Five CFOs Reflect On COVID-19’s March Madness

From Forbes: TRIAL BY FIRE

Andrew Casey, CFO, WalkMe, San Francisco, CA

Before joining San Francisco software developer WalkMe as CFO in early March, Andrew Casey spent nearly six years with cloud computing steady-climber ServiceNow, of Santa Clara, California, where he served as senior vice president of finance and business operations. Prior to its ServiceNow entry, Casey’s resume is populated with a string of Silicon Valley marquee names, including Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Oracle Corp., and Sun Microsystems.

Casey: “It’s been a crazy few weeks, and I will tell you that it’s been trial-by-fire since I became CFO early this month. The first day I joined, we were talking about canceling our user conference and what the implications were of going to a virtual format.

Every day, it’s been about reviewing some of the basics and questioning assumptions: “How many customers do we really believe we’re going to sign up this quarter?” “How many Receivables do we really believe we’re going to be able to collect by the end of the month?” I think that this is going to be a defining moment upon which we all look back and hopefully find ourselves able to say, “We did the right things.” …We had the French Ministry of Health ask us to ensure that they could get doctors on board as quickly as possible. We didn’t wait for the paperwork. We just did it—that’s the response that I’m so proud of.”

Sameer Bhargava, CFO, Clark Construction Group, Bethesda, MD

Ten years ago, the construction industry was not where you might have expected Sameer Bhargava’s future to reside. At that time, Bhargava was at the midpoint of a 13-year-career stint at The Carlyle Group, where he had managed the firm’s investment activities. Bhargava migrated to Carlyle’s corporate side of the business as the company prepared for its 2012 IPO. According to Clark’s CFO, he very likely would still be at Carlyle had the possibility of working alongside Robert Moser, CEO of Clark Construction, not taken shape. 

Bhargava: “Part of this has been about making sure that we try to stay as agile and nimble as we can and then try to keep a level head around all of it. We’ve got to take care of our people. We not only have our people at the job sites and in the corporate offices, but we also have a lot of subcontractors on our job sites. It is so very important that we take care of everyone and that we do all of the right things to make certain that this is a priority. Then we are also trying to make sure that our work keeps going. We believe that it’s important that we continue to do the work with the right precautions and guidelines in place. We have been really focused on following every CDC guideline and keeping everything safe as precisely as we can. We’re just continuing to work through trying to make the right decisions day to day. Economically, this is definitely different from what 2008 looked like or 2001. Still, there were a lot of lessons learned from those periods that I think are applicable here, and ultimately what we have to do is to play both defense and offense. We do need to make sure that we protect the company, but we cannot lose sight of our goal being that when this period ultimately passes, we are as strong as possible. I am at home in McLean, Virginia, and sheltered in place, trying to work in one of our rooms. The kids are at home. They’ll start online school next Wednesday, and this week they were on spring break, technically, but they’ve all been in the house. But it’s actually worked out fine.”



Tod Nestor, CFO, Energy Focus, Salon, Ohio

Tod Nestor’s early finance career resembled that of many other finance leaders when, as a manager inside Pepsico’s finance function, he regularly sought to bring financial insights to the attention of his peers. However, in the years that followed, Nestor rejected more traditional finance corporate roles in favor of positions that tasked him with driving organizational change. According to Nestor, his latest tour of duty as CFO/president of Energy Focus, an LED lighting company, is yet another change chapter. 

Nestor: “We happen to have a fair amount of our product sourced out of China, so we’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. What we’ve learned is that on the supply chain side there has been an impact by COVID-19, but I would say that it’s been more of a deferral, a timing impact—it hasn’t ceased shipments or any of that. We also did contingency planning and moved some production to other countries. This was critical, as far as timing goes. But as this relates to just China itself, we have found that they were able to get their factories back up and running through a very robust certification process. Then the real problem was downstream, with the suppliers. This took a little longer. So as people returned back to their factories to work, the production got ramped back up. We did see timing impacts, but nothing permanent or long-term on the supply side for going forward. The other locations that have a significant presence of coronavirus, other than China, are in the U.S., where we also source. Clearly, we don’t understand the impact of this yet. Each area of the U.S. is dealing with this differently, and it’s real-time. Honestly, my biggest concern right now is the customer side and what this does to the psyche  of a buyer, what it does to the customer. I say this from the perspective of thinking that there’s been such a response to this that it concerns me a little bit from the customer side. As a leader in an organization, I can’t afford to panic. Nor do I want to. I want to send a strong signal to the organization that we are calm, we are thoughtful, and we are taking this on in a very well-thought-out manner.”

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