Interview with Bill Grammaticas
Interviewer: Andrew Zezas, SIOR
Following is the transcript of a CFO Studio interview between Andrew Zezas, CEO of New Jersey based Real Estate Strategies Corporation and finance executive, Bill Grammaticas, CFO of Implementation Specialists for Healthcare.
Visit www.CFOstudio.com to read about this interview and to watch the entire video interview.
FEI & Its NJ Chapter: “The” Organization for Finance Executives
Zezas: Hi, this is Andrew Zezas, your host at CFO studio. I am joined today by Mr. Bill Grammaticas, CFO of Implementation Specialists for Healthcare and President of the NJ Chapter of Financial Executives International. FEI’s NJ Chapter boasts more than 400 members. Globally FEI has an excess of 15,000 members, most of whom are CFOs, controllers, treasurers, and directors. The organization was founded in 1932. Mr. Grammaticas has a pretty interesting background. He’s been a finance executive for more than 35 years with a specialty in M&A as well as strategic planning and process implementation. His background includes having worked for industries in Entertainment, Healthcare, and Manufacturing. Bill, it’s nice to have you hear on CFO studio. Thank you very much for joining us.
Grammaticas: It’s a pleasure to be here.
Zezas: Bill, you are here today to speak about an interesting topic that’s kind of near and dear to both of its hearts: FEI & its NJ Chapter, the organization for finance executives around the country. I’m excited to talk to you about FEI. As you know my firm, Real Estate Strategies Corporation, has been a sponsor for a number of years, and the organization is full of great people, and I’ve been waiting for this interview. So I can’t wait to get into it. But before we talk about FEI, you’ve been a CFO for more than 3 decades, you’re accomplished, you’ve been with some great organizations, share with me your thoughts about the hot buttons in the CFO industry today? What’s going on in the world, and how does that tie back to what CFOs in NJ do for a living?
Grammaticas: I feel the hot button in the world is, the world itself. The political and economic environment is very unstable, and it will impact so many of our companies in this country. Specifically, we see the currency of the Euro, which is in the news quite a bit, fluctuating up and down. This could impact the pricing of your products if you don’t effectively manage. How do you effectively manage? By hedging, by hedging the currency, it will prevent large fluctuations. Let’s say if you’re manufacturing and you’re buying a product from overseas, it can go up and down. So we don’t want that impacting your profit margin.
Zezas: So a CFO who’s leading a mid-cap company in NJ can’t just be thinking about what’s just going on in NJ. From what I understand, it really is a world view, and that’s kind of the hot things that are going on today?
Grammaticas: Yes, it is a world view. You have to know what’s going in China, India, Europe, and other areas of the world.
Zezas: With that, let’s talk about the NJ Chapter of FEI. I understand that this particular chapter of all the chapters in the FEI systems probably is one of the largest and most successful chapters. So you are president of the chapter. You are leading a great organization, and I am sure you’re having fun. What’s driven the success of the chapter?
Grammaticas: Strong membership and leadership of our chapter has really driven the chapter. We have a diverse board. Those individuals are from large and small companies, as well as private and public companies. So it gives us an area to generate different ideas. A large company might be focused on Sarbanes Oxley or Frank Dodd issues, whereas a small company there is no interest there. So we are drawing upon the different members of the smaller company may be more interested in dealing with the entrepreneur mindset which is a totally different animal.
Zezas: Right. And the board and officers and leadership have the same basic makeup as the membership?
Grammaticas: Yes they do. And we have a select number of officers who are responsible for programs and membership and treasury and sponsorship. And our board also is officers in waiting.
Zezas: So say that again, officers in waiting?
Grammaticas: Officers in waiting. So they’re pushing us, we’re training them, they’re pushing back with ideas, and we are both growing at the same time.
Zezas: So you’ve kind of got an understudy group of officers; lieutenants to the captains. What does that do for the chapter’s operations and for membership?
Grammaticas: Let me tell you about various things we are involved in right now, specifically our programs. What are our programs? Well they deal with professional development sessions that we have, which provide free CPE credits, continuous professional education credits. Our dinner meetings which have once a month, also provide CPE. Again, an opportunity for people to grow technically.
Zezas: So if I am a Finance Executive and I am not a member of FEI, can I participate in the CPE credit meetings?
Grammaticas: You can participate in the professional development sessions.
Zezas: Right, and does that cost me anything?
Grammaticas: No, it doesn’t.
Zezas: So I don’t have to be a member, and I get the benefits for free?
Grammaticas: Yes you do.
Zezas: That’s actually pretty cool. Now let me bring you back to a question I asked you a moment ago. With the officers in waiting, I have to believe by having an active officer or officer in training or in waiting that when the officer transitions out, the officer who is leading the program, the officer in training actually comes in. And that probably gives you a lot of consistency and a lot of continuity in your ability to deliver great programs.
Grammaticas: They do, and that is very important. Even when the officer leaves, you know they do participate on the board as a past president, so they are still there to guide the membership.
Zezas: So structure makes a lot of sense in terms of delivering continuity of the membership. So you’ve got an officer, you’ve someone in training, and the officer moves forward, the trainee comes up, and then there’s another trainee in the back.
Zezas: That’s a great leadership style, Bill. I think that makes tremendous sense. You’ve mentioned CPE credits, and I think I’ve heard you say something about dinner meetings. Are these dinner meetings kind of boring chapter meetings, call to order, bang the gavel on the table, and spend the day talking about Robert’s rules, or are these something else?
Grammaticas: It’s definitely something else. We have an opportunity to network before meetings which is fantastic. It is a fantastic chance to really understand what is going on in other fields besides your own. The dinner meetings have featured prominent speakers from the industry such as the Vice President and CFO of Wal-Mart, the General Motors Vice President and Controller, as well the VP of Finance and Chief Accounting Officer for Microsoft.
Zezas: So wait a minute. Microsoft, General Motors, and Wal-Mart have all been speakers at the NJ Chapters?
Grammaticas: Yes, they have.
Zezas: At the dinner meetings?
Grammaticas: At the dinner meetings.
Zezas: Wow, that’s some horse power.
Grammaticas: It’s a lot of horse power that we have. And there are other areas that we’ve touched upon. We’ve had government regulators, and we’ve actually had speakers from the New York Giants and Jets and NJ Devils. It’s actually fun.
Zezas: Sounds like you guys are having fun.
Grammaticas: We’re having a lot of fun. It’s enjoyable.
Zezas: First of all, I know these meetings are very well attended and they’re frequent. They’re 10 a year. Correct?
Grammaticas: That is correct.
Zezas: So they are very well attended; 70, 80, 100 people at a time, sometimes. Networking, camaraderie, I notice there’s a lot of friendships that come out of it. But transferring business knowledge as well as listening to some great speakers, sounds like they are very well structured meetings.
Grammaticas: They are very well structured.
Zezas: What else does FEI do besides dinner meetings and CPE credits to help its members enhance their careers?
Grammaticas: Their careers are enhanced by our career services initiatives that we have. Monthly we have career service meetings that feature career coaches. This is very important because a lot of people are out in transition and looking for help, and FEI is there to help these individuals. Career Services is open to FEI members as well as non FEI members, again at no cost.
Zezas: So another benefit you provide to the CFO community at no cost?
Grammaticas: That is correct.
Zezas: So if I’m a CFO I can come to a career services meeting network, listen to my peers, learn, share information, and listen to a coach.
Grammaticas: That is correct. And we have an annual holiday party, which features 10 recruiters to join the 75 or so members that attend. It provides a great opportunity to exchange business cards and job leads. It’s fantastic. Career Services also has a job bank where you can just look at the internet and see an opportunity to go after.
Zezas: Now FEI is not a recruiting firm and it’s not a jobs bank, but it sounds like the organization does an awful lot to benefit CFOs who are either in transition or thinking about making a move, from a career perspective?
Grammaticas: That is correct.
Zezas: Wow. Alright, so we are talking about jobs. Let’s stay on careers and jobs. There’s been a lot written about CFOs and the CFO career experience. It’s always been our perspective that CFOs especially in mid-cap companies are really COOs. Their backgrounds are diverse, and they do a lot of different things. Yet we find that a lot of employers nowadays are looking for a very narrow set of expertise when looking for new CFOs yet a lot of CFOs promote themselves as being very diverse. How do you react to that circumstance?
Grammaticas: I don’t agree with that statement at all. CFOs are not number crunchers. They are strategic thinkers and they are the partner of the president as well as their peers. The CFO has to understand completely what’s going on in the organization across many disciplines. And most importantly, they have to deal with their internal customers whether it’s the Sales VP or Sales Manager. It is very important to understand that and to really participate in the organization as a whole.
Zezas: So for an employer to think that I can hire a CFO who has this expertise and not be concerned about all the diverse experience that the CFO has to gather in order to do his job, employers are probably missing the mark.
Grammaticas: They absolutely are.
Zezas: I appreciate that. Let’s jump back to FEI for a moment. It’s a not for profit organization, how is it supported financially?
Grammaticas: It is supported financially from 12 sponsors that we have. The sponsors are very active in FEI. They participate in committees. They also present to the membership at our dinner meetings, they advertise, and are really partners.
Zezas: I have to say the NJ Chapter has done a superb job at integrating members and sponsors. My firm, being a sponsor for a number years now, we feel like members. We’re welcome with open arms, and we feel like we are part of the organization. And one of things that we’ve found has been very beneficial is the fact we don’t feel like we have any internal competition. FEI has been very respectful of us as sponsors and given us the opportunity to being the sole sponsor in the Real Estates Services industry, and I know the other sponsors see that as a benefit as well.
Grammaticas: Yes, the exclusive nature is very important for our sponsors.
Zezas: It’s good for the members too because the members will be assured there are a limited number of sponsors in the room. And as members they won’t be overwhelmed with sales pitches.
Grammaticas: We don’t want to see that happen.
Zezas: Tell me how FEI is involving? What’s waiting in the wings?
Grammaticas: Well, FEI is involving into a diversity campaign. Our diversity is trying to improve the membership and gender, as well as ethnic groups. So this is an important area here for us. A lot of times CFOs are viewed as a bunch of old men, and we want to get away from that type of stereotype, it’s just not there. We are trying to grow these initiatives here.
Zezas: Excellent, I understand you’re partners with other organizations in that endeavor?
Grammaticas: Yes, they are. They are partnering with ACG (Association for Corporate Growth) in their woman’s initiative. NACD and KPMG have programs going on. There are many organizations out there that we can draw upon, and we can draw them in.
Zezas: That’s excellent, that’s excellent. Bill, now you have been a member of FEI now for 18 years?
Grammaticas: That is correct.
Zezas: That’s a long time. That says a lot about you and a lot about the organization. How have you benefited from your membership?
Grammaticas: I’ve benefited. Whenever I’ve needed help in the technical area, I was able to reach out to FEI through their website or through their Financial Executive Research Foundation, which provided new pronouncements or help in that area. Also we were engaged in getting involved in looking at our good will and seeing if we had impairment issues at our company. And we hired one of the sponsors, and he was able to come in and do an excellent job at reasonable cost.
Zezas: So you’ve benefited. You’ve benefited from a business perspective, you’ve benefited I am sure personally because I know you’ve built some fabulous personal relationships there. But have the companies you worked for also benefited from your membership at FEI?
Grammaticas: They have benefited. Over the years, they’ve gotten back the return on their investment.
Zezas: Bill, we are almost out of time. I have time for actually a personal question. I know you are a reader, and I’m sure you have a stack of business journals and finance magazines that you read, but when you’re not reading business documents, what are you reading?
Grammaticas: What I am reading is Rolling Stone Magazine. I really enjoy the articles there, and they make me relaxed before I go to sleep.
Zezas: Rock on Bill. Listen, I want to thank you for appearing with us on CFO studio, this has been a pleasure.
Grammaticas: It’s been a pleasure Andy, thank you.
Zezas: This is Andrew Zezas, your host at CFO studio with rock and roller Bill Grammaticas, saying thank you very much for watching.
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