Expertise Has Value


As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q2 2017 Issue

-By John Moskonas, President, The ARGroup of Search Companies

Building an internal industry reputation helps in a job change

Sometimes we get two competing offers: one from an industry in which we have expertise; and another from a new industry in which, rather than experience, we have a transferable skill. The question becomes, should I take the offer from a new industry or do I take the one from the industry I know?

There are benefits to both, but I often walk someone through the thought process regarding accepting an offer from another industry.

Generalist or Specialist

I once wrote about positioning yourself as a generalist versus a specialist when looking for a job. Specialists know what they are good at doing and look to uncover those situations where they can apply what they know to a role. A specialist has a general reputation for getting a job done. A specialist also usually has an internal industry reputation.

The conclusion: It’s better to position yourself as a specialist when looking for a job because you’ll set yourself apart from the competitive landscape and you’ll hear about more opportunities than you would if you were positioning yourself as a generalist who could do any job.

And this focus on being a specialist applies not only to a functional skill set but also to an industry. An internal industry reputation is the sum of accomplishments and relationships/ touch points you have with all the players in that industry. You are usually active in that industry, you are usually well networked with your peers, and you have positioned yourself as a subject matter expert (SME) in your field. You don’t just have a job; you have a strong internal industry reputation.

This industry focus gives you a powerful foundation from which you’ll hear about relevant roles, from which you can be impactful in a company, and from which your speed of accomplishments isn’t held up by any learning curve.

Is it possible to build an internal industry reputation in another industry in a reasonable amount of time? Yes, of course, but at the end of the day, assuming your industry isn’t going downhill quickly, the expertise you’ve derived from going deep into an industry and that you bring to the table gives you an invaluable perspective that others don’t have. It sets you apart, it positions you as an SME.

Sometimes, of course, we don’t have the luxury of two competing offers and the situation dictates the decision. So, where we have an offer from a different industry, we take it. Taking an offer from a different industry, of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing because you can minimize your risk down the road by having a new industry under your belt.

Bottom line: Going deep into an industry is a smart way to go.

A Career CFO


As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q2 2017 Issue



The accepted wisdom is that CFOs tend to stay in one industry and build their success within that industry’s bounds, but Alison Cornell, who has navigated a career through telecom, health care, and specialty chemicals/consumer products, believes that “there is value created by moving between industries, not only for the CFO role that we perform, but also in developing a broad-based perspective that will be valuable in future Board of Directors participation.”

Ms. Cornell was the guest of honor at a recent CFO Studio Reception at the Governor Morris Hotel in Morristown, NJ. Andrew Zezas, publisher of CFO Studio magazine, introduced her to the assembled CFOs, noting that Cornell has shaped a nearly 30-year career in key global leadership roles in three different industries. She was profiled in the Q1 2017 cover story.

“We each set our own path,” Ms. Cornell began. “Some see limitless possibilities, others see limited possibilities… I’m in the limitless possibilities camp, believing that our financial skill set is fungible.” And so, she described five ingredients of a “winning formula” for a career path through successive industries, creating “a track record of consistently growing businesses, achieving sustainable results, attracting and developing talent, and taking businesses to new heights.”

The ingredients are: Be open to change; learn the business soup to nuts; make a difference while you’re there; be a positive and motivating force; and have the best team on the field. With regard to that last point, she said that when she arrived at Covance, a drug-development services organization where she worked from 2004–2015, she “changed about 75 percent of my direct- report team and built an awesome team that helped drive the business turnaround, sustainable growth, and the returns that we achieved.”

“Don’t pigeonhole yourself,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to fail.” (She’s not.) “Know what you’re passionate about.” (She does.) “And go there.” (She will.)

Culture Shift


As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q2 2017 Issue



There are many ways to define and measure what constitutes a team that is lauded as “high performing,” but when you get right down to it, “it’s all about the people and the culture.” That’s according to Scott Settersten, CFO of Ulta Beauty, the largest beauty specialty retailer in the U.S., based in Bolingbrook, IL. “It’s not just about hitting your financial targets. If you have a team that is unhappy, or doesn’t interact well with business partners, simply making your numbers is not enough. It spans way beyond that.”

Mr. Settersten spoke on “Building and Sustaining a High-performance Finance Team” at an invitation-only dinner discussion attended by CFOs from Chicago-area world-class companies. The event was held recently at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Chicago, and is part of CFO Studio’s Executive Dinner Series.

“People need a good environment to work in,” said Mr. Settersten. “They need to feel empowered so that they develop good working relationships across the enterprise and can work effectively to help move the business forward.

“You are the leader,” he said to his fellow CFOs in the room. “You own the culture. If you want a high-performance team, it’s up to you to set the pace.”

What Each One Values

The first pace-setting step in building a top-notch financial team is never forgetting that your employees have a life outside of the office. “Work/life balance is one of the hottest employment issues today,” Mr. Settersten acknowledged. “It’s very important to be open and adaptive to new and different circumstances, and provide your group with a decent chance to achieve the balance they crave and deserve.”

He suggested “role-modeling” examples of work/life balance to demonstrate how “it can be achieved without sacrificing on-the-job duties and responsibilities.” This could come in the form of flexible hours or telecommuting options, he noted.

In addition, be aware of the generational gaps in the workforce, and be sure to adapt your style when appropriate. “Different folks or groups value different things.”

Invest in the tools that can help your team members blossom into high performers. “You owe it to them to provide best-in-class software tools” to help them become more efficient and effective. “Maybe it’s the latest tax software that makes the process easier, giving folks more time to think about the outcome rather than compiling all the data,” he offered. “This will go a long way toward making people feel like you’re investing in them, that you’re concerned about their happiness and job satisfaction, and that you’re providing an environment where they can make progress and excel in their roles.”

Continue to show you care about the human side of your team by encouraging opportunities for career development. “Invest in training for your people to improve their skill set, whether it’s a specific subject matter expertise, or just general communication or leadership skills,” Mr. Settersten advised.

In some cases, however, you may need to reassess your talent. “If you have four high performers and one weak one, the high performers are going to look to you to address the situation.” Mr. Settersten acknowledged these are tough calls and difficult discussions, but sometimes they’re necessary to allow the team to move ahead.

The creation of a “road map” can help. “Talk with your team, acknowledge what the gaps are, and develop a plan on how you’re going to ultimately reach your goal.” But don’t stop there. “Engage with them, be accessible, and become an active feedback loop for them.”

The notion of a “road map” resonated with CFO Studio Business Development Partner Marilyn Bird, District President at Robert Half, which provides specialized staffing services for temporary and permanent accounting, finance, and bookkeeping professionals. “Having a definition of what a high-performance team means to you can help determine your action items, as well as how you measure where you’re trying to take the team.”

Keep It Going

Once you’ve witnessed your team transformed into a well-oiled machine of high performers, “It’s up to you, as the leader, to stay committed to sustaining the positive momentum.” Mr. Settersten said it’s a constant cycle of measuring and revisiting; and no news is not necessarily good news. “Go out there and proactively seek feedback to determine if you’re still making progress and achieving success.”

And don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Financial leaders resist seeking assistance because we’re the ones that are supposed to have all the answers,” Mr. Settersten explained with a laugh. “We may just try working harder, but working harder at the same thing isn’t going to solve the issue. You have to think about doing it a different way.” He suggested looking into benchmarking avenues and peer-to-peer networking groups to generate ideas, see what others are doing, and to borrow any best-in-class practices that make sense for you. After all, “More brainpower naturally leads to better outcomes.”

In addition, continue to invest in your team’s success. “The finance function always tries to do more with less, striving to be the role model for fiscal prudence in the organization,” Mr. Settersten pointed out. “We’ll feed the rest of the business, but in our area of oversight, we’ll just make it work somehow, because there’s not enough to go around, and it’s better to invest in sectors that are going to drive the top line and result in the biggest payoff.” That mind-set will suck the life out of your high-performance team, he said. “Resist the inherent urge to pass over your department when it comes to investing in new tools, training, and career-development activities.”

Worth the Effort

Mr. Settersten admitted there’s a lot to consider when building and sustaining a high-performance team. “With so many areas of finance in the CFO’s purview, and with tax laws and the like in flux, it’s quite a challenge. You’re always trying to get better while attacking a moving target.” That said, “It keeps it very interesting!”

But at the end of the day, Mr. Settersten said that we are all looking for the same kinds of things: “We want good people who are motivated and care about the quality of their work. We want to be able to foster a positive working environment for our teams so that, together, we can focus on delivering great business outcomes.”

Copyright 2017