can include bankers, lawyers, auditors and other advisors. And, as I say in my book, the CFO can only be as good as the team they have allows them to be.

Depending on your own situation, your personal Relationship Map will look different. However, like other executives, you have people you work for, work with internally as well as externally, and have people that support you.

To read the full article on the BlueSteps Executive Career Insider Blog at this link.

You can also map out your own relationships, using this blank Relationship Map or by creating your own.

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.

The Accidental CFO

I am very fortunate to be involved with the careers of senior finance executives, whether I’m hiring them for my clients, coaching current and future Chief Financial Officers, following their careers and sharing their moves with the world, or impacting people just like you with my blogs and my CFO book.

I see, speak with and come across many focused senior finance executives that plan and prepare their career to be in the right place at the right time who are ready to become CFO for the first time. 

Yet a number of senior finance executives become CFOs by accident. A typical scenario I have seen is ‎where a company CFO leaves (this is usually unplanned for by the company), and the CEO and Board need to make a quick decision as to what to do to fill their CFO spot. In these situations, they decide (again, without much planning and foresight), to make one of their senior finance executives the new Chief Financial Officer.

As someone who helps companies hire the best CFO for their needs, my opinion is that this is not always the best solution for the company. However, these are companies that do not have a business relationship with me (yet), so they haven’t asked me for my opinion. I’m not saying that this is a bad solution. In fact, it could be a great solution for the company. I am saying that the probability is that if they haven’t done any proper succession planning for this important role, they may be making a strategic and costly error by hiring the wrong person as CFO.

Whatever the situation for the company, it is up to the newly promoted CFO to make sure that the company made the right choice, if only so that this new CFO can truly benefit from this unplanned career opportunity.

Here is some advice for the senior finance executive that finds themselves as a newly appointed, yet accidental, CFO.

[You will see links to previous blog posts that touch on these subjects. For a more comprehensive overview of how these subjects relate to the success of a CFO, I recommend reading my book, Guide to CFO Success]

Relationship Management – This is the biggest area of change for the new CFO. Whatever your role was prior to your ascension to the CFO throne, you now have to deal with new relationships.

Plan – Too many senior finance executives I have spoken with that have been promoted to the CFO chair, when asked how their role has changed since their promotion, tell me that their job hasn’t changed much. This people are missing a critical opportunity. You must plan for any new role as CFO. You also must know what is expected from a real CFO.

Lonely – Now that you’re finally CFO, you will understand what it means to be lonely at the top. You should prepare for it, and find ways of managing this new experience.

Development – You may not have planned to become CFO so soon, or at all. But now that you are CFO, what are you doing to further your development to become the best CFO you can be? In my book, I recommend that CFOs negotiate a Professional Development spending account that can allow them to pay for the courses, coaching and conferences they need to become a better and more productive CFO.

Coaching – I find that the Chief Financial Officers that I work with in executive coaching are motivated to become even better CFOs. I truly believe that most CFOs would benefit from having a confidential confidant and coach to help them better focus, improve and plan for their success. For a new CFO who didn’t plan to become one so quickly, if at all, having an executive coach can make a big difference on the way to become a successful CFO for the company your work for today, and to your future employers as well.

If you are an accidental CFO, or may find yourself in this position one day, take these recommendations to heart. You may be fortunate to find yourself in the CFO chair, but do not squander this wonderful opportunity.

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

The Sleepless CFO

Being Chief Financial Officer can be stressful. The responsibility that the CFO bears for the company they work for is not a 9 to 5 job. Most CFOs I have met and spoken with agree that the role takes up most of the hours they are awake, and even some of the hours they should be sleeping.Couple In Bed With Husband Suffering From Insomnia

So what keeps the CFO awake in 2014?

To find out, I reached out to my CFO Advisory Group. My CFO Advisors were instrumental in providing me with relevant and realistic input as I wrote my upcoming book. Guide to CFO Success: Leadership Strategies for Corporate Financial Professionals is published by Wiley & Sons, and will be available at all fine bookstores end of March 2014.

I recently asked my CFO Advisors what top their top 3 concerns that keep them awake at night. After reviewing their responses, here are the top 3 current issues that are keeping CFOs from getting a good night sleep.

#3 – Team

CFOs are worried about their team. Some CFOs are concerned about how to continue to grow and motivate their staff. Others are losing sleep worried about retaining the staff they need or dealing with the aftermath of unforeseen resignations. There are some CFOs who are unsure of how they will succeed in acquiring and developing the new talent they need to make their team even better.

Regardless of the type team based challenges facing the CFO, they know that they can only be successful if their team is strong enough to support them. When the finance team is not giving the CFO what she needs to succeed, this can cause anxiety and sleeplessness for even the most experienced CFO.

#2 – Growth

Growth can be an issue for many CFOs. Or, rather, the lack of growth is the real issue. Most for-profit companies define success as making more money, and for the Chief Money Counter, growth drives corporate financial success. It is the Key Performance Indicators of this growth that informs the CFO if the company will reach their targets or not.

When companies are continually growing their revenue and profit, all is good. Few companies though, do this regularly and consistently. Financial success for most organizations can only come when sales rise and profitability continues an upward trend. For the CFO, who knows they are king when the results are good, and the court jester when the results aren’t, losing sleep over growth is understandable indeed.

#1 – Cashflow

Cash is King. The ultimate responsibility of whether there is enough cash to do what needs to get done rests with the Chief Financial Officer (even when their team does the technical work). CFOs are concerned with cash from all sides, whether they are collections issues, access to capital and lending or how to make decisions about allocating cash in the most effective way.

Cash is, by far, the most common issue that is keeping my CFO Advisors awake at night. What is interesting about this response is that cash was a concern for most of my CFO Advisors, yet they all come from different industries and company sizes. It seems that cash issues are a challenge in most, if not all companies. While the type of cash challenges will certainly change based on the situation facing a company and its industry, most companies, and therefore most CFOs, are anxious and losing sleep over cash.

What is keeping you awake at night?

CFOs, Are You Doing Your Job?

As an executive search professional that focuses on the office of the CFO, I am involved with the hiring of Chief Financial Officers for companies. Unless I am working to help a company hire their first CFO, the mandate I have is to replace a current CFO or a Chief Financial Officer that has left.

While only having the time to work on a handful of CFO searches at a time, you may know that I track CFO movement on my CFO Moves Blog. When I combine my personal direct involvement with helping companies hire their Chief Financial Officer with my tracking of hiring and unhiring of CFOs across the US, Canada and the UK, I see many CFO getting replaced.

You can understand that this a topic that interests me. And if you are reading this, the topic probably interests you as well.

I came across a very interesting academic working paper, CFO Succession and Corporate Financial Practices, authored by Ellen Engel, Feng Gao and Xue Wang, that was published in October 2013. This paper looks at reasons and financial reporting consequences of CFO successions. The document is a properly researched academic paper, and makes for an interesting read if you are academically inclined.

Here is the Abstract of the document which summarizes the findings of the research:

We examine the determinants and financial performance consequences of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) successions. We argue that if internal monitoring mechanisms are effective, there should be a greater probability of forced CFO departures in firms with poor financial reporting and capital management performance, and resulting improvements in financial practices following forced turnovers. We test these hypotheses over the period 2002 to 2008. We find that

(1) the incidences of accounting restatements and debt covenant violations are significantly associated with the probability of forced CFO turnovers;

(2) firms are more likely to hire successor CFOs from outside the firm following accounting restatements, especially those due to irregularities;

(3) the hiring of outside CFOs is associated with improved financial reporting quality.

Further, these findings are concentrated in firms with majority independent boards, suggesting that outside directors play a greater role in monitoring CFOs than inside board members.

These findings are not surprising.

When CFOs don’t do their job, they get fired and replaced.

As CFO, are you doing your job?