Tackling Systems Head-on

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As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q1 2017 Issue

DAN CRUMB, CFO OF THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS FOOTBALL TEAM, WANTED THE SPORTS FRANCHISE TO BENEFIT FROM A MORE EFFICIENT AND TRANSPARENT BUSINESS PLANNING SYSTEM – SO HE BUILT ONE

-BY JULIE BARKER-

 

The most exciting part about being a chief financial officer, says Dan Crumb, the Kansas City Chiefs CFO, is the ability to play a strategic role in the organization. “We touch every department,” he says. “We’re involved in the overall business, from budgeting to business planning.”

For him, the years 2015 and 2016 have provided exhilaration, not so much because of the way the team performed (and the Chiefs did have a great 2015 season, turning in 10 consecutive wins and landing a wild-card berth in the playoffs), but because Crumb pushed for and oversaw the design of a business planning system that is now used by the entire Chiefs organization. Its capabilities and dashboard give him what a football scout might call “arm talent” — in the finance world, it’s an ability to be strategic.

Up until the 2016 fiscal year, Crumb received business plans from the 20 departments (IT, retail, marketing, security, corporate partnerships, and ticket sales & services, among them) that support the team, each plan in a separate three-ring binder. The plans used no uniform software program—Microsoft Word and Excel and Adobe Acrobat were all employed — in describing the departments’ objectives for the year, how they planned to accomplish the objectives, the capital and operating budgets, and other resources that every department would need.

Each department head would then have three binders assembled: one for Crumb; one for the ball club’s president, Mark Donovan; and one to keep. It was an ungainly process.

Crumb wanted the mission statement and long-term goals to be top-of-mind during the entire planning operation. He believed the best way to do this was to ask that the department’s objectives link directly to the strategic goals that support the mission statement. An automatic prompt should ask, “ ‘What goal does this objective support?’ ” says Crumb.

So he set out his objectives: Make the business planning process more uniform, make it more strategic, make it more visible, make it more efficient.

No off-the-shelf product gave Crumb all he needed. “We’re sort of a specialized business,” he says. “There are only 122 professional sports franchises in America.” So, he looked at the Chiefs’ internal resources.

The SharePoint Solution

The company uses Microsoft’s SharePoint in most departments for content sharing and collaboration. Crumb, who oversees IT, knew he had a couple of good programmers on staff, so he gave one of them the vision and the assignment. He also okayed hiring an outside consultant who, like the programmer, had experience with the Microsoft application.

“We’ve got the resources, and [the software application] gives us a really good platform, so I felt we could do this,” says Crumb.

The programmer created a prototype. Crumb asked department heads to provide feedback. And the final prototype debuted for all to review and critique at the annual planning colloquium. The entire process took around four months.

“We knew exactly what we wanted this to do … and I think having the other department heads weigh in and help out in the process was critical,” he says.

Besides eliminating the stacks of binders, one of the things Crumb is most excited about is the “accountability layer” via a dashboard that gives Crumb and the Chiefs considerable visibility into where department heads are at any particular stage in the planning cycle, and insight into how well they are doing in accomplishing their objectives.

In December 2015, the new system launched. It was used throughout the process of creating and approving FY2016 business plans (the sports franchise’s fiscal year began April 1). Crumb has checked the dashboards quarterly to see how departments’ plans have met reality.

A Personal Connection

Dan Crumb watched Super Bowl IV on television back when he was just shy of six years old. He has a sharp recollection of that event because it was the first football game he can recall watching, and it was being played at Tulane Stadium in his hometown of New Orleans. He remembers the team that won: the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, by a lopsided score (23–7) over the National Football League’s Vikings. It was 1970, the last year the two leagues held a playoff game; they merged a few months later under the NFL organization.

Forty years on, Crumb was CFO of the National Basketball Association franchise, the New Orleans Hornets, when the Chiefs came calling, looking for a chief financial officer. The team “ultimately made me an offer, and it was an offer I could not turn down,” he says. In no small part, he was excited to be working for the Hunt family and to work for an organization that “has such a rich tradition, such a rich history as the Kansas City Chiefs.” The late Lamar Hunt founded the AFL and the Chiefs, as well as Major League Soccer, and coined the name “Super Bowl,” among other accomplishments.

Crumb, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from the University of New Orleans and an MBA from Tulane, initially worked for KPMG, and has since had six successive CFO positions, prior to joining the Chiefs. He says the most challenging part of the CFO’s job is that with technology constantly advancing, it is difficult to identify “where to put your technology investment.” Both from a financial and a personnel perspective, the CFO has to determine which technology will best support the organization in achieving its objectives as both the technology and the organization evolve. It’s a tough call.

At the Chiefs, he has made significant investments to upgrade connectivity at Arrowhead Stadium, which was built in 1972 and is leased by the Chiefs. “We put in a complete Wi-Fi system, and we put in a DAS — a distributed antenna system— for cellular coverage,” he says, adding, “People want to be able to post photos, they want others to know they’re at Arrowhead Stadium watching a Chiefs football game, so we had to deliver that.”

A husband, father of two, and a community volunteer, Crumb is also an avid historian, a horseman, and an amateur welder. He gets a kick out of working in operational jobs, and it’s more fun when no one knows his true identity. He once went “undercover,” making balloon animals and tossing T-shirts to the fans during a Hornets game; he has also wielded his welding torch incognito in the repair shop of another company where he was CFO. Recently, he sold tickets in the Chiefs’ 50/50 raffle. “It’s a good way for me to understand the business,” he says, adding that taking on such initiatives can be very helpful in getting to know some of the people in the organization.

While in his CFO role Crumb gets a charge out of throwing himself into “looking at ways to improve.” Rethinking the business planning system, he says, was very appealing because it involved “how to improve processes and be more efficient. Those are things that I’m passionate about.”

Copyright 2017