Name: Charles F. Wagner, executive vice president, Finance & Administration, and CFO
Time with company: 8 months
Education: Boston College, undergraduate accounting degree; Harvard MBA
Company headquarters: Bedford, Massachusetts
Revenue: $530 million in 2010
Number of countries: 71
Number of employees total: 1,600
Number of employees the CFO oversees: almost 200
About the company: Progress Software sells business application infrastructure software. The company was founded in 1981 as Data Language by Joseph Alsop, Clyde Kessel, and Charles Ziering. Its names was changed in 1987. The company website is http://web.progress.com/en/index.html
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I started my career in the audit practice at Coopers & Lybrand. I was there for about five years and I really enjoyed it — it was a great way to get a start but I didn’t want to keep doing accounting and the way you get out of accounting is to get your MBA. So I did that. Then I went to Bain & Company. … I wanted to make the move into a corporate environment, so I went to Millipore, which is a life science company, and I was head of strategy and M&A. It was an overall fantastic experience. It was growing, but we also put it through a pretty big change in business strategy. We changed the portfolio, we changed the business culture. We more than doubled in size between 2004 and 2009. I was at Millipore a total of about eight years. We had so much success at Millipore that the company was acquired by Merck in $7 billion deal last year.
I took some time off to concentrate on golf and surf lessons, but had the opportunity to come to work at Progress and came back to work in November.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
I would say my most influential boss was the CEO of Millipore, Martin Madaus. I think what I learned from him, number one, was the power of communicating aspirations to a company, giving a glimpse of what the future can hold and getting people to rally around that aspiration. He also helped me to appreciate the balance between thoughtfulness and decisiveness — being good at being considerate and reflective, but having a bias toward action.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
It’s really the increasing scope of the role. Traditionally, CFOs were looked upon for accounting, tax, treasury, management. I also have responsibility for strategy and M&A. Managing the breadth of [all] of that is probably the biggest challenge.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
A good day at work is when the business is performing well and when my team is really out ahead of me, when I can see that my team understands the objectives and they’re out running ahead. That’s when I feel my best.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
I would say that I’m very goal- and results-oriented, fairly structured but not rigid. I would say I’m available for collaboration. I can flex my style with the needs of the person who is working with me.
6. What strengths/qualities do you look for in job candidates?
I would use the term applied intelligence or learning agility. [I look for] not just pure smarts. That rarely is enough. It’s the ability to apply those smarts in a real-world context and to adapt quickly because businesses change so quickly that raw intelligence or smarts isn’t enough, you have to be able to apply it. After that, I would say bias for action. Thirdly, I would say personal courage — someone who is willing to stick their necks out and take on challenges.
7. What are some of your tips on job interviewing for finance positions, and overall? When you are interviewing a candidate, how do you know whether he or she is a good fit?
In terms of interview questions, I generally don’t start with finance-oriented questions. I like to ask them about the business they’re in. ‘Tell me about your business, tell me about how it’s performing.’ I like to have a discussion and see if they can get me excited about the business they’re in and the possibilities for it. If they think like business managers, then that’s a great start for me. I also like to ask them a lot of people-oriented questions. ‘Who is the most successful person who worked for them and what have they gone on to do?’
It’s not so much a question, but I’ll have them present to a panel of interviewers on a business strategy or problem of some sort and see how agile they are at answering on their feet when people are throwing four or five questions at them.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
I think it’s the combination of the business situation. Progress, like Millipore was, has got a very rich history, but it’s in need of growth. An entirely new management team has been put together. I’m the last person to join that team. I’m excited about the potential and possibilities here. I’ve got responsibility for not only the traditional finance duties, but also for strategy and M&A. In terms of driving strategy forward, I’ve got my hand in a lot of key things.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I have three young kids, so if I’m not here, it’s really all about the kids. Aside from that it’s sports. I play basketball, I play softball and I coach basketball and baseball.
10. If you weren’t doing this job, what would you would be doing?
If I could make enough money at it, I’d like to run a consultancy that chooses music for TV commercials or theme music for movies.