As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q3 2015 Issue
A STRONG FINANCIAL BACKGROUND AND EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP SKILLS WERE THE IDEAL COMBINATON FOR STEPPING UP TO CEO
-BY MARTIN DAKS-
Keith Kendall held a number of leadership positions with large companies like AT&T Capital and Hewlett-Packard Financial Services, but he had never been a CFO before joining Warren, NJ–based MonoSol Rx in 2006.The then-startup specialty pharmaceutical company developed a dissolving film the size of a postage stamp that makes it easier to deliver prescription drugs.
From the start, Kendall took on management responsibilities that went beyond the traditional financial aspects —he worked closely with then-CEO Mark Schobel to chart a course of development for the company. Over eight years, the two worked in tandem to raise more than $100 million of capital, and they spun the company off from its original parent, Monosol, LLC.
Kendall quickly came up to speed on the ins and outs of the pharmaceutical industry, and was soon asked to expand his role to lead several key functions in the business, helping to further spur Monosol Rx’s growth by expanding the customer base and shepherding new product development.
Kendall’s relationship with his CEO, and the knowledge and experience he built in the pharmaceutical industry as CFO, helped him develop the skills needed to run MonoSol Rx. In December 2014, Schobel shifted into the role of Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, and the board appointed Kendall as the company’s new CEO.
The 200-employee, privately held company doesn’t disclose revenue numbers, but it sells and licenses its products around the world, delivering more than 2 billion doses since 2008 and over 250 million doses in 2014 alone.
Background a Springboard
“As CFO at MonoSol Rx, I was a business executive who happened to lead the finance function,” Kendall explains.
Prior to joining MonoSol Rx, Kendall worked with Irv Rothman at both AT&T Capital and at HP Financial Services. (As profiled in CFO Studio Q1 2013, Rothman also rose from being a CFO— at AT&T Credit Corporation, becoming president and CEO of HP Financial Services). During his tenure at these companies, Kendall appraised the value of potential business acquisitions, completing the due diligence necessary before acquiring new assets.
Underpinning Kendall’s practical business experience is a powerful knowledge base: an undergraduate degree in accounting and economics from Saint John’s University, and an MBA from Pace University.
“I had the opportunity to form and run joint venture businesses and I ultimately had the opportunity to run large business units or segments,” he says. “The financial role affords a vantage point and influence platform, with access to investors, boards, and the rest of the C-suite that is ideal for those aspiring to business leadership roles.
“The real opportunity for CFOs seeking the chief executive role lies in the things you choose to be a part of and the experiences you build while in the financial role,” Kendall adds. “The financial role gives you a great perspective of the overall business and the performance levers in the business. You can choose to focus on keeping score and issuing backward-looking financial statements, or you can strive to understand the market dynamics that shape the company, and be part of developing and setting the strategy of the company, and be an important part of leading and managing the execution of that strategy.”
Open to New Experiences
Kendall honed his financial leadership, but more importantly, he developed broader executive leadership skills. A position with the burgeoning MonoSol Rx presented himwith the chance to lead a company, financially and strategically, from the outset.
“I was attracted to the opportunity that a startup like Monosol Rx presented, especially since I had been with startups and turnarounds before,” he recalls. “I knew the market, and I knew the operational and other business processes that would help the company to grow.”
He also saw, in then-CEO Schobel, a partner and collaborator in creating growth and success for MonoSol Rx.
“I had a seamless relationship with Mark,” he says. “It was a partnership that capitalized on complementary skills that was successful from our first days together in 2006.”
The way they collaborated drove MonoSol Rx’s culture, Kendall says, characterizing the working relationship as fluid. “We transitioned roles seamlessly as needed. From the start, we knew that as MonoSol Rx moved from a purely R&D company proving its technology to a more commercial stage with production schedules and customers to delight, the CEO’s role would be less technical and more broad business-focused.”
Working closely with Schobel gave Kendall some valuable insights about the signs of a good CFO-CEO relationship.
“In a best-case scenario, the two leaders share a view and take steps together to move the company ahead,” says Kendall. “A CFO and CEO should be collaborative and inclusive and there should be a ‘healthy tension’ between their views. This relationship is a duet where each leader has strengths and weaknesses, but the two in collaboration are able to have vision, create and set a strategy, and ensure execution. The boundaries between executive roles do not have to be bright lines.”
Because of his or her wide-ranging responsibilities, a CFO is in an ideal position to understand and influence a company, he adds.
In his new role as CEO, Kendall expects his CFO to have a broad and informed internal perspective of the company, as well as a nuanced view of the larger specialty pharmaceutical and drug-development landscape. If a CFO is spending his or her time overly focused on producing financials and score keeping without keeping sight of the business overall, that’s a mistake, Kendall believes.
“Growing companies and dealing effectively with the complex issues in the markets require attention and focus at the top, and no one person can be everywhere all the time or right all the time,” he says. “The CEO and CFO have to work together and speak as one.”
A Formula for Success
“MonoSol Rx leadership faces the same challenges presented to every pharmaceutical company, from the economy to regulatory hurdles,” Kendall says. “But our company is profitable, and we anticipate that we’ll continue to successfully move forward, propelled in part by a seamless CFO-and-CEO working relationship.”