Interview with Marie Hollein
Interviewer: Andrew Zezas, SIOR
Following is the transcript of a CFO Studio video between Andrew Zezas, CEO of New Jersey based Real Estate Strategies Corporation and President & CEO of Financial Executives International, Marie Hollein.
Visit www.CFOstudio.com to read about this interview and to watch the entire video interview.
Growing Role of Financial Executives International (FEI)
Zezas: Hi, this is Andrew Zezas, your host at CFO Studio. I have the pleasure today of sitting with Marie Hollein, President & CEO of Financial Executives International. Marie has some wonderful thoughts to share with us about FEI and the benefits that members and non-members can derive from participating in this fantastic organization. Marie, it’s nice to see you today. Thanks for being here on CFO Studio.
Hollein: Thank you, Andy. It’s a pleasure being here.
Zezas: Marie, our firm, as you may know, is a sponsor of the New Jersey Chapter [of FEI] and we’ve had a wonderful experience with FEI. We’ve met some wonderful people. We’ve found them to be some of the highest caliber people in the finance industry and I can honestly say, a nice group of people. But, for those who are not members and have not had experience with FEI, what message would you deliver to them about the organization?
Hollein: Well, our organization is made up of members that are senior finance executives. Our organization has been in existence now for- next year we’re celebrating 80 years anniversary. We have approximately 15,000 members. We stand for very high ethical standards. It’s interesting, because we have a research foundation as well, and we produce research reports. That organization foundation has been around for approximately 65 years, and it’s the networking that our members see the benefit, networking with their peers. It’s the unbiased research that we produce each year made up from various surveys of unbiased information from our members and really truly benchmarking.
Zezas: Now, let me take you back for a moment. You said that the organization is 80 years old next year? So, you’re celebrating an anniversary?
Hollein: Yes, we are, and we’re very excited about that.
Zezas: And, I would imagine 80 years for any type of organization is a tremendous track record.
Zezas: And, did I understand that the organization was founded here in New York by a group of controllers?
Hollein: Yes, it was founded in New York in 1931 during a very difficult time in the economy similar to what we’re experiencing now, by a group of financial controllers, and it’s evolved. They’ve helped develop, frame what Financial Executives International is today.
Zezas: So, these people had some tremendous foresight, to say the least.
Hollein: Tremendous foresight, and they have worked with standard-setters, which we have great credibility with, both the standard-setters and regulators. And, to this day, we have a great relationship and credibility.
Zezas: You know, it’s interesting when people ask about organizations. Depending on who’s doing the answering, they’ll get different answers.
Zezas: And, with large organizations like this, you hear very often the term the peer-to-peer benefits. And, I think an organization like FEI has a very unique definition to it, because some people correctly or incorrectly assume that the peer-to-peer benefits means you’re going to make friends and there’s camaraderie. And, all that’s true at FEI, but from what I understand at FEI, there’s a whole lot more to the peer-to-peer benefits from a technical perspective. Can you share a little bit of that?
Hollein: Absolutely. From a technical perspective, we actually have a number of committees, like our committees on corporate reporting, our committee of corporate treasurers, and our committee of vice president of tax. We have two private companies because we also have memberships that are both public and private companies. Approximately 9,000 companies are represented in our membership.
Zezas: That’s huge!
Hollein: Yes, it is. They’re able to focus on issues. And, we’ve certainly seen a host of issues in the past two years from healthcare to the tax issue.
Zezas: And, they’re just getting started.
Hollein: You take a look at the Frank Dodd act that was just passed and 500 rules that need to be implemented. It’s still in the making!
Zezas: And, they’re still trying to figure it out.
Hollein: And, they’re still trying to figure it out.
Zezas: So, members from a peer-to-peer perspective, the camaraderie and the friendship, and I don’t mean to diminish that value, that’s some tremendous value. But what I find with FEI is the true peer-to-peer benefit or perhaps the greatest peer-to-peer benefit is that technical connection. For a member, who is experiencing a challenge and embarking on an initiative that he or she has never been involved before, to be able to reach out to other members. And, how many members now?
Hollein: Approximately 15,000.
Zezas: Approximately 15,000 members… and to be able to ping people and say, “I need help, whose got experience with this?”
Hollein: And, that’s a benefit, because we are a global organization and we’re increasing our global presence as we speak. But, the real benefit is that we have 85 chapters, 74 of which are in the U.S., that meet every month. They have a dinner meeting every month, so that’s one avenue. We have our committees that meet quarterly and are able to really focus on those types of issues, whether it’s the controllers group or treasurers group or tax group. Actually, we have representatives from various companies that sit on each of those [committees], so you look at all the issues that the companies are facing, it’s a real benefit.
Zezas: So, it’s peer-to-peer on multiple levels.
Hollein: Multiple levels. Absolutely.
Zezas: There’s depth, there’s breadth to it. It’s tremendous. With 15,000 people, 74 U.S. chapters, 85 in total. Now, did I also understand that FEI is really making a push to go global now?
Hollein: Absolutely. Last year, we did a comprehensive strategic plan. We took the approach, that if we were developing FEI today, what would it look like and how would we remain relevant to our members? And, as part of our strategic plan, we had five major goals that we formed with 20 strategies. One of the major goals was increasing our global presence.
Zezas: Given what’s going on in the accounting world, going global makes perfect sense.
Hollein: Absolutely. With IFRS, that’s a perfect venue to really try to understand the world and have members globally.
Zezas: How can you truly serve members who are required to perform globally if you’re not a global organization yourself?
Hollein: Well, if you look at companies, almost every company whether you’re a large or small, has a strategic objective to increase their international presence and revenues, and they have to from a competitive standpoint.
Zezas: I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some type of global connection.
Zezas: We’re a small firm and we represent companies from twelve countries.
Hollein: There you go.
Zezas: Everyone down to- short of the guy selling pizza.
Hollein: Absolutely and very true.
Zezas: Well, what I also understand is FEI’s benefit to its members in terms of the credibility and the influence that the organization has with regulators and decision makers, not just here, but elsewhere.
Hollein: That’s absolutely correct. And, at this conference you’ll see the fact that we’re working with IASB. We’re working with FASB. We work with the SEC on a regular basis. We actually have representation from our membership on quite a number of committees from the FASAC, which is FASB’s advisory council. I sit on that. A number of our members do as well. We meet regularly with the regulators, and I’ve been very impressed that they’re very interested in what our member companies’ thoughts, and they take the input which is fantastic.
Zezas: And membership is growing at FEI?
Hollein: Membership is growing. We’ve actually had ten months of net positive growth, which I’m proud to say in a very difficult environment.
Zezas: That’s wonderful. In a time where membership organizations are struggling, where companies are cutting back, and not covering expenses like organizational memberships, for FEI to have a positive growth, that’s tremendous.
Hollein: Absolutely. And, it’s the go-to organization for senior finance executives, especially in this difficult economy. If you can talk with your peers about the issues that each member is facing and compare them with the other firms, I think it’s a huge benefit.
Zezas: I will tell you that not just on a theoretical side, but for members to be able to have takeaways that are real-time and to be able to execute on those takeaways instantaneously, I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg for FEI.
Hollein: Most definitely.
Zezas: Marie, you’ve been wonderful. We’re about out of time. You offered our viewers some great insight and some great comments. And, I’m certain that FEI is going to be doing a lot of positive growth over the next 80 years.
Hollein: Oh absolutely.
Zezas: I want to thank you for being here on CFO Studio. It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much.
Hollein: Well, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure. Take care.
Zezas: This is Andrew Zezas, saying thank you for watching CFO Studio. We’ll see you again.
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