10 Questions for Tendril CFO David Rayner
The chief financial officer of vertical market vendor Tendril Connect, which provides software for utilities, discusses his work, opportunities, and challenges.
Name: David Rayner
Time with company: 4 months
Education: Bachelor of Science in accounting from Northern Illinois University
Company headquarters: Boulder, Colorado
Number of countries: Offices in the U.S. and Australia
Number of employees total: About 200
Number of employees the CFO oversees: 12
CFO's areas of responsibility: Accounting; financial planning and analysis; treasury; audit; legal
About the company: Tendril provides a software-as-a-service platform, Tendril Connect, that allows utilities, their customers and third-party providers of "smart" products and services to manage usage and costs. The company's applications and services help providers to balance demand, mitigate peaks in real time and minimize operational costs, while engaging customers by using behavioral science models and analytics.
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I started my career in public accounting at Arthur Andersen in Chicago. I left after about three years and spent the next 29 years at telecom and communication companies in a variety of finance and operational roles and that led me to join Tendril about four months ago. I think holding a variety of those finance and operational roles has allowed me to have a broader perspective and to see the larger role of what business is all about.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
I've been fortunate to have several very good bosses and all of them have really had different styles and approaches, but the one common trait was that they were willing to listen to people and hear different points of view. But equally important is that I think I've learned as much from bad bosses over the years and how their style made me feel and negatively impacted me in my work. Over time, I've tried to embrace the positive traits and avoid the negative ones. I've got to say that the CEO at Tendril, Adrian Tuck, has all the positive traits that you look for in a CEO.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
I think the biggest challenges facing any specific CFO really depend on the specific situation. I think there's a common challenge around the appropriate deployment of resources and utilizing the returns on those resources. Today at Tendril, my biggest challenge is to deal with limited resources but at the same time contend with some pretty big growth aspirations on the part of the company.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
I think a good day is when I'm able to collaborate with my team and the rest of the organization to really address issues and get things done. A really good day is when there are fewer issues at the end of the day than at the beginning. We're a little unique compared to other companies I've worked at in that there is more time for smaller meetings, not as much bureaucracy, and so we can get things done faster.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
I like to think that I've learned from my past experiences and different bosses both good and bad. I like to listen and really get different points of view. I like to hear what people think that is different from what I do. I like face-to-face meetings.
I really don't like surprises. That's one of the first things I tell people who are working for me. If something is going off the tracks, I want to know about it so that we can take action. Positive surprises are OK, but that's not typically what happens.
6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?
Obviously, people have to be good technically, but I place a strong emphasis on people who can form their own opinions and support those opinions. I look for people who process things and think differently than I do. I like people who are going to challenge me. And I've got to like the people personally. If I don't like sitting down and talking to them personally about how their weekend went and what their hobbies are then they are probably not people I'm going to like working with.
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 and ask open-ended questions and just get them talking. I don't go through a lot of detail and traditional questions, walking them through their work history. I'd rather just have them talk about where they've been and what made the company successful.
One of the questions I do like to ask is what their best friend would say about them, and then after they answer I ask them for the best friend's telephone number and I call them on the spot. The way they react to that, if they get nervous about it, will tell you a lot. You don't usually get hold of the person, but the reaction to the question will tell you a lot.
As far as red flags, if the candidate can't look you in the eye or tell you their thoughts that is a red flag. I think it's important that a person be able to talk off the cuff and think on their feet.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
I've worked in small organizations and large organizations. I think at a small company it's more intimate. Decisions get reached faster and there's a pace of activity that is more intense. That's certainly true at Tendril. The pace is fast, we're working on a lot and it's a lot of fun.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
It's really just my drive home. I've got a pretty long drive, typically over an hour. On that drive, I just turn on some good music, don't think about work too much and sort of decompress on the drive. It helps that I live in Colorado and the drive through the foothills outside of Boulder has some pretty nice views.
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
I think what makes it worth getting up in the morning is working with a great group of people that are working hard at something they truly believe in, so if I weren't working with Tendril, I'd try to find a company that had equally great people. In terms of the fantasy life, I'd love to be a fly-fishing guide at some remote mountain stream somewhere.