In my experience, the best CFOs take responsibility for far more than just “the numbers” in an organization. They also take a hands-on approach, and work the fundamentals of the business to drive its success.
I’ve had the opportunity to support several great financial leaders as a confidant over the past five years, but my view on what it takes to be a great CFO comes from what I learned from four strong individuals I worked with during my thirty years on the inside running businesses ranging from startups to multinationals.
My first job out of college was selling for technology company Sperry Corporation, which later became Unisys. My first exposure to a true business CFO came when I met Joe LaPilusa, who partnered with then Regional VP (and current EMC CEO) Joe Tucci, to lead the Eastern Region. In addition to traditional roles, Joe LaPilusa chose to involve himself in all aspects of operations, including sales strategies and customer relationships. Nobody was surprised when he was later promoted to lead the region as VP.
My next corporate assignment brought me to AT&T where CFO Rick Miller (not a typo—no relation) partnered with CEO Bob Allen to drive growth at Ma Bell. Rick came to AT&T from Wang Laboratories where he served as President, CEO, and Chairman. Rick began his career at General Electric where he earned a reputation as an aggressive business leader focused on details and execution. At AT&T, Rick’s deep and broad operational strength was invaluable running the $75B juggernaut.
In 2000, I left the world of (really) big business to serve as President and COO at the other end of the spectrum—at an internet startup. When I arrived, Opus360 was typical at that time—long on big dreams and short on operational excellence. One of our first moves was to strengthen the senior management team. We were fortunate to hire Pete Schwartz from Computer Associates. A former Marine Corp jet pilot, Pete brought deep operational expertise and experience that helped us grow our business when competitors were going out of business.
Later when I joined Lucent Technologies, I met then CFO (and current Pfizer CFO) Frank D’Amelio at a time when many were predicting bankruptcy for a company that had generated over $30B in revenue just two years earlier. Inheriting a disaster, CEO Pat Russo relied heavily on Frank to lead the charge. Frank ran the business like a cash business. He met with customers, supported people, and set the standard for transparency that became the bar for other companies to reach. In my mind at the time—Lucent wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for Frank.
Joe, Rick, Pete, and Frank are role models of great Chief Fundamentals Officers. If you work with similar professionals, you know how fortunate you are. Thanks guys.