Interview with Raymond Cardonne
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 Raymond Cardonne, CFO of DLB Associates.
Visit www.CFOstudio.com to read about this interview and to watch the entire video interview.
ACG NJ CFO Forum
Zezas: Hi, this is Andrew Zezas, your host at CFO Studio. I am joined today by Ray Cardonne, CFO of DLB Associates. Mr. Cardonne is also the co-host of the CFO Forum of the New Jersey chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth. Prior to joining DLB Associates, Mr. Cardonne was the CFO for publicly-traded companies for over a decade. Ray, it’s nice to have you here on CFO Studio.
Cardonne: Andy, pleasure being here, thank you.
Zezas: Ray, we’re here today to talk about the ACG New Jersey CFO Forum. Before we get into the forum itself, share with me a little bit about ACG, the Association for Corporate Growth, both on a global scale as well as New Jersey. Tell me about the organization.
Cardonne: Terrific, Andy. Yes, you’re right, ACG is an international organization, global chapters all over the world, in the United States as well. [ACG is] focused on corporate growth, corporate development, mergers and acquisitions, really bringing together service providers, capital, and corporate players.
Zezas: So, it’s got a diverse background, it’s not geared toward any one particular kind of executive.
Cardonne: Not geared toward any one type of executive, either at a global level or here in New Jersey. The New Jersey chapter was started in 2004, it’s grown to close to 300 members, and throughout the state of New Jersey it annually holds over 55 events.
Zezas: That’s a lot, 55 events in one state. And the global organization has been around for awhile, so ACG is not a newcomer, by any stretch.
Cardonne: No, it was founded in 1954, so over 50 years strong and continuing to grow.
Zezas: Wow, that’s great. Okay, so a couple years ago, New Jersey chapter got together, I know yourself and a few other finance executives got together, and wanted to bring together, under the guidance of ACG, CFOs and finance executives. And you founded the CFO Forum. Tell me about the intent behind the CFO Forum, and what the objectives are.
Cardonne: Terrific, thank you. Yes, it was about two years ago, I got together and co-founded this with Mark Kean, who is the president of ACG, and Tim Anglim, from YesCFO, and the objective was really to bring together CFOs in a peer-to-peer setting, where they could exclusively network with peers of their own. I personally, as a sitting CFO, [know] there’s often times when you want to get advice from someone who is actively engaged in the situation that you find yourself in, rather than going to a large event and trying to seek out someone, you could really just be in one very relaxed, informal atmosphere, meet with people, get their input on an idea, and then you have those relationships to feed off of going forward.
Zezas: So, benefit to an executive being a member of ACG New Jersey and the CFO Forum is not one or the other, it’s actually both: you get the benefit of the large scale meeting where you get to network with various types of executives; but then also on a very granular level at the CFO Forum meetings you’re meeting with like-minded, like-experienced finance executives. You used the term sitting CFO, I know that’s important to the criteria of the meeting because you want to focus on folks who are currently active and currently in the trenches, so to speak. Is that a fair assessment?
Cardonne: Exactly, and that’s really what we wanted to focus in on. Especially, for example, you are going through a banking deal, you want to know who’s out there, what are the rates, what are the covenants, especially if you are breaking covenants, so you want to be live and in that moment and know what other people are going through.
Zezas: And what your friendly competitors might be experiencing as well.
Zezas: Okay, that makes an awful lot of sense. Tell me about the format of the meeting. So, if you go to an ACG chapter meeting, you’ve got these very large meetings where they are very diverse. But, you shared with me before that the format is very unique in terms of its intimacy. So, how are the meetings structured?
Cardonne: Right, exactly, it’s an entirely different perspective than going from a conventional or large-scale meeting. We hold it centrally located at a restaurant off of the Garden State Parkway, so its accessible to CFOs from the entire state to get to. It’s in a private room, we have a cocktail hour, and then we have a round table discussion where 20 to 25 people can gather, and sit, and have one conversation that’s moderated by the speaker we have come in to lead and moderate and to really guide the discussion. And, my job as a cohost is to really make sure that we get everyone involved and participating so that we have full knowledge transfer both going to the attendees and also going back to the moderator to help them with what they’re doing.
Zezas: Okay. So, tell me about the demographics of the attendees because we’re talking about a small setting, I think I heard you say 20 or 30 people, round table, so everyone is facing inward toward each other, so there is no one at a podium making a presentation with a powerpoint? And, I heard you use the term moderator, and I’m going to come back to that in a moment. But tell me about the demographic of the type of executive that is sitting around the table.
Cardonne: Okay, well, besides them being a sitting CFO, the industry is very diverse across New Jersey. So, we have pharmaceuticals represented, construction, professional services, a lot of green energy, solar type companies, and also the size, everything from start-up, private equity backed, to large, publicly traded companies.
Zezas: So, you are not going after a particular target of finance executive, it’s start-up to large and everything in the middle and across all industries.
Cardonne: Correct. And what we find from the forums that we’ve conducted is that the experience, even though someone might be a start-up now, they might have had a prior experience that’s relevant, and so there’s that information exchange that flows from not just where people currently are, but really jobs that they could have been in previously that they can bring back that experience and share with the group.
Zezas: So it’s current experience and past experience, of course?
Zezas: It’s a very interesting approach. You mentioned the concept of moderator. So, I’m used to going to very large meetings where, as I said, there is a powerpoint and a podium and a speaker or a dais, and everyone has a pitcher of water and it’s very formal. But I get the sense that this is less formal, but perhaps more effective. So, tell me about how the moderator format works and in explaining that, share with me the benefits that the attendees derive from this format.
Cardonne: Okay, sure. You’re right on it. It’s very different, very informal, there is no powerpoint, there is no handout, there is computer presentation that they’re giving, they are really sitting at the table and sharing their thoughts. It might be on a situation that they just went through, that they’re currently going through, and they’re providing the start of a conversation, and then really the dialogue takes over and rotates around the table and they always bring it back for additional insight, or questions, or to redirect the conversation. So, the benefits of the attendees coming is when they can be interested in learning about the subject, or they could have information to contribute, so it’s the give and take that we’re looking for from the attendees. Now, the moderator has an additional benefit and that’s where we’re really unique and this is something that we’re looking to build on now that we’re in our second year. Obviously, we’re going to be very selective in the moderators that we have come in, so we want them to be knowledgeable, but on top of that, we really want them to have a great experience coming in.
Zezas: So not just the attendees, but you’re focused on the moderator as well.
Cardonne: The moderator as well, so that when they come in, they have a base of knowledge to share, but at the same time, we can provide them with the experience of sitting around with 25 experienced CFOs, that can give them feedback and insight about the situation they are going through, that they can turn around the next day and take back to their business and help them be more effective in the job they have.
Zezas: That’s actually very exciting because I don’t think I’ve heard that kind of description before. So not only do the attendees benefit from the knowledge transfer from moderator to attendees, but you’re also setting up this format so that it’s the other way around. So it sounds like if I were selected as a moderator, I may be able to pose a conversation or a series of questions to the group and get feedback for my own benefit. And, you’re saying that I can then take that back to my company and put that in place, so I almost have the benefit of a board of advisors responding to my questions and the conversation I’m leading.
Zezas: That’s incredibly exciting and it’s very unusual because it’s usually the other way around. Usually, the moderator is the knowledgeable person, the know-it-all, the very experienced person who is imparting knowledge. You are saying this is going in two different ways.
Cardonne: Yes, absolutely. That’s what’s exciting and we know everyone’s time is very valuable so we start at 5:30, we have an hour of cocktails, and then it runs for two hours, at 8:30 we have a hard stop. But what we’re finding more and more is that the moderators and guests stay after, and the conversation continues to reduce in size, but there is a lot of information that the moderator is continuing to get back from the attendees on a smaller, one-on-one basis.
Zezas: So, they just don’t want to go home. So let me ask you this, we have a little bit of time left. I know the CFO Forum is selective, it’s not a wide-open thing, it’s not open to just anyone, it’s certainly not open to just any finance executive. What’s the future for the organization because you’re talking about an intimate setting, somewhat of a controlled setting, and I have to believe there’s a point after which it gets too big, or it could get too big if you’re not careful. So where does this go in the future?
Cardonne: That’s really a good question because this is our second year now, we’ve grown to the point where we’ve had over 50 CFOs come to the meetings, we now have a regular base of “regulars” that come to the meetings, that can make it. And you do reach the point where you get to about 25 people and you have that intimate round table feel, and we’re only having that single conversation, so everybody is sharing information but its all within the context of one conversation, that you start lose it if we go beyond 25. So yes, it’s by invitation only, it is selective. In the future, if the demand kept growing, we could look at ways perhaps of breaking it out. As I talked about, there is value for moderators to come in because they’re going to benefit as well, where we could have two speakers and potentially have one cocktail hour and then have two private rooms where we have separate breakout sessions. But really, once you get past that 25 people, the feel and what we’re trying to achieve with that intimate exchange where people feel open and that they can have an honest dialogue among peers, we would start to lose that, so that’s what we have to keep in mind as we move forward.
Zezas: An honest, open dialogue means everything and it sounds like the CFO Forum is committed to maintaining that type of communication and the same format, and that intimacy, to the extent that its got to maybe break into multiple groups, it will still seek to maintain that intimacy.
Cardonne: You got it.
Zezas: I think that’s key. Ray, this has been great, we’re out of time, I want to thank you for visiting with us as CFO Studio.
Cardonne: Pleasure, thank you very much, Andy.
Zezas: This is Andrew Zezas with Ray Cordonne, saying thank you for watching us at CFO Studio.
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