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Have You Given Your Skills An Honest Self-Assessment?

August 30th, 2012 Comments off

     One of the more constant questions I’ve been asked over the last 5-years, as well as tabled with the candidates of various positions, is evaluating their skills and where they shine, as well as where they need improvement. The easy part in the interview process is professing to the depth of your skill set and how you’re a “roll up the sleeves team player” and you can operate in the trenches with the best of them. It’s another to actually deliver on that commitment, and what I view as a promise to a perspective new employer.

     A perfect example is the company that I have recently joined. I was probably asked no less than 6x if I “had any issues with doing non-CFO work”. Some of this “non-CFO” work might be HR-related, negotiating leases, and doing other administrative type work. Funny, from my perspective, which has always been the case if it affects the bottom line, it is CFO-related. If it’s going to affect the bottom line, especially in a start-up, I want to know about it.

  • I want to be involved in any long-term agreements that may affect our financial health.
  • I want to have a direct hand in offer letters. These are the financial commitments I can tie back to original financial projections. Does it support our stated mission?
  • I want to be involved in the implementation of our reporting system, whether that’s in Excel, Quickbooks, or SAP. I want to know where the holes are, as well as points of control.
  • I want to be involved in the set-up of all service-related vendors since these are the folks that will be our foundation for what will be accomplished in years to come.

     Going back to the original question of self-assessment, are you really ready to take on these tasks, work in a humbling and collaborative environment, that isn’t supported by multi-million dollar budgets and casts of hundreds, or even dozens. For me, it was an easy “Yes!”. It’s an exciting environment to be a part of, but you have to be honest in your ability to execute at that level. You have no individual firewalls, key support staff, or other vehicles to hide behind. You’re the guy that is front and center in the trenches and “fighting” with your team.

Have you given yourself and honest self-assessment and are you ready for that level of exposure?

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

Thanks, Admiration, & Respect to the Team…

July 20th, 2012 Comments off

     While I’ve certainly been enjoying the first few weeks of my “Summer break”, my recent increase in training miles have given me quite a bit of time to reflect on the closing of my experiences at DC. There’s no doubt that it was a pretty hard ride over the last 3-years. Between a relocation from Vista to HB where we lost a significant part of our staff, the achievement of growth plans, and our SAP implementation, it’s put huge pressure on the team. For those that know me and worked with me, they know I’m not a delegator and spent the majority of my days in the trenches. It was those times working so closely with each of the teams that I was able to develop strong relationships, learn the strengths of each individual, which in turn, allowed me to orchestrate the broader team to achieve our results. I was fortunate enough to work with a fantastic group of people that were sincerely dedicated to the brand and delivering on the goals we committed to. My goal each day was to earn the respect of the team. I never pushed the team harder than I pushed myself. In turn, we delivered.

     The philosophy I have always tried to work by is that respect is earned through your day-to-day actions with the team and isn’t automatically granted through the conveyance of a title. It’s critical to lead by example, to develop the team, and to ensure that all the players are clear on the goal and the tools available to them. I strived for this every day at DC, and in return, found myself the recipient of incredible support and thanks in the end. There’s nothing more I could have asked for as I start creating the next chapter. Those teams have nothing but my admiration, respect, and thanks for everything they accomplished.

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

Categories: CorpFin Cafe, CorpFin Careers, H.R. Tags:

What Is Your ROI As A Corporate Asset?

July 9th, 2012 Comments off

     We spend our time constantly assessing financial results, retooling forecasts, and debating the legitimacy of OpEx or CapEx spend. However, when was the last time that you sat back and calculated your personal ROI and the contribution margin you deliver for your company? Whether you are a candidate in transition, or a current member of the Executive team, are you ensuring that you are delivering the proper value?

      It’s rather easy to look at the majority of the positions in a company and determine the value those positions deliver.  Whether you are looking at overall revenue per employee metrics, new sales generated by a new channel manager, or the improvement of collections through a new Credit position, it’s a relatively basic calculation. However, what is the multiple you assign for senior Finance positions, particularly a CFO position?

     First, have you determined what the necessary overhead is to support your position? This will be an all inclusive figure that should include everything from salary, benefits, and other compensation….to any travel and related OpEx considerations. You need to figure out your “all-in” number.

     Second, are you clear about the expectations on your position? Are you being tasked with a turnaround, overall EBIT growth, or other projects that will result in improved operating metrics? Are you setting additional goals that will add to the EBIT-multiple your position will generate? Can you look back at your results over the last 2-3 years and see the value you were able to deliver as a result of your direct involvement and guidance?

     Although we are constantly dealing with nothing but firm metrics and comparisons against historical results, we have an obligation to deliver the highest achievable multiple for the investment that is being made for us to have a seat at the table. Whether that multiple is a 10x, 20x, or higher, you better be able to quantify what your contribution is…or will be. It’s absolutely critical to assume the role of asset rather than expense.

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

In Pursuit of “Relentless Progression”…

June 11th, 2012 Comments off

     One of the more interesting aspects of working in a senior Finance role is the opportunity to delve into all operational areas of the company since it’s the sum of the parts that ultimately contribute to achieving revenue and income goals.  In my continued pursuit of improving financial and operational performance, I’m constantly reading and talking with my peers. One of my recent “reads” (code for cd books for my commute…) was the full unabridged version of the Steve Jobs biography.  One word…Fantastic. While the book certainly brought to light the extreme abrasiveness of Jobs, it also highlighted his extremely detailed and disciplined approach to business. There is no way that this biography can be legitimately summarized in a single blog entry, which is why I’ll likely be back to visit this book in future postings.

     It’s easy enough to focus on some of the more obvious elements that drove Jobs in his daily regiment such as the relentless focus on continual product innovation and the pursuit of simplification. Ultimately, these two traits resulted in the development of advanced, superior, and elegant products. However, it’s the elements of personnel and departmental management that struck the most significant chord with me.

     While my own teams are no stranger to accountability, Jobs took this word to an entirely new level. Jobs was beyond militant in his assertion of responsibility and accountability….in fact, relentless. Jobs set the goals, defined the teams, and drove the teams like a mule train. If you were on Jobs’ team and were not delivering on his extreme expectations then you were likely out. Jobs was clear about the end goal and the date that goal was to be delivered. Ambiguity was not a word in his vocabulary or execution.

     It’s known that one of my favorite phrases at the office is Relentless Progression (RP). After finishing Job’s biography, I feel as though he was operating at RP x 10. Jobs drove his extreme version of Relentless Progression by employing only the highest level of talent. Jobs was not an individual who hired B-talent. Apple was not built on anything less than hiring A-talent….at least as long as Steve Jobs was in control. In fact, the discipline displayed by Jobs extended beyond Apple to every other project he worked on, employees he hired, as well as the vendors he chose to collaborate with.

     The question here is what choices are you making daily in your operational execution? Are you making the right hires that will ultimately deliver your expected revenue and income levels? Are you making the right vendor selections that will deliver on your product, quality, and delivery needs? It’s that pursuit of Relentless Progress that keeps me motivated…

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

10Q w/ CorpFin Cafe – Ken Tudhope / Project Pro Search

June 3rd, 2012 Comments off

            I’m fortunate enough to call Ken both a friend, as well as a valued member of my network. It’s amazing to see what Ken has been able to accomplish with his firm over the last 5-years.  Thanks to Ken for his participation…and I hope you enjoy this new addition to my blog.

*I first met you through FEI about 5-yrs ago, but when did you actually start Project Pro Search?
10/2007.  Not real good timing for a start-up, just months before the beginning of the Great Recession.
*You actually have a background in Accounting & hold a CPA. Do you feel that this gives you an edge over other recruiters in that you have a working insight of their needs?
I believe that I am the only professional recruiter in Orange County who is BOTH an actively licensed CPA and an active CMA.  I think I have “Knowledge and Network.”  The CPA and CMA certify the knowledge, and yes, I think it gives me the ability to add more value than most of my competitors.  I understand the technical aspects of the jobs I recruit for, which reduces risk to my clients and saves significant time since I don’t present unqualified people.
*What are some of the core traits that you look for before taking on a candidate?
Paying clients don’t give me very much leeway so I stick to their  job specification and find people that meet the requirements. In my career as a recruiter, I have seen so many resumes that now see patterns that are lost on those who only recruit periodically.  I can quickly determine a quality career over time, from those with a lesser experience.  Also, because I have a large network of people that trust me, I get lots of confidential information about candidates.  This is information you will never get by calling the names on the reference list.
*MBA or CPA?
General or technical?  I have both and I’m glad I do.  I like the MBA because it grew my mind and gave me a great foundation for my business career.  I like the CPA because it puts me in a Society of Professionals with a standard of conduct and a code of ethics.  You didn’t ask, but the CMA is an excellent program; more broad coverage like the MBA with the standards and code of ethics like the CPA.
*Is it true that you’ve really had over 1,500 individual networking lunches?
Actually today was 1,521!  When I got into recruiting, a mentor told me “if you go to lunch with a client one time per week, in a year you’d have established a relationship with 50 people and that would be a great start for your new career.”  In that moment I decided once per week wasn’t good enough and that’s I’d go every day.  That was 6 years ago and I’ve only missed a few days.  I patterned my Lunch Counter after Scott Ginsberg, “The Name Tag Guy” who counts the number of days he’s warn a name tag.  When Twitter came out I started tweeting the number of my lunch every day when I returned to my office after lunch.  For some reason people love it and it has created all kinds of goodwill.
*What are some of the current trends that you are seeing in the hiring of Finance or Accounting candidates?
It is the best of times and the worst of times.  If people don’t have the right technical skill set and attitude it is very difficult to get a job.  If they do have the right skill set then there are plenty of competing opportunities.  Clients are increasingly looking for systems ability and people / communication skills.  Computers are handling basic accounting and financial planning so companies need people who can process massive amounts of BIG DATA using real statistical techniques and then draw conclusions and influence decision makers.  On the down side, we see people all the time who don’t have these skills.  Last week we had a case where the candidate was an executive who had not really used MS Office (a staff person did it for them).  That’s fine as a long-time executive in a company, but it doesn’t work in a job search, even for an executive.
*I’ve seen many recruiters and firms come and go over the last 5-years while you’ve been able to stay the course, as well as grow. What do you attribute this to?
This is an excerpt for the “About Me” section of my www.networkingnote.com blog.  In a word, it’s networking.
Project Pro Search has grown significantly every year during the Great Recession as a start-up company competing against billion dollar public corporations. OUR NETWORK SIMPLY DELIVERS BETTER CLIENTS AND CANDIDATES THEN THEIR ADVERTISING AND MARKETING even with multi-million dollar budgets.  For many in our industry it’s just a job, at Project Pro Search it’s our life’s work.  They serve companies, while we serve friends. We can’t imagine letting down our friends.
*For individuals, better to work with a stable of recruiters or with a few selective individuals?
Just remember, recruiters work for clients not candidates.  Anyone who is confused by this should read my friend Darrell Gurney’s book “Headhunters Revealed!”  I think people should notify as many recruiters as possible, but be careful on two things.  Don’t let them waste your time with jobs that don’t fit YOUR criteria.  I am a contingent recruiter who gets paid if you take MY job.  Don’t confuse the two. Second, be weary of recruiters who are not of quality.  Some of our candidates complain about recruiter sending their resumes out without permission, we would never do that.
*One of the biggest lessons learned in your professional career?
There is a saying that “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”  I believe it!  Since leaving my prized Fortune 100 executive finance position, work is no longer work.  I love what I do and money chases me.  I recommend people go deeply into their heads and hearts to determine what their passions are and move in that direction.  You will be amazed!
*Turn the tables…the one question you would ask yourself?
Where do you expect to be in 5 years?
I would like to sell my business and move more deeply into teaching networking.  This could be as a consultant, instructor or trainer.  For years, I’ve said that someday I’m going the be the Executive Director at the Paul Merage School of Management at UCI.  I would love to teach young professionals the power of networking and there is no bigger fan of an MBA than me.  I just published my first book called “The Key:  A Networking Guide to Meeting, Connecting, and Succeeding.”  It’s the story of a young professional woman at a Big-4 CPA firm  who  learns how to networking early in her career and the benefits that this affords her (along with a conceptual guide of how she did it).  I like it because it shows that networking doesn’t take resources, budgets or organizational power and the sooner one begins the more the social capital compounds.

What Was He Thinking…or Was He?

May 16th, 2012 Comments off

            I didn’t realize that when I posted my last blog entry “Have You Defined Your Blog Rules of Engagement”, that I would so quickly see a press release outlining the termination of the CFO of publicly held Francesca’s. As the article highlighted, the CFO of the company had been very active in his usage of LinkedIn and Twitter. However, that was not where he ran afoul. As later press releases started bringing more details to the table, it was rather shocking some of the postings that he had actually made on Twitter.

            As it was outlined in the WSJ article, choice postings include;

–          “Board Meeting. Good numbers=Happy Board”

–         “Draft S-1, pages of risks (sigh). I tell lawyers to add the risk that a meteor strikes earth, killing all life causing investors to lose”

–         “getting ready for a big SEC filing”

     Needless to say, there were more postings that carried this same type of theme, as well as the highly “articulated” points of view carried in his previous posts. It really is disheartening to think that an individual with this level of “discretion” would be considered a peer.

     These postings are not in error because the company was a publicly held entity. These would have been serious transgressions even in a private company. If you have been entrusted with the CFO post, public or private, there is an inherent level of trust with your Board, fellow Executive team members, and investors that needs to be maintained. There’s also a level of communication that needs to be maintained from an internal perspective as well and these postings were certainly not done in the spirit of maintaining professionalism.

     Although I’m sure it won’t be the last, I would hope that we don’t see these situations with any degree of regularity as C-level executives continue to expand their use of social media.

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

When Skillsets & Application Separate. How Do You Qualify Those That Need to Quantify?

February 9th, 2010 Comments off

            Over the last 2-years+ I have come across some very talented Finance folks who have been forced to the employment sidelines as a result of mergers, corporate bankruptcy, or in most cases, downsizing at their respective companies. I have also had a chance to interview some of these same candidates and have come across what appeared to be some very good and talented individuals….at least on paper. However, in a number of cases, I have seen a drastic divergence between the skillset that is shown on a resume and the application of those skills in an everyday environment. The more I talk with companies about the hiring of Finance talent, the more I see a challenge for companies to really look beyond a resume and qualify those who need to quantify.

            A good example is the candidate that has come from an Audit background, has large company experience ($1 billion+) and is on the job hunt. You receive dozens of resumes and all seem to be very well qualified at first review:

·         CPA

·         Good company history & tenure

·         Summaries about efficiencies & controls.

·         Recommended by a trusted recruiter

·         Interviews well with the team

            So you finally make your choice and extend an offer to the Controller behind door #1. Great, that opening is now filled and you can check the box. Wrong. This is where there is often a divergence between the skillsets that are presented by a candidate and the actual application in an everyday environment, as well as their ability to effectively function with the rest of the staff. Have you just hired the candidate that you really wanted, a partner, collaborator, and someone that will help drive value for the company, or a candidate that will just create busy work and consume the time & resources of those around them? So what am I really talking about at this point….?

·         Is your new hire someone that would be inclined to zero in on a expense report form when there is no issue with the travel spend?

·         Is your new hire someone that wants to keep information silo’d and on a need to know basis because it’s “not your function”.

·         Is your new hire someone that wants to put in controls and processes that are only effective in a large company environment with larger staff?

·         Does your candidate understand the differences between working in a large company environment vs. a micro-cap or small privately held?

·         Does your candidate really have the ability to work effectively with others when the daily regiment really does mean “being in the trenches everyday”?

            This is where I tend to believe that many financial professionals, while accomplished and credentialed, really do not have a handle on the dynamic between their knowledge base and it’s application in the environment that they are potentially hiring into. That most candidates have not put forward the proper effort to not only run a diagnostic on the company, but one on themselves to truly understand their skillset and what they can offer a prospective employer. There is also the difficulty posed to the prospective employer when they need to qualify those who quantify. Show in the interview that you can deliver value, as you’ll be expected to do daily….

 

Thanks for reading . . . .

 

Jeffrey Ishmael

Salaries: Measuring the ROI…NOT the Expense.

August 27th, 2009 Comments off

            I’ve had quite a few conversations recently regarding salary levels and what certain positions are paying. These conversations have ranged from hiring new staff positions to calls on open CFO positions in my regional market. What I continue to be puzzled about, and would like to have more follow-up discussions on, is why the responsible hiring parties are so focused on a salary level and not looking at what value the overall position might bring to the company. I look at every position with this view in mind. Although the approach my change a bit, I’m going to look at the increased productivity I can get from paying more for a higher caliber candidate, or in the case of myself, ensuring that the company receives an exponential return on the investment they are making in me.

            Take the example of an A/P clerk position that was on staff when I arrived at the company. It was clear that this position was not performing to the necessary levels, nor did the incumbent have the bandwidth to take on additional work. Through the course of a restructuring, in all areas of the company, we opted to eliminate the position and expand the role. I needed more back-up than just A/P processing. What I was fortunate enough to find was a great candidate that showed incredible work ethic and a broad range of skills. We brought that candidate on as a Sr. Accountant, and at a rate that was considerably higher than the previous person. Did it increase the payroll cost…absolutely, but we were also able to bolster the Finance area & implement the necessary processes and controls that were previously lacking.

            In my case, the conversation from the outset of our interviews was that I did not view myself as an expense, but an investment by the company. In consideration to the economic climate we were operating in, I discussed that any ROI on my position needed to be immediate (< 6months) and the targeted return created by my hire was not to cover the cost of my position, but to create a return that could be measured in multiples. You can only make this commitment when you are sure of your skill set and you have a good understanding of the situation you are walking into and then you can accurately assess the available resources. Whether you’re talking about an extra 10% at staff level or a higher amount at the senior level, what is the cost to your financial performance when you settle for mediocrity?

 

Thanks for reading . . . .

 

Jeffrey Ishmael

Categories: CorpFin Cafe, CorpFin Careers, H.R. Tags:

Opening Your Network to Help Others….

July 23rd, 2009 Comments off

                Aside from getting an email or phone call about a job offer, there’s no business communication that has a higher value than receiving notice from somebody in your network that an introduction you made for them culminated in a job offer.  The one thing I learned through my “transition lessons” is how important your network can be for securing the next opportunity. In my case, it has been equally helpful as a sounding board for pressing business issues. In fact, one mentor specifically, has really helped me navigate some pretty interesting business dilemmas.

                I was recently asked to provide some advisory work in the securing of additional working capital, as well as the implementation of a broader finance function for a new company. Although the company was well down the road for product development and patents, they were still start-up from an operational perspective. It became clear, and rather quickly, that they needed an immediate infusion of cash and had put too much faith in other advisors who were not able to deliver. I also knew that I was not going to be their next “rainmaker” and needed to pull in some expertise from my network.  Coincidentally, I had received a call from a classmate telling me about a change in his working situation.

                We met up for coffee and went through what had recently happened with his company. He worked for an OC-based software company and coordinated the majority of their M&A and business development transactions. He had grown tired of their empty promises, inability to execute, and the increasingly high level of politics. Exit….stage right. I knew how he worked and felt that the technical knowledge that he had with the other company would be a great fit for this start-up. Fast forward a few weeks after the introductions and I learned he had been offered a F/T position as their Director of Business Development.  I’ve been able to get 4 people in my network placed over the last year and each placement is equally satisfying. Who in your network have you offered to help lately and are there any folks who might benefit from you opening up your little black book? It’s worth the effort…..

Thanks for reading . . . .

Jeffrey Ishmael

Challenging yourself when the climate is challenging you….

May 14th, 2009 Comments off

     I have found that one of the hardest disciplines to work into the day-to-day activities is to continually find ways to challenge myself and grow as a professional. I have no problem putting myself in situations where the work environment is a challenge, in fact, I pursue it and welcome it.  Over the last 18-months there has been no shortage of external challenges that have forced me to up the skillset and focus on daily operations. With that in mind, the biggest challenge has been taking time to step back and assess the overall package, what I bring to the organization, and review what areas I can improve on. 

     With respect to the introspective review, I tend to cross-reference a book I believe is a great read for all Finance staff, regardless of level; “Reinventing the CFO” by Jeremy Hope.  The book discusses how the role of the CFO has clearly moved beyond the role of Accountant and reporter to the NECESSARY role of Strategist, Architect, Engineer, & Mechanic. I’ve coined my own acronym to remember the four elements; S-E-A-M , since I believe that Finance really is the department that keeps the “seams” of the organization together and keeps everyone focused on a unified goal – positive corporate financial performance.

     In Jeremy Hope’s book, he expands on 7-key concepts that he believes are the core responsibilities of the CFO within an organization.

  • -CFO as the Freedom Fighter
  • -CFO as the Analyst & Advisor
  • -CFO as the Architect of Adaptive Management
  • -CFO as a Warrior against Waste
  • -CFO as a Master of Measurement
  • -CFO as a Regulator of Risk
  • -CFO as a Champion of Change

     The seven concepts above will be the basis of my next seven blog entries as I go through and provide an overview of Hope’s views on each of these, as well as my application of these seven principles in my daily activities. I firmly believe in the principles above and believe I practice them on a constant basis. In fact, I tend to believe that it’s my relentless pursuit of these points, in the face of adverse conditions, that might have cost me a prior position. I’m curious to challenge myself and see just how effectively I am working the points above into my work approach on a daily basis. There’s certainly no shortage of projects to complete at my company, but I believe it’s equally important to step back on a regular basis, challenge myself, and ensure that I am delivering the highest level of value in return for the investment that the company is making in me. How are you challening yourself when this difficult economy keeps challenging you?

 

Thanks for reading . . . .

 

Jeffrey Ishmael