10 Questions for NetSuite CFO Ron Gill
Name: Ron Gill
Time with company: Four years
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Baylor University; Master of International Business Studies, University of South Carolina
Company headquarters: San Mateo, California
Number of countries: Nine (Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, U.K., U.S.)
Number of employees: 1,200
Number the CFO oversees: 50
Yearly revenue: US$230 million
About the company: NetSuite sells SaaS (software as a service) packages that handle functions including CRM (customer relationship management), ERP (enterprise resource planning) and accounting. The company website is http://www.netsuite.com.
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
My first job out of grad school was in the treasury department at Sony. After a few years they transferred me to headquarters in Tokyo. And then I moved from Sony to SAP in Japan. I did two different stints at SAP, and I moved from a treasury position to a controllership position. And then I was with Hyperion and briefly at Oracle after Oracle acquired Hyperion, and now with NetSuite.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
One would be Robin Washington. She was the CFO of Hyperion when I was there. She's now CFO at Gilead. She taught me about scaling the finance function as the company grows. Even as she had to handle the daily grind of being CFO and the quarterly earnings call ... she always had this vision in mind for what the company would look like when we're a billion dollars in revenue. That's been very helpful to me because ... we're sort of moving towards the half-billion dollar mark, but we're a fast growing company. All of your processes, all of your infrastructure have to be built sort of on the fly as you build the organization.
And the second I would name is Jim McGeever, who was our CFO here and is now our COO. Jim reminded me what great fun it is to be a CFO at an ERP company when your products are really CFO-oriented. When your products really help CFOs that really facilitates being a very operational CFO who isn't just in the numbers but who can really have very meaningful conversations with customers. You're not just in the financial part of it but really have this great overview of the product that you deliver and how it helps customers.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
Balancing all the regulatory and government topics and the time and investment that those take with focusing on what the business needs on a day-to-day basis. SOX [Sarbanes--Oxley Act] was very onerous and unmanageable [but] SOX standards now have kind of standardized. So it's not so much SOX anymore.
There's constantly new accounting guidelines coming out. Then you have something like [the] Dodd-Frank [Act]. You have a constantly changing regulatory and government guidance environment. You have to keep on top of all of it but at the same time you have to pay attention to the important part, which is actually building the company. That balance is a real challenge.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
I really like the multidisciplinary challenge of the role. I really love that in a given day you'll spend time totally in the weeds working on some Excel modeling with your team and talking about business strategy. But you'll also spend some time on product strategy. I'll spend some time engaging with customers. So you really go from very small picture to very big picture to capital strategy questions. A really enjoyable day is when I've been able to contribute in all those different areas.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
I'm very collaborative with the different members of my team. We run pretty lean here. I need everybody in my team to be good at what they do and to know their area and to drive their area. I'm not an expert in everything. With that said, we run the company in a very centralized way. We sort of plan from the center out.
6. What strengths/qualities do you look for in job candidates?
We really look for someone who's smart first and then self-motivating. Everybody needs to be good at what they do and bring the knowledge and the experience in their area. They need to be able to tell us what's important to get done in their area and prioritize because we don't have a lot of extra people.
7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company?
I like to ask: are you lucky? It really tells about somebody's sense of self. Whether they believe that they've gotten to where they are today purely out of their own excellence or whether they have any appreciation for the environment and the opportunities that they've had. The way they address that question really tells something about how optimistic versus pessimistic they are, how self-centered versus group centered they are and how much they believe that they've achieved what they've achieved through working with other people.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
At a SaaS company you're just constantly building a book of reoccurring revenue. What actually happens in the current month is not going to make very much difference at all in your revenue for the month because your revenue is just coming off a schedule. You're just signing up subscriptions every month. It is a much more model-intensive process. Instead of just saying, "what will happen this month that will make revenue this month?" you have to say, "what has happened in the history up until now that will make revenue this month?"
The other thing that makes being CFO here different is that it's so much fun to be the CFO of a company where the product is CFO-oriented. To be making a product like that means you get a lot of opportunities to talk to other CFOs about that.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I really do my head clearing and winding down at the beginning of the day. I run in the mornings. The day before the earnings call or the morning of the earnings call, I'm out running, thinking of what questions might be on the earnings call or just trying to think about nothing to clear my head from the previous day. It's not so much what I do to unwind at the end as much as I'm always looking forward to the next morning's run to really clear the cobwebs out.
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
Maybe I'd stay home with the kids and let my wife go back to work. I'm having a great time working so there's certainly nothing I would be rather doing.