Name: David Becker
Time with company: 8 years
Education: Bachelor's degree in accounting and Master's degree in professional accounting from the University of Texas
Company headquarters: Addison, Texas
Countries of operation: U.S., U.K., employees in Canada and Australia
Number of employees total: 110
Number of employees the CFO oversees: 5
CFO's areas of responsibility: finance, accounting, financial reporting, treasury, IT, maintenance renewals.
About the company: Credant Technologies provides enterprise data protection software and services for controlling, managing and protecting data on desktops, laptops, smartphones, removable media or in public or private cloud infrastructures.
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I started my career in 1991 at PriceWaterhouse in Houston. My dad gave me some good advice about cutting my teeth in public accounting as the great stepping stone from a career perspective. I like public accounting because it gives you the opportunity to analyze a lot of companies in different industries and it gives you the opportunity to learn accounting very quickly.
After PriceWaterhouse, I moved back to Dallas in 1995 and I joined a small startup company called i2 Technologies. But I ended up joining a company that grew from 150 employees to over 7,000 employees and $1 billion revenue.
Unfortunately, due to the tech bust in early 2000, we had to scale back the company to about 2,000 employees. That experience gave me the opportunity to learn how to grow a business but also how to scale back a business. That's when you are forced to make really difficult decisions and tradeoffs. When it's time to cut back and watch expenses closely, prioritization is really critical.
After i2, I took a few months off from that wild journey and then joined Credant as their CFO. I decided to go back to working for a small, private software company. I did that because I like the opportunity to work in all areas of the business and the opportunity to work with the management team on how to grow the business.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
There are a lot of people who have had a strong impact on my career and also on my life. One who stands out is Bill Beecher. He was the CFO of i2 Technologies. He's a lawyer, so he didn't have the typical finance background or accounting background that a CFO has, so he taught me a lot about the other important aspects of being a CFO that don't specifically revolve around accounting.
He taught me a lot about the legal aspect of customer relationships. He taught me about the importance of working closely with the CEO and the other senior management of a business, and the importance of working closely with that team and figuring out ways to study and analyze the performance of the business.
One thing he pushed me to do, which I end up recommending to others in the industry, is don't sit in the office. Get out and join the sales team when they have their sales team meeting. One, you get to know the people personally. Two, you get to hear firsthand what their challenges are and where they are seeing success. It just helps you to build that relationship and visibility that you won't get by sitting in your office.
With regard to leading and managing a group of people, he taught me a few critical lessons. One, deal with the challenges or issues head on. Communicate clearly and frequently with your employees. Also, stand up for what you believe in. Doing what is right not only for your company but also what you believe in personally. I have found that there are many times that the moral and ethical foundations of the CFO can be challenged and at the end of the day, you've got to do what's right.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
Oh, there are lots of them. The role of the CFO has changed a lot in my view in the last 10 years. You still have the focus around finance and accounting, and expense controls throughout the business. But today I really view the CFO as a strategic consultant to the business. To be a consultant really forces you to look at how the business is doing, how it's under-performing, how it's doing well, but, most importantly, where the opportunities lie ahead.
A lot of my focus is around what are the best ways to grow the business. We've looked at international expansion, building new products, buying businesses, raising the necessary capital to fund those initiatives, and working closely with our investors and board of directors. And at the same time, doing all that the CFO's organization is being asked to do -- but doing more with less. It's very typical for CFOs to feel that pressure.
Technology is also something that I think we as CFOs are having to look at closely. One part of being asked to do more with less is looking at the technology within our own group to see how technology can help us be more efficient, but also looking at that in the company as a whole. Are there technologies that can be introduced that help you to more efficiently run the business and to analyze the business?
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
For me, it's about teamwork, getting to the end of the day and looking back to see what the team has been able to accomplish. As CFOs, we have to be good managers. There are so many different things going on with the business at any one point in time. To be able to focus your team, to prioritize your team to make sure that they're addressing the top priorities for the business is really important and so to look back on that and see what the team has been able to accomplish is important.
One thing I really like to do is to celebrate success with the team so I like to do a lot of fun things, whether that's to have a Wii party at the end of the day or one of my favorites is to do a wine and cheese tasting, to give people the opportunity to celebrate the success of the team but also to give people the opportunity to get to know each other in a more informal setting.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
My motto is do what it takes to get the job done and I expect that from my team as well. I will work as hard or harder than any of the employees on my team. They can count on me but I need to be able to count on them as well.
I try to communicate clearly and frequently with the team. I also love to laugh. So if we're laughing, that's a good thing. There's enough stress and pressure that we have to deal with everyday. I try to introduce laughter as a way to keep everybody sane and having fun.
We have extremely low turnover within my group and I think a good amount of that comes from strong teamwork and an enjoyable environment where we know we're going to work hard but we're also going to have some fun at it.
6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?
Two key qualities: smart and analytical. I am looking for people that can think quickly on their feet. You can't teach somebody to be smart, so it's not only being book smart, it's what I call being street smart. If you have the hopes of moving up the ranks and being successful in your career, you have to be able to jump into areas that you may not necessary be strong in or have a background in, but using your street smarts to jump in.
The analytical side I think really differentiates people. It's one thing to study numbers or to understand numbers. It's a whole other thing to analyze numbers, to look at ways you can look at the same thing to provide information to the management team to make better decisions.
I'm looking for people who are smart, willing to jump in whenever needed, wherever needed, and who can use their street smarts and analytical skills to analyze the business.
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 start out by trying to understand what does their standard day look like and what do they enjoy about their day and what would they most like to change about their day. What I'm trying to figure out is are they comfortable with the standard day or are they comfortable with new priorities or new projects being introduced into their day and how do they handle that.
What projects have they been successful with and what projects have they struggled with and how do they prioritize? Are they someone who just spins and spins or are they able to jump in and get things done? I also want to know about what kind of team projects they have worked on. I'm looking for good team players who work well with others.
And I want to hear some about their key projects and where they've been able to analyze the business. Are they relying just on book smarts or are they also able to use street smarts?
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
Being a CFO of a privately held company for eight years is fairly unusual. The typical progression is every three years make a change, make a change, make a change. In the software business, there are no inventories. The product isn't something that you can physically touch, so the success of the software company is driven by the people who work for the company.
The reason I have stayed so long and the reason I enjoy this job so much is because of the people. That starts at the top, with the ethical framework that is put into place and the people who are hired and given the ability to laugh and have some fun. It's very cliche, but our CEO has a philosophy -- getting the people right is 90 percent of your success.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
For me, it is a glass of red wine. I have a wine collection. I'm amazed by the differences in wines. I really enjoy learning about different wine-making areas and what makes their wine unique.
And also spending time with my family. I have two children and I'm very active with their lives and activities. The really nice thing about a private company and a great boss is that you're given flexibility and encouragement to spend that time. My daughter has a presentation Friday afternoon and I will be there. I have missed very few school activities in the last eight years.
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
My parents gave me a lot of flexibility in college to figure out what I wanted to do in my life. I went to school to be a hotel manager. Then I decided to be a Navy pilot and went into ROTC. Then I decided to be a photographer and took a bunch of photography classes and did everything from studio shoots to fashion shoots to outdoor shoots. And then I finally found accounting.
If I look back at all of those opportunities, at my inspiration, if I could be anything, I'd be a photographer. I really enjoy, through utilizing a camera, what you can capture with a picture. You can be in the same setting and take 20 different pictures from different angles and have those pictures tell you something completely different.
If I wasn't doing that to make money, I'd be a winemaker in Washington. They have a very consistent weather pattern to make amazingly good wine. It's less expense to buy acreage and it's an amazing up-and-coming wine country.