10 Questions for LogRhythm CFO Mark Vellequette
Name: Mark Vellequette
Time with company: 4 years
Education: Bachelor of Science and Commerce in Finance and an MBA from Santa Clara University
Company headquarters: Boulder, Colorado
Number of countries: U.S., Hong Kong, England, opening Canada, France, Germany
Number of employees total: 160
Number of employees the CFO oversees: 15
CFO's areas of responsibility: Financial planning, accounting, legal/contract management, human resources, facilities/real estate, product fulfillment, business operations
About the company: LogRhythm offers a patented log management and SIEM 2.0 software for cyberthreat defense, detection and response, compliance automation and assurance, and operational intelligence and optimization. The company's SIEM (security information and event management) software analyzes and manages network, host, file and server activity.
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I started at Intel. I was there for about seven years. I think the experience there combined with a half-dozen startups I've been involved with here in Boulder got me where I am. I think Intel was a great place to start a career because they do a lot in exposing the finance team to the different parts of the business. They recognize that you don't get well-rounded financial managers if they aren't well-rounded in all parts of the business. That exposed me to a lot.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
I've been thinking about that question. I suppose the boss I learned the most from was at Intel, with Cindy Bergdorf. I was quite young, I was two years out of college when I started working for her. In many ways, I was kind of a financial assistant to her as she pulled together data for a third of Intel -- all of the semiconductor divisions. So I'd sit in the room with the senior managers of Intel, including what are now two of their people who have been CEOs, as they discussed how to run the business, thus I was exposed to the non-financial aspects of running the business.
For a financial guy, you add figures up on the spreadsheet and the math can't be wrong and therefore you think you have your answer. So for me to hear these very senior managers talk in terms of the best guess for doing things and how we might make a better guess, and the different data to take in to be able to make decisions, it was a great experience for me. It taught me that there is no exact science to running a business. Spreadsheets can lead you to believe that if you do things in a certain way you'll be so big and so profitable and the reality is that the one thing we know is that everything on the spreadsheet will be wrong, and that's OK. Just get the overall trend right. It was interesting for a 24-year-old finance guy to realize, "Wait a minute -- business isn't always about the numbers."
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
I think the biggest thing is the rate of change, because everything keeps changing for us. CFOs cover not just the financials, often we have HR, or IT, or other elements. Software accounting regulation rules seem to change annually. And the change in employment laws and what makes sense to do or not to do as an employer and what is legal to do is hard to keep up with.
Then, just general security rules for compliance. I think keeping up with change is the biggest challenge because it comes at you from every angle of the responsibility areas that you manage.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
A good day is when a sales guy comes in and says, "Hey, we just signed this six-figure deal with all our terms and conditions -- nothing special." That doesn't happen very often!
I think a good day is when we can talk about what comes next. It becomes very easy for a company to decide on a path and tell finance later. They come to us and say, "Here's what we're doing now" and we say, "That all sounds very good but we can't do this." So a good day is when finance is brought in, when we're valued enough to be pulled in on the strategic decision-making before we get a half-baked idea brought to us.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
I try to hire people that are self-motivated. I don't try to get in and manage the day-to-day activities of my folks. I touch base with everyone every day and sometimes multiple times a day, depending on what's happening. But I let them tell me what's happening in their organization and push them on.
I let people be self-starters and I try to focus on the big picture -- I want to know where are you vectoring off to, where are you spending your time, but I'm not hitting the keys for you on the keyboard.
I want people who can run as fast as I can and I can look over and they can give me the thumbs up about what they're doing. We're just growing too fast and the finance teams are too lean to micromanage.
6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?
Clearly I want people that are smart, but I also want people that are curious. The smartest person in the world who doesn't want to learn something new is of no value to me. I want people who are versatile and who don't want to do the same thing for the rest of their lives.
Our business is so different, year after year, the things that are critical change. So I can't hire someone who is good at one particular thing so they help us get compliant or whatever but they can't do more. What will that person do the second year? I need someone who will take their skill sets and get us up to date and compliant and then take those skill sets and apply them year after year to other issues, and come back and say, "We can do this better and here's how."
Ultimately, I want people who think they would like my job. Those are the people I feel I can help.
As we expand into Europe, into new states in the U.S. -- I think we're in 15 different states now -- we have all kinds of new rules that show up so I need people who know generally what we need to do but who are curious enough to make sure the next state or country gets set up right and who are asking the right questions. And then a year from now or 18 months from now they can say, "OK, what can I do now?" and [we'll decide] how and when to move everyone one desk to the left to learn something new and that lets us build a better team.
If I step in front of a bus it would have been irresponsible for me to have built an organization where people don't know what to do or what they should do because I haven't told them what to do.
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?
I try to find out what people have accomplished. It's one thing to say, "I was at Intel and when I first got there they were losing money and when I left they were very profitable." OK, but what did you do to contribute to that?
Some of my questions are some of the shortest ones: Why should we hire you and why did you pick us? Because if people can't answer a really direct question like that and haven't thought about why they're talking to LogRhythm, if they don't know why, that tells me that they haven't been very diligent.
With the Internet these days it's not that hard to find out a lot of information about the company and present that not as a regurgitation but to say, "These are the things I like that you're doing and here's why I'm a good fit for LogRhythm."
If they can't differentiate themselves out of a crowd, then I don't know that they really know what they're good at. If they don't know that, I don't know why I should be hiring them to find out.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
I think one of the luckiest things for me and for LogRhythm is we've been able to grow at a tremendous pace each year for the last four years. The fact that we're growing probably two times or more than the SIEM growth rate means we're very fortunate. It makes my job just that much easier, managing growth just makes for a better day than managing contraction. I feel very fortunate.
We, like any growing company, are beset by issues and problems, but like we always say, we're managing the high-class problems. They're no less frustrating, but the options I have to choose from are so much better. It's fun to be part of this and it's fun to be part of such a great team. I've been at a few others where we weren't quite so fortunate with the combination.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I always try to be home before my son goes to bed. I spend some time with him, maybe read with him, goof around with him.
I enjoy skiing and running and things like that. On a day-to-day basis, though, it's to find some down time and some decompression time before I jump back on and check emails later at night.
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
I probably would be at another startup. This is my sixth or seventh startup and I really enjoy it.
But if I wasn't a CFO, I think I'd like to be working in wine country, in almost any country. I just enjoy all aspects of wine and the wine-making process.