You Can’t Be Blind To Important Information

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As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q4 2015 Issue

A CHANGING BUSINESS MODEL DRIVES CHANGING DATA NEEDSScreenshot (44)

BY MARTIN DAKS

Gary Piscatelli, Senior Vice President and CFO of Hunter Douglas North America, tackles his job using a holistic approach, which is exactly how the company, the worldwide market leader in window coverings, established its prominence. The Netherlands-based company —with its North American headquarters in Pearl River, NY— stands out from competitors with its commitment to creating innovative product designs that fuse form with function to meet the evolving needs of the marketplace.

Piscatelli oversees the organization’s finance, technology, and human resources groups. Among other projects, he is helping Hunter Douglas to improve its data-gathering, reporting, and analytical systems in a way that enhances the company’s business operations. That means establishing more standardized information and systems without detracting from the magic that has driven so much success.

Looking at Information Anew

“Historically, operations were run in a somewhat decentralized manner,” he says, “but we are now moving toward greater centralization when it makes sense. We need a common language to ensure that metrics and measurements align, so when we talk across departments and functions, everyone is using the same definitions.”

Piscatelli joined the company a year and a half ago, following stints with Gillette Co., Nestle, and Timex Group, where he was involved in a comprehensive array of operations. Today, Piscatelli draws deeply on his previous experiences.

“The CFO is seen as a custodian of the company’s assets,” he says. “That reaches across many functions, and combined with the responsibility for business operations, means you’re basically connected to almost every part of the company. So you look for commonalities, ways that you can standardize and simplify functions and operations, not for the sake of standardization, but to help accelerate a company’s ability to achieve.”

Recently, Hunter Douglas converted the fabrication segment of its business from one that relied on a combination of independent and company-owned services, to one that is now entirely owned and operated by the company, bringing complete control of the manufacturing, assembling, and wholesale distribution aspects of the business under one umbrella. The increased vertical integration has helped to drive a change in the way the company looks at its data.

“When you’re tying together so many operations, it changes the way you gather and utilize your data,” says Piscatelli. “Ensuring that your data is accurate, and that you’re able to get at it, becomes a high-priority imperative. And it’s not a simple one. Among other challenges, it means gaining consensus on common standards, common hierarchy of information, and common goals.”

He sees the strategy to build a robust data architecture as both a logical and emotional journey. Building a comprehensive interconnected data set that links all the dimensions of a business at a level that drives understanding and decision-making without being overly complex is not simple. Getting it done with companywide consensus can be even more challenging. As challenging a task as this may be, capturing the right data is a critical enabler of strong business partnering.

Piscatelli sees partnering as an essential role of finance, but the function needs to first ensure it’s got the basics covered. To begin with, he says, “a company needs a solid foundation made up of accurate accounting and a strong system of internal controls. Once those are in place, a CFO and his or her team can drive financial improvement through cost containment, top-line growth, and delivering more bottom-line value.”

Sharing Data Drives Efficiency

“If you want to create value, you have to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to do their job right,” he says. “Regardless of whether you’re talking about production—which involves keeping tabs on everything from inventory to manufacturing—or product, or branding activities, or cost centers, or customer information, you need to be able to get real-time information so you know where the company is right now, and use that as a planning guide to determine where you want to aim in the future.”

Piscatelli is well qualified to address and integrate these myriad concepts — his background includes responsibility for purchasing, financing, information technology, and other functions. He also understands the human angle.

At Gillette, prior to leading finance for the Personal Care Business, he served as Director of Corporate Finance, where he led a global SAP implementation that included revamping data architecture, accounting, reporting, and analytics. Afterward, he was Senior Vice President and CFO at Timex Group, where, among other things, he drove changes in reporting and analytics that he believed helped enable the transformation of the financial function from accountants to involved business partners.

A lot of the information may be on a sales invoice, but it’s useless unless a data system can capture it and present it in a meaningful manner. “The key is to structure a system that can capture data from disparate sources and integrate it all in a way that makes sense,” says Piscatelli.

As part of the effort, Piscatelli is talking to employees at all levels and functions across the company, and will continue to, asking key questions that will better enable systems that will aid Hunter Douglas to deliver more value. That’s where the human element comes into view.

“People are more likely to be candid with you if they know their statements are being taken seriously,” he says. “We let our co-workers know that they are an integral part of the Hunter Douglas operations, and that their input and activity will be vital to the company’s success.”

In addition to updating its internal data-gathering and reporting models, the company has recently had a changing of the guard in the C-suite. At the beginning of July, longtime Hunter Douglas North America CEO, Marvin B. Hopkins, retired. Ron Kass was named as the new President and CEO. Kass joined the company in 2005, previously serving as President of both the Hunter Douglas Design Products Group and the Independent Fabricator Group of companies, and as Executive Vice President of Marketing, where he oversaw brand marketing, advertising, and communications for Hunter Douglas.

“Our underlying strategy has not changed,” says Piscatelli. “Hunter Douglas has a long legacy of bringing to market well-designed, high-quality, and otherwise superior custom window treatments that are both profitable for the company and sought after by consumers. We are well positioned to continue this trend moving forward to maintain our leadership position.”

Scientific Method

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As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q4 2015 Issue Cover Story

TAKING INSPIRATION FROM AGRISCIENCE, CFO BERRY BIER IS TRIMMING, TENDING, AND GROWING BAYER’S U.S. SUBSIDIARY TO REAP REWARDS

BY JULIE BARKERScreenshot (41)

In August of 2014, when the corn was high and ambitious American political figures were already jetting in and out of Iowa prior to the first big test in the 2016 election race, Bayer Corporation CFO Berry Bier made his own trip to the state. He, too, was interested in meeting Iowa farmers face-to-face, but his purpose differed significantly from the politicians’. They were testing the waters for presidential runs. Bier, plucked 10 months earlier from the global headquarters of Bayer AG in Leverkusen, Germany, to become CFO of the Pittsburgh, PA–based U.S. organization, wanted to meet customers and find out from them how growers use Bayer CropScience products. For Bier, such exchanges were every bit as important as a politician’s pressing of the flesh.

The growers he met showed him two side-by-side plots of corn. One was treated with Bayer Sonata™, a biological product, and the other was untreated. The first exhibited green-husked corn bursting with kernels, and it demonstrated to Bier that Bayer was creating value for its customers. He could now better imagine how the businesses in which Bayer invests are improving lives and livelihoods.

That trip came just prior to an extraordinary period, during which Bier was responsible for spinning off part of Bayer. CFOs often have the opportunity to help shape their company through M&As or divestment, but Bier had a high-profile carve-out to accomplish on a short deadline. In achieving his goal, he found it useful to look up from the flowcharts and spreadsheets and envision … cornfields.

Bier and his carve-out team were fundamentally renewing the 150-year-old Bayer’s focus on life sciences: health care and crops.

Shaping the Company

On Oct. 30, 2014, just one year into his new job, Bier was given the task of spinning off one of Bayer’s three major product areas, MaterialScience. This would leave HealthCare (pharmaceuticals for humans and animals) and CropScience (including crop protection products, growth stimulants, and seeds that need less water or that are pesticide resistant). MaterialScience, which makes high-tech polymers, would then no longer compete for resources with the two other business areas. Though it would remain a subsidiary of Bayer AG, MaterialScience, with the new name of Covestro, would be removed from the U.S. corporation entirely and would have its own access to capital markets. (Subsequently, 31 percent of Covestro has been floated on the German stock market.)

Bier took up his role as project leader, and was given two months to clear the first hurdle: executing the legal separation by a Jan. 1 deadline. The target date for the spin-off to begin operating separately was Sept. 1, 2015. Bier calls this assignment one of the biggest challenges of his career. “You are separating about a third of your sales,” he says. “If we are a $50 billion company and you spin off $15 billion of that, that’s a big undertaking. Such a company needs a fully fledged organization.”

He had to divide functions across the whole company, including finance, HR, communications, IT, supply chain, procurement, and sales. He says, “That’s a huge task, but also really exciting.” In addition, he had to start the registration process and transfer contracts with suppliers and customers.

He began by assembling a team, building project plans and a timeline, and then moving on to execution. At that point, the team had to “deliver on all these different action items, and there [were] always things coming up. So you have to be very flexible and pragmatic to solve these things.”

Among these difficulties: reluctance on the part of some suppliers to shift their agreements with Bayer to Covestro. “We had to find ways to convince them, and we had to find ways both companies can operate separately as of Sept. 1,” he says. He praises the spirit of cooperation on his team from day one. But as project leader, when tough choices have to be made, “you have to make a decision.” The team can only do so much.

As he was heading up the project to carve out MaterialSciences, Bier was simultaneously part of the steering committee for the integration of a $14.2 billion acquisition. That process had begun in April 2014, when Bayer beat another bidder to acquire Merck’s Consumer Care business, which includes Claritin®, Coppertone®, Dr. Scholl’s®, and MiraLAX®. Added to Bayer’s aspirin juggernaut, the brands would significantly strengthen the company in its HealthCare area. The integration continued until the end of June 2015 and, depending on how it is measured, established Bayer as either the No. 1 or No. 2 company in the U.S. non-prescription medicines market.

The company’s new profile makes Bayer highly reliant on its pharmaceutical products for earnings. It has best-selling drugs for hypertension, cancer, and hemophilia, among other categories. But the pharmaceuticals industry, Bier says, is a “risky business.” This is especially true of companies that are in a stage of their business life cycle where they have numerous successful products and high growth but are nearing a critical moment in their history, when an important patent will expire and “you lose a significant part of your sales,” he says.

Now that Bayer is solely a life-sciences company, having “cut off [its] chemical legs,” the CFO says more M&As will almost surely occur. To explain why, Bier points to the hard realities of developing a pharmaceutical product: It can easily cost $1 billion to $2 billion to bring a new drug to market, says Bier, and the drug’s patent subsequently expires in as few as 10 years.

Creating Value by Being Partners

Bier says the most challenging part of his position is not, as one might expect, working out a complex funding structure or working through tax issues. Rather, he contends, it’s the process of developing “a high-performing organization that is constantly able to respond to the challenges coming from the outside world onto the business, and that has the capability to create value by what it is doing.”

He says, “The real challenge is having an organizational setup with creative spirit but that also has the capability of being great business partners.”

In the past two years, he has worked to bring that type of mindset to his own organization through the recruitment of top business-school students from the likes of New York University, Duke University, and Carnegie Mellon University; through high-performance workshops; and through training in soft skills, such as delivering constructive feedback up- and downwards.

Although innovation is the lifeblood of a company developing pharmaceuticals, Bier can’t budget for development of a specific cancer treatment. He says, it’s more like this: “You know you have so much product in the market generating so much sales, and a certain portion of that you’re willing to spend for your R&D.” Certainly there are benchmarks on R&D spending, but Bayer doesn’t attempt to create all its products from scratch. Instead, like most pharma companies, it spots opportunities to acquire small, entrepreneurial firms. (See “Funding the Future” at right, for more on Bier’s strategy regarding R&D.)

Two Years In

Bier brought his family — his wife, Gudrun, to whom he has been married for more than 20 years, and two sons, now 12 and 13 — to Pittsburgh two years ago, from Cologne, Germany. “It’s great to see how well the family adjusted to the new environment,” he says. He’s passionate about his family and credits them with centering him and giving him the mettle to perform in the C-suite of a top global corporation.

There, Bier has not just a stake, but a big role in building the company. He was heavily involved during 2014 in designing the current strategy, together with the U.S. leadership team. That strategy relies on acquisitions, R&D partnerships, and the funding of promising new products. In pharma, you can’t think of your next breakthrough discovery as the product that will bring you growth in the 2020s, he says. You have to view that drug as just a way “to make up for the loss” when another wonder drug you’ve funded loses patent protection.

In Grinnell, IA, Bier recalls that he was amazed at the stark difference in appearance between treated and untreated crops. In the Crop Protection area of Bayer’s business, says Bier, “increasing yields to ensure that growers can meet their targets” is perfectly aligned with the company’s mission, Science for a Better Life. “We can help to meet nutritional demands and feed the world today and in the future,” he says.

The potential for significant ups and downs in the company’s chief areas of concentration — pharmaceuticals and food production — suggest that there will be little stability in the months to come. Bier, though, seems unconcerned. He says that the most exciting part of being a CFO is having the opportunity to focus on both the near-term and long-term planning for the company.

It’s his job, Bier says, to create value. To do that, a CFO must “understand what the success factors of the business are, and then think about how you can contribute to that.” Sometimes that means walking around a cornfield and having all the pieces fall into place.

 

Preparing for Private Equity

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As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q1/Q2 2016 Issue

WHAT COMPANIES MUST DO TO RAISE CAPITAL

Going after private equity funding was the focus of a CFO Studio Executive Dinner held at Blue Morel in Morristown, NJ. Luke McKinnon, recently having served as Chief Financial Officer of a global engineering services company, was the discussion leader.

“Going out and raising privScreenshot (17)ate equity is a huge effort,” said Mr. McKinnon.

Successful private equity firms have financial controls in place that focus on the basics of performance— revenue, operating margins, and cash flow. McKinnon was tasked with finding a long-term minority-interest investor for the global engineering services company he was part of, one who would be willing to have a seven- to ten-year relationship. “We found three firms interested in this length of term. Although they are called private equity, many of those investment companies are more family-run type places,” explained McKinnon.

The company McKinnon was with was global in nature, with operations in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, the Congo, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. “At one point, I had 2,000 bank accounts around the world,” said McKinnon.

This wasn’t the only challenge the private equity firm had to contend with. “They are focused on Day Sales Outstanding (DSOs) and cash flows,” said McKinnon.

This comment led to a discussion about DSOs. Bill Baldwin, Chief Financial Officer, Kepner-Tregoe, Inc., a Princeton, NJ–based capability development and consulting solutions company said, “Our most troublesome country is India, whether it’s with a major IT company or another Fortune 500 client that we deal, in India it’s a very, very long payment cycle.”

Delayed payments have become the norm. Historically, government agencies are known to be sluggish. “We provide engineering and consulting services to the government sector, mainly municipalities and counties, and they’re always dealing with funding and processing issues, so we’re probably at 115 to 130 days,” said Michael Dentici, Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, T&M Associates, an engineering, planning, and environmental consulting firm based in Middletown, NJ.

Procurement and finance are becoming more interwoven than ever. “We’ve been involved in deals where the client’s procurement executives say, ‘We require 60- to 90-day terms, to which we counter that our prices will go up 15 percent, to which the client often agrees. This makes absolutely no financial sense, because the 15 percent fee increase is much more than the cost of money. There is a disconnect in the performance systems and communications between procurement and finance when this happens,” said Mr. Baldwin.

Peter Pfreundschuh, Vice President Finance and Chief Financial Officer, Immunomedics, Inc., a Morris Plains, NJ– based biopharmaceutical company, said not only are payments in each country unique, but they are ever changing. “When I first audited payments with some French companies, we were seeing 360-day payment cycles. A law was then enacted in which companies were required to pay on time.”

John McAndris Jr., Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Finance, JJM Consulting, LLC was previously in charge of Latin America for Pfizer/Wyeth. “Venezuela is a country that is very tough, as many companies there never release money. You have to go to the government to get a special dispensation to get the money out of the country,” he explained. Screenshot (16)

This discussion put things in perspective for Andrew Wood, Chief Financial Officer, J. Fletcher Creamer & Son, Inc., a Hackensack, NJ–based contractor. “About half of our work is with government agencies and the other half is with private companies. Most of our work is with utility companies, which are semi-regulated. I used to complain…until I heard you guys. Our DSOs are in that 65- to 68-day range, which is not that bad, compared to all of you,” said Wood.

Selling accounts receivable is a standard form of managing cash flow and is something with which Gunther Mertens has experience. Mr. Mertens is President, North America Region of Elmwood Park, NJ– based Agfa Corporation, the North American arm of global imaging leader Agfa-Gevaert N.V. “Our DSO is actually 45 days, which is good. But what we see is that some bigger companies are asking us to offer extended-payment terms beyond the standard 30 days, in exchange for a supplier-side financing program,” said Mertens.

As an example, Mertens explains that if a customer owes Agfa $1,000 and payment term is 60 days, the customer’s bank will pay Agfa $995 after only 10 days. The customer in turn will pay his bank $1,000 after 60 days. “So the customer achieves his goal of improved cash flow by keeping his cash 30 days longer,” said Mertens. “The customer tries to make this palatable to Agfa by not deteriorating vendor’s cash flow by 30 days and instead improving vendor’s cash flow by 20 days. But there is a cost to the vendor similar to if the vendor were to sell its receivables.”

Prioritizing revenue cycle issues was of paramount interest to most CFOs at the CFO Studio Executive Dinner. “If you don’t bill them, they don’t pay. The start-up time is in the invoice. If you change the terms of your agreements, so that your billing point is earlier, you can actually move forward the payment,” said Barry Lederman, Chief Financial Officer, Whippany, NJ–based Halo Pharmaceutical, a contract development and manufacturing organization that provides scientific and development expertise.

A steady billing cycle is key to success. “When I was in professional services, one of the things we changed right away was, instead of billing at the end of the month, we started billing every two weeks,” said Michael Roth, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Beefeaters Holding Company, a North Bergen, NJ–based manufacturer of dog treats. “We dramatically increased cash flow by billing major customers every two weeks.”

The Right Partner Screenshot (18)

“One of the most important lessons for everybody is to get the right people to invest,” said Ed Schultz, Principal, of New Jersey–based Highlands Business Group, a consulting firm. “It’s important to make sure the due diligence is right, that the fit is correct, and that you’re not going to get beaten up. A lot of deals go south because the private equity firm didn’t listen and didn’t gain a solid understanding of the business. Sometimes, they only want to do the deal and aren’t thinking about who they’re investing in.”

The correct fit is important. “There are two things to consider: style and strategy. Does everybody agree about what the company is going to look like in the future? Is there knowledge of the industry and can you really get along with these folks? What is their style going to be on a tactical basis, too?” ponders New York City–based Curt Cornwell, Partner, Transaction Services, PricewaterhouseCoopers, a leading professional services network, and a CFO Studio Business Development Partner.

Andrew Savadelis, Chief Financial Officer, Angion Biomedica Corporation, a Uniondale, NY–based biopharmaceutical company, pointed out the uniqueness of the arrangement made at the company McKinnon had worked for. “It’s not private equity in normal terms. It sounds like it is more Venture Capital than Private Equity. VCs tend to take a longer-term perspective, but they also look for higher returns on their capital gains.”

Many agreed with Savadelis. “I concur, as the VC model typically includes raising a fund that is very industry-centric,” said Gregg Kam, Chief Financial Officer, Sonneborn, a Parsippany, NJ–based manufacturer and supplier of high-purity specialty hydrocarbons.

When preparing for private equity, sell-side reports have become a trend, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. A selling company has an accounting firm come in, prepare a quality earnings analysis, a debt analysis, as well as details on trends being experienced, and that book goes out.

Allen Lane, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Solix, a Parsippany, NJ–based provider of program administration, eligibility determination, and call center services, said, “I’ve been reading through a lot of these recently. There is a definite marketing slant on the part of the seller in these documents. They are a nice road map to begin your discussions with, but you still have to do a full due diligence review.”

Mr. McAndris of JJM Consulting said sell-side reports help from another perspective. “You can steer the course of where you want the buyer to look. You’re controlling the conversation,” he added.

In some instances, these procedures are not necessary. “We were headed down the road of going public and [our investors] came along and made us an offer that was about 50 percent above our projected IPO price. That’s what we call a no-brainer,” said Bert Marchio, Chief Accounting and Operations Officer, Edge Therapeutics, a Berkeley Heights, NJ–based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company.

There are cases where acquirers don’t see the forest for the trees. “Every due diligence sale that I’ve been through, some companies got involved and looked at minutiae that didn’t really mean anything. For example, ‘I see you spent $22,000 on a particular purchase. What was it? Oh, it was a Christmas party,’ ” said Mr. Kam. “They often miss the big picture about the business in due diligence, focusing on immaterial items.”

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