10 Questions for Skybox Security CFO Lior Barak
Name: Lior Barak
Time with company: 11 months
Education: B.A, in economics and Finance from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; MBA in Finance from the New York Institute of Technology
Company headquarters: San Jose, California
Number of countries: U.S., U.K., Israel
Number of employees total: 50+
Number the CFO oversees: 3-4
About the company: Skybox Security provides automated tools that find and prioritize cyberrisks such as vulnerabilities, firewall configuration errors and access compliance issues. Its products help IT security staff continuously monitor security risks that could lead to a data breach or cyberattack.
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I started in finance right out of college after completing my B.A. in finance and accounting and then I did my MBA in New York. My first job out of college was working for the government. Although I gained some valuable experiences through that, it became evident that it was not my passion to work for the government.
Before working for Skybox I spent over 10 years working in finance and accounting both for public and privately held companies. I refined my skills and I think I gained a lot of experience that led me to this job. I think the one thing that separates a good financial executive is his ability to be a decathlon champion rather than a gifted athlete in a specific sport. The capacity to master and deal with many financial, legal, sales and operational aspects of the business separates you from the rest of the crowd.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
This is a tough question. First thing that I want to say is that my management and leadership conduct is not only attributed to people I worked with. My style of operating and behavior derive from all walks of life. If I go back in time, I remember that as a child, I was very competitive and gifted in sports. The one lesson, for example, that I learned from my coach is that it is not enough to be a superstar you also need to make the people around you better and I think I took that wisdom with me to the work environment. I also spent three years of my life in the Israeli army, and what I learned from my commanders is to never, ever give up and always apply yourself to the task
I was also privileged to work with several CEOs and CFOs, who had a can-do attitude, especially when it comes to work. There is no one who is famous so that people would know his name, but there are several of them [who were influential on my behavior]. Last, I am also inspired by people that are optimistic in a "religious way" and did the right thing despite the consequences. I mean historical figures such as Winston Churchill, who decided to go by himself to fight World War II, or Martin Luther King and his crusade for equality in life.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
I think it heavily depends on the type of company you are working for. People can tell you all type of answers, but the challenges I'm facing are entirely different challenges from the ones the CFO of Juniper is facing, So I can only talk about the environment in which I'm operating: working for a fast-growing, small-size company with limited financial resources under challenging economic times. I think the ability to balance between growth and financial viability and the ability to make decisions that impact on those are mindboggling. For example, hiring when you don't really have the money to support those positions, but feeling that you have enough growth opportunity to expand to support those positions. Working with a company that is growing with limited financial resources and the decisions you need to make to mitigate between those are the challenges I'm facing.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
Work is what we do, it's not who we are. And if you have a positive outlook on life, almost every day is good. I must say that it's helpful to work for a company that is a success story. Working for Skybox where we have the best product in the market and year-over-year growth was 70 percent helps make the time I spend in the office enjoyable. Moreover, it's always nice to work in a company where you get along with the team, especially with the [other] executives.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
I'm not certain that there is a name for that, but let me tell you what I think you must have as a manager or what are the things that are critical for an effective executive. The first thing that is a must-have is a game plan. As an executive you can't come to the office and look at the emails and say, "This is what I'm going to do today." You must have a game plan for the year, for the month and for the day. The second thing is that I believe in personal accountability. In large organizations, people tend to have the mentality of "I told you so, I think this is what you should do." I don't believe this type of attitude can "fly" in a small organization. I believe that if you have responsibility for something you have to own it and do it. I also believe in results. You can be a nice guy, you can be a talented guy, but if you don't meet the objectives that your manager sets for you then you don't have a place in the company. I look at myself this way and I look at the people who work for me that way. If they're not results-oriented and they don't meet their objectives, then they don't have a place in the organization.
I also believe in surrounding myself with smart and talented people. I believe in consulting with them frequently and encouraging them to independent thinking, even if I don't think the same.
6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?
I think first of all you need to have the basics, meaning the technical capabilities, to do the job. But a good candidate also needs to have some things that set him apart from the crowd. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it should be because the interview process is based on a lot of intuition, but I'm basically drawn to people who are hard driving, humble and optimistic.
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? What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?
First thing that I like to do is to not give them right or wrong questions because those are always easy to answer. I generally look for candidates who can surprise me with creative and interesting answers. So I might ask them, "What would you do on your first day on the job?" I like people who give answers like "I would go and meet with the entire team; I will go and talk to people." I am looking for people who are willing to listen and study.
"What would you change in the company?" If somebody tells me I will change this and I will change that, then I know I am not so sure I want to hire them. I want someone who will learn. I find people have a difficult time answering those kinds of questions.
One thing that I don't like is when people come in rehearsed for interviews. You can tell if they come in rehearsed. They say things like, "I am an out-of-the box thinker." I'm not exactly crazy about those kinds of answers. If the answers seem rehearsed and not genuine, I generally don't like that.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
I mentioned that in the first part of the interview, when I spoke about this Bruce Jenner type, the decathlon champion, where you have to be an all-around player and get yourself involved and impact all key decisions of the company. That's one thing, which I truly like about my job. I also enjoy dealing with our Fortune 2000 customers. Dealing with top-notch international executives, from different companies, and delivering on their expectations is very rewarding. We all have to represent the company very well and I think this is something that is very unique to Skybox because the type of customer that we have requires us to employ top-notch people in all positions. I think that the opportunity I was offered to come to an almost green field segment is exciting. Though the company has been around for eight years, it is just in the last year that we see the market segment growing in double-digit numbers, not only for us but also for the competitors. I also think that the team here is great.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
First, define a hectic day. For all of us, I think the real work starts after the official working hours. First, I'm a family man with two demanding kids that come first. I also like to run. I just completed my fourth half marathon and many more to come. I also like reading; sadly I don't have enough time to do enough of that.
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
What I really want to do or what I would do are two different things. If I weren't doing this job, and I can choose to do whatever I like I would probably be working with underprivileged people. I was always inspired by people who had goals in life besides making money. The one noble thing that I do lately is that my wife and I are supporting a child in Zimbabwe and every month we send her $20 to pay for her education.