Name: Scott Davidson
Time with company: Eight years
Education: Bachelor of Science in Finance, Florida Atlantic University; MBA, University of Miami
Company headquarters: Aliso Viejo, California
Number of countries: 63
Number of employees: 3,460
Number the CFO oversees: 300
Yearly revenue: approximately US$800 million
About the company: Quest Software develops software that helps companies manage and monitor applications such as databases, hypervisors and operating systems.
The following is an edited interview with Davidson.
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I actually started as a financial analyst with an investment banking firm. And after I came out of graduate school I was recruited by the U.S. Treasury. I became a national bank examiner with a focus on trust and investment banking. I decided that it was great to travel from bank to bank but I wanted to be on the side of the table where I was making the decisions to have an impact in a particular organization. So I left Treasury and decided to join a company that was a services-based company, which today is Interactive Group. At the time it was a standalone company called Precision Response Corp. I stepped into that role as a manager of revenue, analysis and pricing. And then I had an opportunity to leave there after about a year and go to Citrix Systems. I really joined in on the finance side of the house and stepped in as the director of finance, treasury and investor relations. I did that for about four years and came to Quest and initially joined as the treasurer. I had been at Quest for four years when the CFO left. I jumped at the opportunity because I thought it was a great chance to move beyond accounting finance in a more of a specialized, narrow field into the broader CFO role.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
The gentleman at Citrix who hired me, Jim Felcyn, he was the CFO at Citrix. That was my first real exposure to dealing with life as a public company CFO and a software company that was going through hypergrowth. Jim was very good at helping me learn how to be an influencer and when and why to influence. The other thing he had was exceptional feel and knowledge for dealing with Wall Street. He was a very good person to learn from and follow in his footsteps and sort of help guide me through that because that was all new to me. The other person who was influential was Dennis Arsinski. Dennis was the person who recruited me out of graduate school and my first real boss. Dennis was always really good at figuring out what you want to accomplish and how you want to accomplish it by keeping this in perspective. I learned a lot about getting high performance out of very tight-knit groups and teams.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
The CFO role has become much more of a strategic contributor to certain aspects of the organization. Some of the things that a CFO has to be able to do is not just understand the numbers and the analytics behind it but to be able to take that data, build information out of it and help guide decisions. At the same time, the CFO job has become more operational in terms of interacting with sales organizations or the R&D organizations and building decisions around how you invest to drive growth or extract efficiencies. It’s gone from the sort of back-office role to more of a partner driving the business.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
For me a great day at work is to be able to engage with my peers that run sales or that run some of the operational roles, or our CEO. A big part of my job is I’ve got to focus on getting with my team and figuring out the obstacles that are blocking them from doing their job and how I can remove them. So if I can identify those and remove them, that’s a really good day for me because I know they’re making progress, which means we’re all making progress.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
My management style ideally is one where I like to set the bar in terms of follow by example. So from my perspective I want people to view what I do as someone who is working hard, who’s trying to be a driver, an influencer, but doing that by knowing the business. My management style is I find self-motivated people who want to win, who are competitive, who are technically proficient.
6. What strengths/qualities do you look for in job candidates?
The most important thing for me is I want to find people who … I use this analogy of a rocket. I’d much prefer to find a person that had their own thrust that I just had to vector them in the right area to help them. You can always vector somebody. It’s really hard to get thrust out of somebody who doesn’t have it. I want somebody who has thrust or drive or somebody who feels that they can be an influencer, but can be an influencer by being a good communicator. Not being an influencer by establishing a dominance or fear. We need people who are self-motivated, who can take things and run with them, because as many initiatives as we have going on at the same time, I don’t have the wherewithal to stand on top and manage somebody all the time.
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?
I always ask, tell me something you’ve achieved in your current role that somebody else would have not gotten done. What I’m trying to get to with that question is to figure out how much natural drive and resourcefulness they have and how hard they are willing to push to get things done, or in certain cases be creative to get things done. The other question is … would you hire yourself and why would you hire yourself. I follow that up by saying, if I’m going to be your manager, tell me what I need to [do] for you to make you successful. You can determine based on the way that person likes to be managed whether or not they’re a fit in the organization.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
My role as CFO here is fairly open in terms of where I can spend my time in a particular day. It’s partially because we have certain segments within Quest that are nascent and growing quickly and run like startups. Then we have other aspects of our business that are more mature and throw off more cash flow and have different investment profiles. It’s a pretty close, tight-knit senior management team and we all get along well. The top three or four of us have been together for almost eight years so it’s kind of like a family. It’s challenging because software by its nature is very dynamic and we have very dynamic businesses with different profiles.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I’ve got a couple of great kids who, if I get wound up in any one particular direction at work, they’re pretty good at unwinding me the other way at home very quickly. It’s always great to spend more time with them when I can. I’m also pretty active. I love to play soccer, get to the gym and do a lot of outside stuff.
10. If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
At 45 my opportunities are limited so if I was 25 I’d pursue my career in Europe on the soccer field. But there’s not too many spaces for 45-year-old midfielders these days. Notwithstanding that, I have an affinity and love for history so I’d love to be a history professor at the college level or teaching kids history.