When and how did you get started in your finance career, specifically within the tech industry?
Overall, my career has been focused on the tech industry, even if it has not always been in finance.
I started in operations at Universal Hospital Services (UHS). That’s where I was first asked to take on operational finance, and over the next couple of years, I built up my resume in the private equity world. I transitioned to Healthland, where I became vice president of finance, which was my first true finance role. Prior to joining Edmentum as Chief Financial Officer, I worked as CFO at myON by Renaissance.
What is unique about your role with the technology industry, compared to other industries?
First and foremost, you have to be comfortable with change in investments and, sometimes, with less-defined investments. The tech industry is changing incredibly fast. The investment thesis you had a year ago probably doesn’t hold water today, and there is also a much quicker time to market. To be a successful market leader in the technology industry, you don’t have the luxury of years to launch your product because there could be someone going to market tomorrow with that same idea.
I came from an industry, healthcare, that was very disruptive, but edtech might be the most disruptive of them all. When I was with Healthland, everyone was trying to be first-to-market in reaction to new legislation. It was just an extremely fast-paced industry. We’re seeing something similar in edtech. Companies are racing to be the first all-inclusive platform, and as a result, the big players are moving into the adjacent markets to fill that niche. Right now, it’s more important to meet schools’ needs with one great product rather than to offer 30 individual solutions.
What do you find most interesting or challenging about being a modern-day CFO?
The role of the CFO has changed drastically over the last 20 to 30 years. CFOs deal less with debits and credits and more with operations. When I interview for a CFO job, one of my first questions is: “Do I have a strong controller?” Because CFOs are more ingrained in strategy and operations, they need someone who can monitor day-to-day operations. My role as CFO is to be a guiding and supporting voice for the CEO. The CEO’s job is to come up with 20 great ideas. Mine is to take three of those and find one we can run with.
Why did you decide to join Edmentum?
A little over a year after I joined myON by Renaissance, I was introduced to the CEO of Edmentum, Jamie Candee. From the moment I met her, I was struck by her determination and drive. She was a high-energy, highly focused achiever, and, when I met the rest of the team, it was evident she surrounded herself with the best.
What’s more, the mission of Edmentum aligns with my values. It is extremely important to me that any new organization I join is mission driven—whether it’s a patient getting better and going home to his or her family or a child getting access to a Chinese course from Edmentum.
After meeting Jamie, being introduced to her leadership team, and joining the company, I could see the passion for what we do and the educators we serve. At Edmentum, we have an educator first philosophy, meaning that all of our products are developed with the best interest of educator in mind. From a salesperson to the CEO, that educator first philosophy resonates throughout the company.
How is success measured in your role as a CFO?
Years ago, it would have been questions like, “Did the books close on time?” These days, we’re looking at the big picture, asking questions like, “Am I making an impact across the organization?”
This goes back to that fundamental shift in the CFO’s role within an organization. I think my success will ultimately be measured by how well the company does in the end—if we’ve been able to maintain our mission and values profitably.
What do you enjoy doing with your time outside of the office?
My idea of a good time is spending time with my family in the outdoors. I was raised in Appalachia, so I grew up with a love of the outdoors. Having lived in Minnesota for 10 years, I think I can call myself a Minnesotan now! I can’t tell you how many hours I spent fishing, hunting, or boating, and I like doing the same with my wife and two kids.
What advice would you have for someone in finance who wants to become a CFO?
The most important advice I have is simple but important: master the fundamentals. It’s one thing to know the basics of accounting or finance, but you should be so familiar with them that it’s second nature. You have to understand how to manage relationships with your debt providers and equity holders, and you have to know how to close the books. After that, you should have a strong grounding in operations. From a tech perspective, learn as much as you can about the development of the product and how each department partners with one another. Once you understand the whole picture, you’ll become a really valuable CFO.
How do you effectively manage expectations to help everyone in the company know what their priorities should be?
It’s all about communication and alignment. To effectively manage expectations, you have to communicate effectively, quickly, and often. It’s so important to keep yourself and every department aligned with not just your goals but with the organization’s goals. If you do that, priorities will fall in line. For example, we recently had a meeting here, and we were getting too caught up in the minutiae. To get us back on track, I asked a simple question: “What is the business problem we are trying to solve?” The team realized that we hadn’t really defined that yet. Taking a step back and aligning everyone’s priorities was a big help.
What is one question you want to ask of your tech CFO peers?
Everyone in every industry is facing the same challenge: how to get products out with both speed and efficacy. But, that’s sometimes conflicting. You can do research until you’re blue in the face, but then what? You risk overengineering the product to the point where it’s not user-friendly, or you lose time and someone beats you to market. So, the question becomes: how do you deal with organizational change by balancing the need for research with speed to market?
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would encourage aspiring CFOs to find a mentor who is in both finance and operations. You can learn a lot from people in those roles, even when you disagree. I had a mentor at UHS who helped me tremendously. He taught me about boardrooms and showed me how to operationalize financial results. But, I also disagreed with him in specific areas, which helped me grow and find my own way. Don’t stop learning about the business, even if it’s not yours.