10 Questions for Plug Power CFO Gerry Anderson
Name: Gerry Anderson
Time with company: 5 years
Education: Bachelor's of Science in business administration from the University of Arizona
Company headquarters: Latham, New York
Countries of operation: U.S., Canada and Europe, through a joint venture with Air Liquide
Revenue: $7.7 million for the second fiscal quarter of 2012
Number of employees total: About 190
Number of employees the CFO oversees: About 120
CFO's areas of responsibility: Finance and accounting, IT, HR, manufacturing operations, supply chain, after-market service
About the company: Plug Power develops and manufactures fuel cell technology. Its GenDrive fuel cell suite of products are used as an alternative to lead acid batteries in electric lift trucks in the material handling industry. Its customers are primarily in retail, grocery, institutional food distribution and manufacturing
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I cut my teeth at what then was KPMG and received my CPA license in the state of New York.
Over the last 30 years, it has been a compounding of experience, mostly in mergers and acquisitions, and helping build successful business enterprises. I've been primarily involved in helping grow companies organically and inorganically and that has led me to my current role at Plug Power.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
I've been privileged in my 30-plus years to work with some great business leaders whom I respect and admire. I think one of the most enduring qualities of those leaders was their ability to articulate a vision and purpose for the business and then assemble a gifted team of people to execute on that vision.
I'll mention a couple in particular who come to mind. One is Victor Riley of KeyBank, who I still regard as one of the best bankers we have had in this country. Another is Glenn Epstein of Intermagnetics General, who built a team that knew how to compete and win while doing so in an honorable fashion.
Some of the attributes these leaders had that I try to emulate include expecting that everybody would do their best every day and go outside of their comfort zone to help each of their teammates, and not be afraid to make decisions.
Ultimately, a key thing they got across was to always remember who you work for -- it's the shareholders. We are here to serve their best interests.
One other element I learned from the leaders I respect is that they knew how to provide an environment for their associates that allowed them to excel and have the opportunity to grow and experience those shining moments of accomplishment that are celebrated in the organization.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
The challenge that is faced not only by CFOs but leaders of business in general is that the ability to remain competitive in a global marketplace is a key driver of success. You don't have time to sit back and enjoy your success because there is somebody else out there who is going to come in and eat your lunch.
As a CFO, I constantly need to evaluate our performance, what we need to do to improve our business and our relevance to the investment community.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
For me it would be rolling up my sleeves and helping my Plug Power teammates solve problems and work through challenges to advance our business. I also like having the opportunity to learn something new while also teaching something new to a teammate. At the end of the day, if I've done that, it's been a fun day.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
I think that my teammates would vouch for this -- I'm a demanding manager who expects everyone to bring their 'A' game to work every day, but I do focus on the success of the team. I tend to be very collaborative and expect everyone to actively participate in our objective setting and then I expect that we'll all work as a team.
I don't look for someone to blame for problems, but I expect everyone to be open and honest, to identify the issues at hand and then just solve them and move on.
The team focus truly is the key motivator for me.
6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?
Some of the key things I look for are people who have an inquisitive nature and always want to learn, and strong analytical and problem-solving skills.
Most importantly, they have to know how to function in a team environment and thrive in situations where they may be asked to stretch beyond their comfort zone, beyond what they know they can do.
I want to bring people into the organization who want to win and who can push their teammates, including me, to be at their best every day.
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?
Because I have so many different areas that I cover here at Plug Power, the types of questions I ask are really dependent on the roll we're trying to fill. If it's technical in nature, I have to ask more technical questions to drill down into those areas and gain some insight into their skill levels. If it's a more process-oriented role, I'll ask questions that dig into organizational and sequential-thinking skills.
In general, though, I always try to ask questions that will ascertain someone's desire to work as a team and not just sit in their office trying to do everything themselves. I also want someone who isn't afraid to make decisions and who will do the little bit extra that is needed to make the difference between being average and excelling.
In terms of red flags, I'm really cognizant of listening to how candidates answer their questions, paying attention to the "I's" versus the "we's" in their answers. I want to know if someone can work in a fast-paced environment where everyone has to do their part, so while a candidate has to sell themselves, I want people whose experiences focus on teamwork.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
To start with my own personal perspective, I'm somewhat of an energy fanatic. But I truly believe that what sets this job apart is the company and the mission of Plug Power. We are in the business of helping this country and the world power ahead with clean, reliable, alternative energy solutions. I've got three daughters and I don't want their generation to look at my generation and say, "What the heck did you do to our country and our future?"
I think this company can be an integral part of a portfolio of technologies that can provide our country with a sound, independent energy policy for the future.
It's also the people at Plug Power who make a difference. We've been around for 15 years and we're not profitable yet, but the teamwork and the dedication of my teammates keeps me going and makes me excited about what we are capable of accomplishing.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
My days tend to be rather long and quite honestly I just looking forward to being home with my wife and three daughters, who have been more than understanding of my career.
I also do a lot of biking and I'm somewhat of a motorhead, so when the weather is nice I spend a lot of time tinkering with cars, and I also like woodworking. I guess I am not the type of person who can sit still for very long -- I need to be doing something and staying busy.
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
If I weren't a CFO, I would probably be in the academic community, teaching college students and using my experience in the business world to help people get ready to be part of the global marketplace. I taught before at the college level and found it to be a very rewarding endeavor. I think the optimism and the idealism of our young people will help drive our country's continued success. Helping to shape and nurture those qualities is inspiring and enriching.
I get to experience that as well every day with my three daughters.