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Finance execs who will make a difference in the next decade.
Lori Calabro and DeAnn Christinat, CFO Magazine
January 1, 2000
The elevation of the CFO has been fueled by a long list of finance luminaries, including General Electric's Dennis Dammerman, Merck's Judy Lewent, Hilton's Steve Bollenbach, and Tracinda's Jerry York. Curious about who the next finance leaders might be, we asked a group of well-informed observers which members of the 40-and-under generation they think are the most promising. This is arguably an arbitrary distinction; as one CFO notes, "the new generation of finance executives will be more a matter of mind and spirit than of chronological age."
Yet, despite their differences, the spirit of this group emerges clearly in the profiles that follow. They are articulate. They take risks. They are ambitious. They embrace new responsibilities. And almost all of them want to retire early.
SVP & CFO, Avery Dennison Corp.
Age: 40 * Married, 3 children * BS, Fordham University * Job titles in past 10 years: 7; companies: 3 * Future plans: CEO
Bob Calderoni, CFO and senior vice president, finance, of Pasadena, California-based Avery Dennison, believes that the best way for young finance executives to get ahead is to put themselves into difficult situations. "That's where you learn the most," says Calderoni.
He should know. Between 1991 and 1994, Calderoni played a key role in resurrecting IBM from its highly publicized financial troubles. Then he leapt from the frying pan into the fire, with a stint at Apple Computer Inc., where he served as senior vice president and corporate controller.
Why would a young finance executive raising a family look for such challenges? "I viewed it as a no-risk situation," he says. "If they turned around, it would be a huge success. If not, I would have learned a lot and not lost much time. When you're 35, you have a lot of time."
Calderoni has made good use of his time so far. Joining IBM in 1984, he climbed quickly through a series of positions until he was named CFO of its $8 billion storage systems division in 1994. During the crisis, he worked closely with then-CFO Jerry York to restructure the company, taking a leadership role in "ratcheting back capital expenditures and R&D by 30 to 40 percent." In 1996, however, he "figured the CFO track would be faster outside IBM," and joined Apple. There, he says, "we had to reengineer every aspect of the corporation to make it viable." In short order, Calderoni and his team installed cost- cutting measures that led to results strong enough to power Apple into its next major development, the iMac.
At Avery Dennison, the drama has toned down a bit. But don't expect this to be Calderoni's last hurrah. Richard Wallman, CFO of Honeywell and former controller of IBM, says that Calderoni's perseverance in troubled times makes him stand out. Ultimately, he says, "I can see Bob being a CEO."
EVP & CFO, Clark USA Inc.
Age: 40 * Single * BA, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario * Job titles in past 10 years: 3; companies: 3 * Future plans: CEO
When Maura Clark joined St. Louisbased Clark USA in 1995, it wasn't without reservations. After all, not only was she leaping from a $2 billion firm to a $4 billion firm, she was also switching from a Canadian business to a U.S. operation. In retrospect, however, "the decision is one of the best I've ever made," she says, "and it is a wonderful opportunity that many Canadians would jump at."
That opportunity was to complete a turnaround of the Fortune 500 petroleum-products company that had stalled in the wake of a failed initial public offering attempt. The IPO was intended to raise funds to purchase a Port Arthur, Texas-based refinery from Chevron Corp., a transaction that was subsequently completed with private equity financing. But Clark, who admits she is "drawn to difficult situations," was then able to further help the turnaround by raising more than $2 billion, primarily in the high-yield market; complete a $225 million refinery acquisition in Ohio; and finance a $1 billion Port Arthur upgrade project.
At Clark USA, she has "tried to develop the finance role as a facilitator of the business plan, instead of being a block." The strategy seems to be working. Brad Aldrich, Clark USA's executive vice president and chief operating officer, was initially impressed by Clark's ability to quickly grasp the refinery business, and says her approach to finance has led to a more effective finance team. "Maura's brought an open and honest approach to her peers and [direct] reports. We now have the most gratifying and effective management team, and she's a big reason for that," he says.
Christopher V. Dodds
CFO, The Charles Schwab Corp.
Age: 40 * Married, 2 children * MBA, University of Pittsburgh * Job titles in past 10 years: 5; companies: 1 * Future plans: Retire before 50
As captain and academic all-American point guard for the Clemson University basketball team, Chris Dodds called the plays for the 1980 squad that made it to the Final Eight. And he sees a lot of similarities between that role and his current position as executive vice president and CFO of San Franciscobased Charles Schwab, a post he has held since last July. Both, he says, require a strong leader who "knows how to treat everyone with respect, stays focused, delivers results, and really, really works hard at communicating."
In fact, says former Schwab CFO and current vice chairman Steve Scheid, one of Dodds's biggest assets is his ability to effectively communicate the company's story to shareholders and analysts. "Chris has a very rare ability to create, prepare, and deliver a compelling verbal or written message to internal and external constituencies," he says.
That story has obviously been a compelling one at high-flying Schwab, where Dodds has worked for 13 years, climbing the corporate ladder on the mergers-and-acquisitions and corporate- planning side of the house. Dodds, who previously held treasury jobs at Exxon and Gulf Oil, was also a member of the team that launched the Schwab initial public offering in 1997.
Dodds considers himself less accounting- focused than his contemporaries, with a more strategic orientation. Above all, he calls himself a proponent of learning--both for himself and for those around him. "A big part of my role is helping other people develop and learn," says Dodds, who has instituted succession planning and finance-career development programs at Schwab. "You are heavily reliant on the abilities and successes of your people, and a big part of that is training." It's a commitment that extends to his home life, too, where he finds time to coach both his sons, aged seven and nine, on their baseball and soccer teams.
CFO, Full-line Stores, Nordstrom Inc.
Age: 35 * Married, 3 children * BA, Marquette University * Job titles in past 10 years: 9; companies: 2 * Future plans: Retire at 50 as a CEO
Darren Jackson has barely had time to hang pictures on his office walls in the two years he's been at Seattle-based Nordstrom. He's held four jobs there in the past 24 months, and his recent one is only 8 months old. Jackson attributes his rapid rise to a belief that effective finance means "getting from the back of the boat to the front of the boat."
"Finance is a language," says Jackson, who worked at retailer Carson Pirie Scott, a division of Saks Inc., for seven years prior to joining Nordstrom in 1998. "Smart finance people learn that it's an enabling language. If you can take numbers and translate them into actionable outcomes, it's rewarding."
Jackson's rise to the CFO seat at Nordstrom's Full-line Stores business unit is a direct result of his ability to turn numbers into outcomes, according to Mike MacDonald, CEO of Carson Pirie Scott, with whom Jackson worked directly during CPS's plunge into and out of bankruptcy between 1991 and 1993. MacDonald recalls Jackson, then 26, sitting in front of an auditorium full of creditors, telling them they wouldn't be getting paid. "Darren dealt with the situation with ease," says MacDonald. "We walked out of there with the creditors not liking things, but they understood it, and they respected our position."
MacDonald believes that Jackson will ultimately be a CEO because "unlike other finance execs who are great at telling what you shouldn't do, he's good at saying what the opportunities are and what you should do." Currently, however, Jackson's main challenge is to help Nordstrom move its stock price back up from its recent 52-week low of 2111/16. "Nordstrom's has always been famous for world-class customer service," says Jackson, "and that will be as special as it's always been. But we want to recognize that we have shareholders and we need to maximize returns."
EVP & CFO, Playtex Products Inc.
Age: 40 * Married, 2 children * MBA, Harvard Business School * Job titles in past 10 years: 4; companies: 2 * Future plans: Something unconventional
Last month, in addition to celebrating his 40th birthday, Michael Goss toasted his fifth anniversary as CFO of $800 million (projected 1999 sales) Playtex Products, in Westport, Conn. Not bad for someone who thought he'd end up a lawyer. "I always fancied myself a good writer and communicator," he says. "But once I got into the working world, I realized I liked what the business guys did more than what the lawyers did."
In 1981, after graduating from Kansas State University, Goss took a job in banking, which led him to attend Harvard Business School. Upon graduating in 1986, he ventured into the private equity game. Four years later, Goss joined Waltham, Mass.-based Oak Industries, a communications-components company, where, as head of acquisitions, he honed the skills that would set him up for the top finance slot at Playtex. "I found I admired some of the CFOs I was working with more than some of the deal makers. The job required a greater range of skills." Meanwhile, in the course of deal making, he says, "I saw the opportunity to make myself more valuable, eventually, as a CFO."
The beneficiary, of course, has been Playtex. Since his arrival, says Goss, "we've done five acquisitions exceeding $400 million in value, plus two refinancings of our capital structure, totaling $1.3 billion, and have managed to grow our business while at the same time bringing down our leverage." It's been a team effort, he stresses. "I've got a lot of good finance guys with me and operating guys beside me."
Goss credits his rapid rise to "a couple of lucky breaks" and to "people who took some chances on me." Asked about his future, Goss says only, "I'm happy being a CFO. If the job definition is sufficiently broad and you like the team you're working with, being CFO isn't a bad place to be."
EVP & CFO, Marvel Enterprises Inc.
Age: 36 * Married, 3 children * MBA, Harvard Business School * Job titles in past 10 years: 6; companies: 6 * Future plans: Retire at 45
Seven-year-old Colin Hull is convinced his dad, Marvel Enterprises CFO Rob Hull, "works for Spider-Man." And that might be the case. After all, Spider-Man is one of the most popular superheroes to which the $350 million company owns the rights. Some observers, however, consider Hull a super CFO in his own right.
Hull came on board at New Yorkbased Marvel in February 1999, when the company was far from thriving. In fact, his first assignment was to help finalize a $250 million high-yield bond offering and take the company out of two years of a bitter bankruptcy (see Grapevine, April 1999). And in short order, Hull turned the embattled company into "an institution that generates understandable financials and communicates well with the board." He proudly states that Marvel is now a "healthy, cash- positive entertainment and toy business."
Hull is no stranger to turnaround situations. As vice president and CFO of Wise Foods Inc., his last role before Marvel, he was partly responsible for Wise's turnaround, when the company was a division of an ailing Borden Inc. And before that, he served as a finance manager of United Parcel Service for three years.
Going forward, company CEO Peter Cuneo says, "Rob's business acumen and financial analysis will be an invaluable asset at a time when we are standing on the brink of major expansion." Marvel is scheduled to air its first full live-action film in July, and has others in production. Hull is excited about the future, and predicts that "the best times are yet to come."
VP & Controller, Apple Computer Inc.
Age: 37 * Married, 2 children * MBA, University of Santa Clara * Job titles in past 10 years: 5; companies: 2 * Future plans: operations management or venture-capital pursuits
Talk about following in dad's footsteps. Peter Oppenheimer learned finance from both his father--a senior Wells Fargo bank executive who later served as CFO for several companies-- and one of his grandfathers, who was a self- made businessman. "They used to grill me pretty hard as a kid, and they had very high expectations," says Oppenheimer. His father often got involved with leveraged lease transactions and initial public offerings, and his dealings were fodder for dinnertime conversation. "I knew exactly how much a 747 would cost, because he leased several every year," he says.
Since signing on with Cupertino, California- based Apple shortly after his boss at ADP, Fred Anderson, moved there in 1996, Oppenheimer has helped the computer maker recover strongly from its near-fatal competitive doldrums. Today, with Apple on the rise, Oppenheimer manages all finance functions other than tax and treasury, including all of the company's government reporting. He credits the team behind the strong Apple recovery with creating the backdrop for his career.
Asked what other field he might choose, Oppenheimer can think only of someday trying his hand at general management or the venture- capital game. "I'm very happy in the finance profession," he says. "And at this point, I plan to work professionally for [another] 20 years."
Scott A. LaPorta
EVP, Park Place Entertainment Corp.
Age: 37 * Single * MBA, Vanderbilt University * Job titles in past 10 years: 7; companies: 4 * Future plans: retire at age 55 as CEO
Just 37, Scott LaPorta, executive vice president of Park Place Entertainment, in Las Vegas, already has a reputation as a deal maker. He was 27 when he joined the Marriott organization in 1989, and he has since helped engineer three major spin-offs of hotel properties, including Host Marriott's spin-off from Marriott, and Host Marriott Services from Host Marriott.
The past two years have seen the biggest deals of his career, however. The largest occurred on December 31, 1998, with the split-off of Park Place Entertainment from Hilton Hotels Corp. and the simultaneous acquisition of Grand Casinos. That was followed by the arrangement of a $2.15 billion credit facility to pay off Grand Casino's outstanding public debt and establish a bank revolver for Park Place. In 1999, LaPorta, formerly senior vice president and treasurer of Hilton, helped arrange Park Place's purchase of Caesar's World from Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
LaPorta says he gained his deal-making acumen not from the tables in Vegas (he doesn't gamble), but from working with Park Place CEO Arthur Goldberg and Hilton CEO Steve Bollenbach. A former varsity baseball player at the University of Virginia, he says he was not intimidated by such talent. "I grew up in competition," says LaPorta. "And working with people with far greater experience spurs me on to stay up with them."
VP & CFO, Publishers Clearing House
Age: 38 * Married, 2 children * BS, New York University * Job titles in past 10 years: 6; companies: 3 * Future plans: Maybe CEO--before 40
Maureen O'Connell, vice president and CFO of Publishers Clearing House, in Port Washington, New York, attributes her rapid rise in finance to "a combination of luck, talent, and being in the right place at the right time." A decade ago, the right place was Primedia Inc., an educational-services media company, where O'Connell found a mentor in former chairman Bill Reilly. "He took the risk that I could do certain things, rather than hire people with experience to do them," she says.
Reilly charged her with setting up a financial infrastructure and then with forming a planning function. Within three years, he elevated O'Connell from director of financial planning to CFO of one division, and then another. Primedia reached $1.5 billion in sales in less than five years, she says, "and because I was the first finance person hired, I got to do acquisitions and IPOs, serve as CFO in two of its turnaround situations, and get involved in reengineering--all in a very short period of time."
Eager for a top slot, in 1997 O'Connell moved to BMG Direct, the CD arm of the world's third- largest media firm, as CFO. And when Publishers Clearing House came calling a year later and "offered a little more balance in my personal life," the mother of a two-year-old and a four-year-old moved on. "They asked what was most important to me, and I said seeing more of my kids," she says. "They let me work one day a week at home."
Steering troubled Publishers Clearing House will be a full-time challenge, but O'Connell is unfazed. All of her CFO roles, she notes, were "with companies in transition that needed to reevaluate their business models and wanted someone to redirect them." Such challenges, she says, "keep me on my toes."
CFO, Aspect Communications Inc.
Age: 40 * Married * BS, Clarkson University * Job titles in past 10 years: 4; companies: 4
As the new CFO of Aspect Communications, Kevin Parker, 40, says he is conspicuous because of his "activist" approach. Reluctant to "stick to the knitting" of pure finance, Parker estimates that he spends about half his time in such areas as sales and IT. "I tend to have an awful lot by curiosity," says Parker. "It motivates me to do things faster, cheaper, better."
That approach is appropriate at Aspect, a San Jose, California-based hardware company in the midst of moving into the software arena. It helps Parker quickly identify internal barriers to growth, as well as offers him a unique vantage point from which to convey changes to Wall Street. "He's drinking water from a fire hose because there's a lot going on right now," says Aspect co-president Beatriz Infante. Infante adds that even in his first days at Aspect, Parker was able to assess organizational weaknesses.
At Fujitsu Computer Products of America Inc., where Parker worked until late October, he implemented new budgeting and planning systems as company revenues more than tripled in three years. Former CEO Larry Sanders says that Parker's greatest asset is his aggressiveness. "He's not afraid to innovate, and he's never satisfied with knowing just what the numbers are. And because of his penchant for innovation, we were able to stay on the cutting edge of information systems."
A left wing on two hockey teams in his spare time, Parker sees similarities between hockey and finance. "Both rely on strong team plans and good execution, and both appeal to my competitive nature."
Steven C. Preston
EVP & CFO, ServiceMaster
Age: 39 * Married, 3 children * MBA, University of Chicago * Job titles in past 10 years: 3; companies: 3
In another life, Steven Preston might have worked with disadvantaged children rather than as the CFO of $5.7 billion ServiceMaster, in Downers Grove, Illinois. In the suburb where he lives, Preston presides over a Sunday- school class. And before leaving New York three years ago, he tutored disadvantaged students in Washington Heights and served as a mentor in a Big Brotherlike program.
So perhaps it's no surprise that Preston sees himself as an educator as much as a finance chief. "I've always tried to focus on serving the people I work with, trying to support the board and my colleagues in a way that educates them," he says.
It was his own education, however, that led Preston to finance. As a member of the First Scholar Program at the University of Chicago, Preston rotated through different positions at a bank while earning an MBA. "After that program, I was smitten," says Preston. "It was a great way to merge my interest in broader issues with my quantitative skills," he says. "And the longer I'm in [finance], the more I realize this is something I love. You're entrusted with things a lot of people don't see--such as risk management, financial engineering, and shareholder-value creation-- and it's stuff that you can't do from 30,000 feet. You have to have your fingers right in the middle of it."
Just 39, Preston has been in the middle quite a bit. Before moving to ServiceMaster in 1996, he spent eight years with Lehman Brothers, then became the first treasurer of First Data Corp. Since arriving at ServiceMaster, he has completed some $1.2 billion in public market financings and purchased more than 200 companies. And at each stop, Preston says he has had "a tremendous amount of fun."
VP & Controller, Black & Decker Corp.
Age: 40 * Married, 3 children * BS, Pennsylvania State University * Job titles in past 10 years: 3; companies: 2 * Future plans: Retire at 60
If Steve Reeves couldn't be a finance executive, he'd like to be an architect. "I think a lot of the same attributes would apply," says Reeves, vice president and controller of Black & Decker, in Towson, Maryland, since 1996. "It requires the ability to think outside the box and incorporate analytical aspects, but it allows creativity at the same time."
For the past three years, Reeves has built a more streamlined finance department at Black & Decker, one that focuses on new metrics. Previously, the company focused on "income statement" metrics, says Reeves, but has recently switched to return on net assets. His desire to act creatively has also informed his work as a member of B&D's Management Committee and the Financial Executives Institute's Committee on Corporate Reporting. His take on the main problem with reporting? "Once standards are set, they remain in effect well after the information stops being relevant," he says. "What is essential as we go forward is that there be flexibility."
Reeves credits his success at B&D to his boss, CFO Tom Schoewe, who has given him responsibilities that extend beyond his public accounting background. (He was with Ernst & Young LLP in Baltimore for 13 years.) But, more important, laughs Reeves, "he's been tolerant when I've disagreed with him."
Steven M. Shindler
EVP & CFO, Nextel Communications Inc.
Age: 36 * Married, 3 children * MBA, Cornell University * Job titles in the past 10 years: 2; companies: 2
Steven Shindler began his career in banking, where, he says, he "wanted to have an area of specialty." Such a goal, he explains, would provide him with some "differentiation in a crowded market."
Shindler acquired that specialty at Toronto Dominion Bank, where, as managing director of communications finance, he headed up the practice devoted to lending to the cable and wireless industries. And because of the many companies he helped finance, Shindler learned the intricacies of capital structure and acquired "internal-relations skills."
That specialty has come in handy at Reston, Virginia-based Nextel Communications. When Shindler joined the wireless company in 1996, Nextel didn't have "an appropriate capital structure," he says. And in the past four years, he has worked to fix that shortcoming, raising more than $16 billion in new financing to help fund the company's ambitious plan to build a nationwide wireless network. One of his most creative moves: the issuance of the first-ever zero-coupon convertible preferreds in December 1998.
To what does he attribute his success? "First, always have a high level of energy," says Shindler. "Second, you have to surround yourself with great people." Finally, he adds, "you can't be afraid to make decisions." To date, there is no doubt that Shindler has made crucial decisions in favor of Nextel. Says Daniel F. Akerson, chairman and CEO, "Steven has added tremendous value to our organization. [He] has truly distinguished himself as one of the best in financial leadership."
Thomas O. Staggs
EVP & CFO, The Walt Disney Co.
Age: 39 * Married, 1 child (another due in February) * Education: MBA, Stanford * Job titles in past 10 years: 6; companies: 2 * Future plans: By mid 50s, run a business
In the final analysis, Thomas Staggs thinks the hardest part of succeeding in finance isn't achieving technical proficiency. It's achieving the power of persuasion.
"I deal with a lot of young finance people," says Staggs, EVP and CFO of Burbank, California-based Disney. "The piece that's often missing from them has less to do with finance skills and more to do with their ability to get along well with and influence other people. Being able to manage other people is important, but not as important as having the power of persuasion. If people respond to you, it's easier to get things done."
Staggs hasn't had much trouble getting things done. After a stint with Morgan Stanley as an investment banker, he joined Disney in 1990, and rose to senior vice president of strategic planning in five years. He had a hand in the acquisition of Capital CitiesABC, and helped create the Disney-owned Mighty Ducks NHL hockey team in Anaheim, California. But Staggs says he's most proud of the sequence of deals, consummated in November, that spun off the company's Internet assets as Go.com and issued accompanying tracking stock. "I'm most proud of getting Disney to where it is online," says Staggs.
Still awaiting him is the challenge of Disney's shaky stock price. "Well, you can choose to get depressed about it, but I feel incredibly challenged," says Staggs. He says he and the finance team will focus on allocating capital to support Disney's high- growth business lines, but will not force naturally slow-growing areas to keep pace with overall business-growth goals.
Staggs credits much of his success to his exposure to such renowned business minds as Disney CEO Michael Eisner, former chief strategic officer Larry Murphy, and former Disney CFO Richard Nanula. Says Nanula: Staggs is "a terrific finance person, a great deal guy, a strategic executive, and he's one of the best guys I know."
VP & Treasurer, Armstrong World Industries Inc.
Age: 40 * Married, 2 children * MBA, University of Virginia * Job Titles in past 10 Years: 10; companies: 2 * Future Plans: Evolve professionally
Follin Smith, vice president/treasurer of Armstrong World Industries, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has run the gamut of corporate roles. In the past 10 years, Smith has held eight positions at General Motors, ranging from manager of capital markets to assistant treasurer. From there she moved into the CFO slot at Delphi Chassis Systems before landing at Armstrong. How does Smith explain her ascent? It's a combination of factors, including technical expertise, strategic outlook, people skills, and, says Smith, "work, work, and more work."
Smith began in GM's treasury department--which she refers to as "boot camp"--in 1985, and was director of corporate finance in 1991 during a period of financial turmoil at GM. But through some smart maneuvers, such as a double-dip cross-border lease, she raised $6 billion in long-term capital in just 18 months. The experience, she says "taught me to be creative and to take risks."
This risk-taker isn't quite ready to quit yet. "I'm only 40. I certainly hope there will be lots more challenges." CEO George Lorch is sure. Smith, he says, has been a huge asset because of her "ability to create and implement new finance solutions.... She has tremendous personal growth opportunities at Armstrong."
VP & Assistant Controller, Time Warner Co.
Age: 38 * Married, 2 children * BBA, University of Michigan * Job titles in past 10 years: 7; companies: 3
"I knew what a P/E ratio was lots earlier than most kids," says Steve Swad, vice president and assistant controller at New Yorkbased Time Warner. Truth is, most kids never know what a price-earnings ratio is, but Swad knew that and more, thanks to his father, who started teaching him about the stock market at age 12. Those lessons were reinforced by Swad's paper- route job, which taught him the importance of sales, collections, and inventory management.
Today, at 38, Swad has put those early lessons to good use. He helps handle the aggressive mergers-and-acquisitions activity at Time Warner, which he joined in December 1998. At age 36, he made partner in the national office of KPMG, where he co-authored a book on derivatives. And, before that, he was deputy chief accountant at the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he co-wrote the market-risk disclosure rule on derivatives.
Swad attributes his early success to luck, strong professional mentoring, and his ability to translate complicated problems into simple concepts, then find solutions. That, and he loves his job. In fact, he can't imagine doing anything else. "I definitely feel like I'm doing the thing I was always supposed to do," says Swad. "You have to do what you like to do and do it as well as you can."
SVP & CFO, Gateway Inc.
Age: 39 * Married, 3 children * MBA, College of William and Mary * Job titles in past 10 years: 10; companies: 4 * Future plans: Retire between 50 and 55 as president or CEO
On his way to becoming CFO of San Diego computer-maker Gateway, John Todd made a point of building a broad finance background, especially at PepsiCo, where he worked in acquisitions, real estate, and new concepts, and as a divisional CFO. He says he's been able to "leverage that foundation to make good decisions and add value" at Gateway, which he joined in October 1998. Pepsi, he says, is "a great training ground for Type-A personalities who want to build a finance foundation."
Todd, who was CFO of AlliedSignal Engines before coming to Gateway, has helped Gateway's stock grow 156 percent since January. "In the short time I've been here, I've shown an ability to influence the marketplace," Todd says. "Whether it's good or bad, the market listens to what I have to say."
With his diverse operational background, Todd doesn't think of himself as a traditional finance person. "I see myself as a business partner and an operations person with the ability to manage the Street and manage the accounting." But, he adds, staying put as a CFO wouldn't disappoint him. "I'm one of the few people who really likes finance," he explains. Todd, a sports fan who in another life imagines being a basketball coach or a teacher, has this advice for young finance executives: "Be patient. There are a lot of boxes you need to check in order to build a broad-enough background."
Scott L. Thompson
SVP, CFO, & Treasurer, Group 1 Automotive Inc.
Age: 40 * Married, 2 children * BBA, Stephen F. Austin State University * Job titles in past 10 years: 3; companies: 3 * Future plans: Retire at 55
"I've done everything from football to hogs," quips Scott L. Thompson, CFO, senior vice president, and treasurer of $3 billionplus Group 1 Automotive. And it's precisely that diverse background that has helped Thompson mold the Houston-based company from a three- person operation in 1996 to a 5,000-employee leader in the automobile industry today.
Before joining Group 1 in 1996, for example, Thompson served as executive vice president, operations and finance, for KSA Industries Inc., which controlled a diverse portfolio of automotive dealerships, a travel agency, a farming operation, an oil and gas business, and a professional football team, the Houston Oilers. There, Thompson notes, he got a chance to "get involved with all aspects of business and learn about a lot of different industries."
But Thompson learned his most important lesson as senior manager at Arthur Andersen during the savings-and-loan scandal, when "some clients did the right thing, and some did the wrong thing. Your career isn't necessarily wrapped up in the company," he says. "Your own business and work ethics are what keep your career on track."
So far, Thompson's career has definitely been on track. In 1997, he was instrumental in Group 1's simultaneous merger/IPO of 30 automobile retailers. And in the past 24 months, he's overseen financing at the company, which has tripled in size and exceeded analysts' estimates every quarter. Thompson is especially proud of Group 1's recently announced $1 billion credit facility that, for the first time, brought five automotive capital finance companies, including Chrysler Credit, General Motors Credit, and Ford Motor Credit, together with 10 commercial banks.
Thompson also makes time to run 50 miles a week and to shoot some recreational hoops. "It's how I relax," he says. "It's necessary for me to do my job."
Edward H. West
EVP & CFO, Delta Air Lines
Age: 33 * Married, 3 children * BBA, Emory University * Job titles in past 10 years: 8; companies: 4 * Future plans: Stay on as CFO of Delta
Not long after Ed West started pursuing a medical-school education, he realized he "didn't want to spend the rest of my life going through the health-care system." He switched to Emory University's School of Business, where the Florida native found his own personal cure in finance: "the opportunity to really get inside a business." Especially in the strategy and development areas, which he rose to head during his six years at Atlanta-based Delta. He was promoted to CFO last September.
West served as the "point person" in finance for Delta's acquisition of regional carriers ASA and Comair, and for the arrangement involving Delta in the Priceline.com Web-based ticket-purchasing system. His rapid climb up the ladder at Delta has been aided by turnover on the top rungs. CEO Leo Mullin ousted CFO Tom Roeck, "the person responsible for hiring me into this business," shortly after Mullin took over in 1997. West took over as acting CFO before Warren Jenson was hired as finance chief, and he got the permanent job when Jenson left to become Amazon.com's CFO.
Is he happy to be in the airline business? West wouldn't be anywhere else. "This is going to sound kind of hokey," he says, "but there's so much going on in this business, it is all I focus on. This is what I live and love."
VP & Controller, Tenneco Automotive Inc.
Age: 39 * Married, 2 children * BBA, University of Houston * Job titles in past 10 years: 5; companies: 2 * Future plans: Retire Before 60
Call it promotion through divestiture. Ken Trammell's rise through the corporate finance ranks started in 1996, when he was the 36-year- old assistant controller of Tenneco Inc. In that position, he helped spin off the company's shipbuilding and pipeline divisions. Then, in November 1999, as corporate controller of the remaining units, he helped spin off the packaging unit, leaving Lake Forest, Illinois-based Tenneco Automotive the one remaining piece of the formerly vast Tenneco pie. "Ken was part of the nucleus of the team that figured out how to do the spin- offs and sales that we did as we disassembled Tenneco," says Robert Blakely, former CFO of Tenneco.
Trammell, who previously worked as a consultant with Arthur Andersen LLP in Houston, is now vice president and controller of that last piece. And although he enjoyed his earlier, "more corporate" role at Tenneco, he feels he's now in a position to "support an operating business"--exactly where he wants to be. "The corporate guys report on how a company creates value," says Trammell, "but at the end of the day, it's making the business run that generates the value. That's where the action happens."
And that, he adds, is what gets a young executive noticed by higher-ups. "I have a real desire to be a partner for the business and to say I helped support good business decisions," he says.
Brian C. Walker
President, Herman Miller North America
Age: 37 * Married, 3 children * BA, Michigan State University * Job titles in past 10 years: 7; companies: 2 * Future plans: Achieve more balance
On his second day at Herman Miller, the $1.7 billion Zeeland, Michigan-based office- furniture manufacturer, Brian C. Walker was asked if he had a passport. Answering yes, Walker began a two-year stint overseas to help launch the company's Asian operations. Only 27 at the time, Walker says the trust the general manager there showed in "my judgment on issues of strategy" was instrumental to his future. "It gave me the confidence to trust my instincts."
Those instincts told him that a follow-up stint in Europe would be equally "forming." Not only was the business in trouble, but the economy in the UK was in a deep recession. And going through such a down cycle, he says, was "important to shaping how you feel about the business world." The lesson: "If you aren't performing, no one cares."
As CFO of the nation's second-largest office- furniture maker until a month ago, Walker had been instrumental in both charting and increasing performance. In fact, says CEO Michael A. Volkema, Walker's implementation of Economic Value Added has been key to Herman Miller's "renaissance."
Walker is aiming to continue that renaissance now as president of Herman Miller North America. What did he look for in a successor? (Elizabeth A. Nickels, former CFO of Universal Forest Products Inc., will assume the post next month.) Someone, he says, "who has an entrepreneurial flair; who is driven by the long term; and who likes to be with customers." In other words, someone with good instincts.
Profiles written by Lori Calabro, DeAnn Christinat, Jess Dhaliwal, George Donnelly, Kris Frieswick, Roy Harris, and Michael O'Loughlin.
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