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Posts Tagged ‘career management’

“I Have This Idea I Want to Share…”

November 18th, 2016 Comments off

While I am still only a few weeks detached after deciding to leave my position with Cylance, I’ve been getting an endless flood of inquiries about the trajectory we had been on as a team, how the company had achieved some of the major milestones it had, as well as whether there were any lessons that I was taking with me and would carry with me into the next chapter. It’s true that the pace had been insane from the very beginning and that the success we had achieved as a team may never be replicated…at least not without the synergies the team had realized early on. I also know that Cylance will not be easily replaced as the experience has been nothing short of amazing. It’s not about finding a job. It’s about reflecting on what has been a life changing 4.5yrs and the desire to reflect on that experience and share with those that have been asking. I’m not sure how many “chapters” there might be, but this is certainly my attempt to kick it off..
While Stuart and I had known each other for a handful of years prior to Cylance, we never knew the depth of each others professional capabilities. I knew he was involved in Security and he know my background was in Finance….end there. What we did know about each other was the relentless nature in our personalities and the ability to suffer for extended periods of time on a bike…think more than 12 hours. Think dehydration, severe cramping, horrible weather conditions, and perhaps all at once. Situations that truly test your personality and whether you have the vision and commitment to see it through. With that said, Stuart shared his idea of a new generation of security and one that he had a team committed to solving. This new initiative was not just about the tech, but about changing the way people thought of security. Fortunately, I had a mentor of almost two decades that came from the security space and he quickly validated Stuart’s knowledge of the space and where he was headed. Combine that with two investors who had prior interactions with Stuart and I know that this was not going to be any ordinary start-up.
Start-up. That characterization that seems daunting to some and terrifying to others. You’re not coming in and inheriting a team…or for that fact, even a company. You have to build it with the team. There’s no other way around it. We had found early on that there were a number of people that were just not capable of surviving in a start-up environment. Whether vision, discipline, experience, inability to build their own client book…or whatever the element might have been, some fell victim to an ongoing exercise in Darwinism. It was truly survival of the fittest. As I had started as employee #7, or for anyone starting in the first 50-100 people, there is no place to hide. You were either getting it done…and getting it done right…or you knew it was time to move on. There was no coddling, no hugs and “it’ll be ok..”…but a relentless push for achieving the results. As I had learned and practiced at so many other prior companies, you delivered on what you promised. Period.
However, at that time in the company, there was also a deliberate avoidance, and an absolute disdain, for politics and silos. We all recognized that if we didn’t have a sense of cohesion in place, a commitment to an end goal, and the support of our respective team members, then we were going to fail. Period. It was in these early days that the support was absolute. Whether someone was getting married, selling a house, establishing new households, moving across the globe…that these conditions were supported…to ensure that we were going to be successful and that everyone was going to be along for the ride. We knew we were going to be on the gas and the pace was going to be relentless. The pace was going to have to be relentless if we wanted to establish a billion dollar company inside of a 3-5 year window. Now keep in mind, while the term “Unicorn” now is common, if not overused, it was not in existence until being coined in 2013. So in 2012 for Stuart to say that in a handful of years he wanted to establish a commercially successful company with a billion dollar valuation…he was dead serious and it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. His vision, while aggressive, was not part of a herd mentality of wanting to be in some hyped “Unicorn Club”. His view was not about creating a tech that would get sold on the hope of establishing commercial success…NO…he wanted to establish a truly disruptive technology that would turn the security space upside down. He wanted to see the team create a tech that would just eat the lunch of first generation AV vendors. Period.
After having done a number of turnarounds, the thought of a start-up certainly was not intimidating. Considering the quality of the team we had, the wealth of experience that each of them was bringing to the table, as well as the collaborative personalities that each one of them shared, I knew that we had a very high likelihood of success in the launch of this company. The most difficult balance we were going to have to achieve was being fiscally responsible to mitigate burn, continue hiring the right individuals, and ensure we had the resources in place that would allow Stuart and the product teams to stay laser focused on their obsession to disrupt the security space. The team that had been assembled would absolutely be able to do that. There would be a further challenge in determining what the necessary resources were that should be put in place. As an example, I had just finished an SAP implementation at my prior company and clearly that was not going to be our platform of choice, but it certainly wasn’t going to be Quickbooks or some other bottom tier platform. The challenge would be to find the Goldilocks solutions for the first 12-18 months. No reason to buy the F1 race car when you couldn’t afford the pit crew and the track hadn’t been built yet…
After a number of emails, a few phone calls, and finally settling on an offer letter, it didn’t take much convincing to join this new start-up. I saw the vision, I believed in the vision, I believed in the team, and I trusted the team at the table. With that, and a few weeks later, Stuart gave me my laptop, let me know it had Quickbooks on it, and if I could get the payroll done that day. With that, as well as a payroll processed that day, I knew we were off to the races… 🙂
Looking forward to the next chapter..
Jeffrey Ishmael

When You’re Lucky Enough To Love What You Do…

April 16th, 2014 Comments off

I often talk with friends and colleagues about my career path and how fortunate I feel to have found a profession that I thoroughly enjoy and receive so much satisfaction from. Not only from the day to day activities that I engage in, but the countless colleagues I work with daily, as well as the great group of vendor partners that I have been able to establish over the years.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with companies ranging in size from the start-up I’m currently working with…to the large multi-national firms headquartered in the U.S. and France. Those companies have ranged from Apparel, Retail, and Footwear firms to critical infrastructure and now, cybersecurity. While there has typically been some pretty heavy lifting in each one of these opportunities, I’ve had the opportunity to either work with, or build, some pretty amazing teams. With those teams, we’ve been able to achieve some pretty amazing results.

The fun part about the journey I’ve had since my first CFO position has been the variety of “opportunities”, or as some would like to refer to, the problems I’ve had to deal with at each one of those companies. While not always enjoyable, I’ve always embraced each opportunity for what it represented….a fantastic opportunity to learn and continue the progression of my career. From the implementation of $100 million payroll systems, to complete brand turnarounds, SAP implementations, & ground zero start-ups….it has been an absolute blast. For those that know me, there is also a great correlation between the competitiveness and focus I carry in my cycling to the personal characteristics I bring into the office. Fiercely competitive, fiercely driven, along with a strong commitment to team and the achievement of results.

As a CFO who really tries to lead by example, as well as deliver the promised results to those I report to, it’s really a great affirmation to receive the recent recognition as a Finalist for Orange County CFO of the Year. Regardless of the outcome I might experience that evening, it was enough to participate in the dinner that evening as a Finalist and the amazing quality of peers that were in attendance.  It’s been a path of results and value creation that I look forward to continuing.

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

 

The Unconventionals….Assessing Team Additions

October 10th, 2013 Comments off

One of the larger challenges of managing the Finance side of the organization, which includes A/P, A/R, Accounting, and in some cases, HR and IT, is the multitude of personality and skill sets needed for each position. In some positions, say in the case of Controller, there is a typically a defined educational or work history that is required.  In other cases, the position may allow some level of latitude in the candidate hire with respect to their work history or absence of certain credentials. I’ve had a number of these hires over the previous companies I’ve worked with and I call them The Unconventionals. Unconventional in the respect that if the sole qualifier was the content of their resume then they probably wouldn’t make it to the interview stage.

With respect to my background, I might have been considered an unconventional hire when I joined MGE since the majority of my experience was in the Retail & Apparel industries and not Technology. I was also going to be tasked with the implementation of the IFRS reporting for the North American operations, for which I had no previous IFRS experience. However, I had an executive team that saw past that and look at other accomplishments and my personality to know that I would get the job done. Not only did the job get done, but we excelled in our continued performance during the 3+ years I was with the company. Perhaps it was this experience that has prompted me to adopt a similar approach in the identification and hiring of candidates.

While working at MGE, I had an opening for a Financial Analyst position. This position would typically call for 2-5 years of experience. However, I was introduced to a potential candidate who really didn’t possess any substantial finance or accounting experience. However, what I recognized was that he was a Marine and had worked with munitions. What I saw was not a candidate, who didn’t have the requisite experience, but someone who had a great work ethic, an attention to detail, and a commitment to team work.  I knew I could bring him up to speed and could trust that he would be a great ambassador internally for the team. In the following years, I hired him into a separate company I had subsequently moved to as a Finance Director, and most recently, he secured his first CFO position with a small action sports company.

While tasked with the turnaround of a small footwear company in San Diego, I had the need to bring in a staff accountant that would also oversee A/P and A/R. I was presented with a number of well qualified candidates. However, the one candidate who had the least amount of experience, with predominantly tax preparation history, was an Olympic level track runner. Knowing the work ethic and dedication required for the athletic endeavor, I knew she was my candidate. Over the subsequent years she not only excelled at that small company of $30 million in revenues, but moved to a larger action-sports company overseeing all accounting for the Canada entities. During this time she also secured her CPA certification and has become the Assistant Controller for an OC-based manufacturer.

At my current company, I had a drastic need to hire a Business Operations Analyst that could support me in the implementation of operating systems, HR functions, and the myriad of other financial reporting I was responsible for. I had a candidate recommended to me, who had previously done some project work for me at DC. On paper, he was green and a recent graduate from UCSB. However, I knew that based on the project work he had done for me that he had a solid work ethic and would likely be a solid team player if given the opportunity. He also had great attention to detail, which was critical since he’d be working quite a bit independently and I couldn’t afford slips in this area. He’s not only done fantastic work, but become a respected member of the Cylance team as a result of his contributions and work ethic.

Ultimately, these candidates have a much higher burden to perform as they have to be willing to go the extra step to earn the respect of the surrounding team. They’re held to the same level of accountability, and if they don’t perform, are also subject to potential dismissal. Although there is a first for everything, and I’m prepared to, I have yet to hire a non-performing candidate I’ve had to dismiss.

While perhaps unconventional, these hires are a direct reflection on me and my ability to deliver on the commitments I have made to the rest of the Executive team or the Board. The hiring of these candidates are a reflection on my department and my effectiveness in assessing candidate potential. When I take this approach, I have to have a comfort that any candidate I’m willing to support will be able to deliver and excel after I’ve brought them up to speed. Not only deliver on my requirements, but also be resourceful enough to potentially support other members of the Executive team. While I do all I can to keep my turnover low and promote internal candidates, there’s nothing more satisfying then seeing these same folks depart into a more prominent position.

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

The CFO Is Not A Scorekeeper…

March 19th, 2013 Comments off

I was reading a recent blog post by Cindy Kraft, who is one of the leading CFO coaches out there and is very active in helping CFO’s manage their careers and improve their online profiles. One of the comments that had been posted to her blog defined the role of the CFO as that of the “corporate scorekeeper”. Cindy had not suggested this was the role of the CFO, and I know from following her over the years, that she does not share that view of the role of CFO. Personally, I can’t think of a bigger disservice to an organization than just assuming the role of a scorekeeper. This is essentially a non-value add position that leads to the role being an expense, and not an investment as I have always promoted.

So what is the role of the CFO? That’s not entirely an easy question to answer and will depend on the type of organization that you have been hired into. In general, you are assuming the role as the primary strategic partner for the CEO and essentially quantify the anticipated results of the strategies he has mapped out with the rest of the Executive team. You are responsible for the broader back office operations and ensuring that the plan to monetize those strategies becomes a reality. You are responsible for identifying, and mitigating, any of the operational risks that might potentially derail that plan. You are responsible for working closely with your Sales teams, Product teams, and other key functional areas in the execution of the plan and making sure they have the proper resources to deliver, as well as instilling the proper level of accountability. You are responsible for distributing the appropriate levels of information to the Executive team so that they can make informed decisions and fine tune their activities to deliver on the plan.

Scorekeeper? Hardly. The role of scorekeeper is to sit in the booth, or in this case an office, and regurgitate system generated reports and add some token level of commentary. The role of the scorekeeper is ensuring that the debits and credits are properly recorded so the auditors are happy in the end. There is no lever pulling, no collaboration with other departments, nor is there any type of influence on the operational aspects of the business. This couldn’t be farther from the CFO role. The scorekeeper is the necessary expense you have to have to conduct the game. The CFO is an investment that is made with the expectation of receiving a return for that investment…bottom line.

The expectation that I have always placed on myself, and promised to any company I have worked with, is that I will deliver a significant return on the investment made in me. We’re not talking about a 20% or 30% ROI, but a multiple of what my total compensation package is for a company. That return will also come in number of different manners. From a topline perspective it will mean working closely with the Sales department to improve the actual sales figures, as well as the processes that drive the revenue engine. Additional ROI is achieved through tight management of the entire costing structure. Whether labor efficiencies, raw material inputs, quality, or inventory management, these are all key elements that have to be actively managed…not just recorded and reported. Further return is achieved in the ongoing management of operating expenses. Here there is a need to determine the proper balance to support the expectations of the Executive team and executing on the strategic plan. This will involve benchmarking to internal history, peers in the industry, as well as ensuring that existing partners are still representing the best interests of the company.

So you still believe the CFO is the scorekeeper of the company? You might want to rethink that position…

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

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

Ken Tudhope: Return On Investment….

January 29th, 2010 Comments off

     Recently a client told me at lunch that there was no real return on investment for networking.  Can you imagine saying that to a fellow like me?!  I am the guy with 5 Rolodexes and I write the Networking Notes articles.  So of course I begin to launch into my value of connections, and the importance of rich relationships speeches, but then I stopped myself because I figured that maybe this thing which I’m so passionate about isn’t for everyone. 

     Then on a morning not long after, I had coffee with someone in a really tough situation, someone I had met awhile back at the Harvard Business School Networking breakfast.  He called me and asked for a meeting.  When we met he told me he wanted to make a career change and he asked me to help.  I reviewed his resume and told him it would be tough considering he’d been in management consulting for many years.  My clients hire me to find people with specific, recent experience in finance & accounting.  I encouraged him to reach out to his network and reminded him that most jobs are found through referrals, not recruiters.  He mumbled that he didn’t really have a network for referrals.  I smiled as I thought, “He does have a network but he just doesn’t know it.”  Professional consultants with years of experience know many people because they go from engagement to engagement, meeting clients along the way.  What’s even better is that consultants are viewed as experts in their field and their former clients already know their work.  When I recommended that he contact this network, he said he could not because his colleagues knew all the same client contacts. 

This made me think about what kind of return on investment networking really has.

    If you don’t get out and meet people outside your company and even your industry, it’s pretty tough to conduct a confidential job search.  Given that jobs are getting shorter and turnover is more common, we are all going to have to be in a search at some point.  If everyone you know knows your manager and coworkers, then you will have to wait to get let go before you can start the job search.  That will delay your search, cost you money, and decrease your options. 

I think there is a high ROI on networking, and I encourage you to invest in yourself!

Taking Charge of Your Career….It’s Your Responsibility.

January 22nd, 2010 Comments off

            It seems like my career has taken so many different twists over the last 20-years that sometimes I wonder if I’ve been a victim to the constant upheaval cast in my direction or if, more often than not, I have just been prepared to deal with the change as it comes. In my most recent round of interviews we discussed my career path and I discussed how I felt as though I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to bring my career to the point it’s at.  Very simply, I’ve gone through multiple acquisitions, multiple recessions, the death of a company founder, and more. Through it all, I’ve managed to secure some great opportunities, all of which, in some way, contributed to my most recent position.

            For me, all along the way, it has always been about how one takes charge of their career and avoids going stale in an uninspiring and complacent company. It has never been about working for a sexy company or brand name, although Quiksilver/DC Shoes does fit that bill. Take MGE UPS Systems as an example. It doesn’t get much duller than steel boxes with transformers and batteries. Whoa….hold onto your hat!  But what was so interesting is that they had three distinct elements of the business (custom project, flow goods, and Service), all of which required a different level of reporting, and ultimately, a consolidation into our French parent company. They were constantly innovating, open to change, driven by performance, and we had a team that worked great together…at least until the merger. Great stuff. But what happens when you work for what would be perceived as a “sexy” company, but you have complacent staff or management, an uninspiring product line, no long-term vision, and a general lack of support for your functional area? It’s time to take charge of your career.

            I can’t say that I have always taken charge of my career, at least entirely. When my North American CFO position was eliminated in the merger at MGE, I was left without a cell phone, personal email account, and even a laptop. I had placed the trust of my career in a company that I was completely dedicated to. I was not networking, I was not attending professional events, nor was I even signed up on LinkedIn. Digital footprint….what is that? Yes, I was pretty much kicked to the curb without any resources. Fortunately, with the guidance of some very supportive people, I started networking pretty darn quick. The problem was, the elimination of my position happened in Oct-07. This was right when the recession started kicking into gear and everything came to a screeching halt. So what you do….?

·         Networking became priority number one. As many events as I could.

·         Made contact with as many recruiters as possible. Although only a handful have shown the test of time and integrity.

·         Established my profile on LinkedIn.

·         Developed the strategy for my blog, which was intended to be a resume complement.

·         Started working consulting projects, some free, to stay sharp on the skills.

·         Volunteered to mentor those younger and starting their careers.

 

            Although I finally dug out from what was a pretty tough period, it’s hard to say exactly what it might have been specifically attributed to. What I can say is that many of these initiatives, which started out as survival tactics, have now turned into habits after 2-years of constant commitment. While I am fully committed to my current company, love what I do, and can’t wait to get into the office, I am a much more balanced professional than I was 2-years ago. I feel that the path I have been walked down in my career, while difficult, has provided me with the competitiveness to not be complacent in any aspect of my work. You can never blame your company or industry for a lack of inspiration or growth….you can only blame yourself.

 

Thanks for reading . . . .

 

Jeffrey Ishmael

Houston….We Have a Problem!

January 13th, 2010 Comments off

            Houston, we have a problem!  I’m now 12-days into the 2010 year, and almost 3-weeks since my last half-ass blog post, and a full 2-months since my last serious posting. Granted, there’s been a lot going in those two months. 2-months ago I started the interview process for a new CFO position, which I am escatic to report….I secured! Then we rolled into the Holidays, which meant some much needed downtime and decompressing after an incredibly hectic 2009, and really, the first real chance to kick back and relax a bit since my merger turmoil of 2007. Yes, it was a VERY enjoyable Christmas this year.

 

            However, it’s time to get back to business and there’s not better way to do that than with a little old-fashioned accountability and peer pressure, which is exactly what a public posting of goals will do. Although I mentioned in my last posting that I was going to have to throttle back a bit on posting info relative to my current position (public company….), there are so many other topics that I look forward to addressing this year. Over the break I put together a listing of blog topics that I will be drafting in the coming weeks and months.  Some of these topics include:

 

Ø  Are you securing true value from your published reporting or just assembling volumes of historical data?

Ø  Can you really perform an honest introspective on your skills & abilities relative to the opportunity currently on the table?

Ø  How do you drive change within a company that is so entrenched with the old armada & “the way it’s always been done…”?

Ø  Taking charge of your career and ensuring you don’t go stale in a stale & uninspiring environment.

Ø  Driving improved financial performance in the face of non-existent staffing resources.

Ø  How do you ensure consistency in your financial reporting when the “East”, “West”, and “Russia” are all coming to the table with different reporting formats?

Ø  Are you telling me the only way to increase your corporate valuation is through mergers, reorganizations, & fancy new ERP systems?

 

            As Finance professionals, we all have an obligation to not only create and increase value within our respective companies, but to increase our knowledge base as individuals. It’s that curiousity and enhanced knowledge that will keep us ahead of our competition and to deliver results that will increase our individual “commodity value”.  Perhaps if you don’t enjoy the career you’ve chosen then this is a difficult task. However, I do love what I do and embrace the opportunity to increase my knowledge in this area. I don’t ever want to be put in a position where I feel like I’m going stale, where I have no career options, or I’m failing to create value for the company I’m working for.

 

            So here’s to a fantastic 2010! I look forward to what I feel is Volume II of this blog after having a nice 2-month break and the chance to recharge. It starts here today and let’s see where we wind up at the end of the year.

 

Thanks for reading . . . .

 

Jeffrey Ishmael

Blog Break for the Holidays..& then some.

December 24th, 2009 Comments off

            The last month has shown how hard it can be to keep the discipline in place to update a blog. For myself, I had always set a goal of trying to do updates 2-3 times a week, so it was never intended as a daily commentary. However, the last 4-5 weeks have been a whirlwind and I’ve missed my regular postings.  As many of you know, I accepted an offer from Quiksilver for the role of CFO at DC Shoes. DC Shoes is one of their larger entities, and comprises approximately 22% of Quiksilver’s annual revenues. Between the interview process, my transition out of one company, and into DC, the last 4-5 weeks have tested how much bandwidth I really have for everything. Needless to say, the blog fell off the radar.

 

            However, I’m headed into a nice 11-day holiday break and I look forward to regrouping a bit, defining some new strategies for the blog, and brainstorming a list of topics to write about in the new year. While I have never been too specific about the results or figures in my postings as they relate to the current company, my approach will have to be modified so that I don’t run afoul of any public company reporting issues. No blog update is worth jeapordizing your career over. I look forward to keeping tabs on the developing IFRS issues, the recovery of the Retail & Apparel sectors, as well as studying how these industry groups will be reconfiguring/restructuring their business as they emerge from the last 2-years.

 

            This 11-day break that I have in front of me will also allow me to thank many of the folks who have supported me over the last few years, and particularly those, that have helped me with my most recent transition. I’ve put a tremendous amount of effort into my networking, which has clearly played a key role in my recent move. However, regardless of your networking, you still need to produce quantifiable results as a finance leader in order to even be considered for the opportunity. I was given a great opportunity to display my skills at my last company and we achieved some fantastic results. I’m grateful to them for that opportunity and look forward to seeing them more in this small industry we work in, as well as bringing that same level of success to the Quiksilver/DC organization.

 

            I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve been provided during a very difficult 2-year economy, but also continue to see many of my peers struggling in their search. I’m hoping the new year will bring opportunities to help them in their networking and search efforts, as I have been helped. I was able to directly help 4 people in my network secure employment over the last 2-years and hope I can continue to offer the same level of assistance.  This is my favorite time of year and there certainly seems to be a much broader sense of optimism and opportunity going into the new year versus last year.

 

Let’s make it a great 2010 !

 

Merry Christmas to all my friends and colleagues….

 

Jeff