This following is from an interview with Ken Goldman, recently hired as CFO of Everbridge, as announced in CFO Moves. This interview was edited for clarity.
SD: Ken, congratulations on your recent hire by Everbridge as their new CFO.
KG: Thanks Samuel. This is my 10th CFO assignment in 34 years. I had the advantage before joining Everbridge of having known Jaime Ellertson, the CEO, for 8 years. I had lots of points of reference that allowed me to come in with more information than most people have when they join a company.
SD: What is it about the tech space that keeps you coming back again and again and again?
KG: Of my 10 CFO assignments, 8 of them were in technology (new world), 2 in the old world.
What I like about technology is the fast pace, the amount of innovation that takes place. It is higher risk, higher reward. I love the feeling of the wind in my hair. I like the idea of driving fast. This is one of those opportunities where my only frustration is that there are not enough hours in the day. I feel very fortunate that 34 years into my career I am very excited to go into work every day. I get up at the ungodly hour of 4:45am and I’m in the office at 6 o’clock. Not because I have to but because I love what I do.
SD: It’s great to be in such an environment. You mentioned ‘higher risk, higher reward’. I’d like to touch on that just a little bit. Imagine you weren’t a CFO and that you only had general business experience, and you would say the words “Chief Financial Officer”. The perception of such a CFO would not fit who Ken Goldman is.
KG: If you think about, going back 20 – 30 years ago. CFOs were thought about as the Chief Accountant, Green Eye Shade, Risk Manager. They were someone to protect the company. While protection is part of my mandate, I would say that it really starts with enablement. My job is to enable the company to achieve success and greatness. I spend all of my time thinking about “How to do I do that?” Yes, protection is important, limiting the downside. But nobody ever built a company by just limiting downside. It’s about investing in upside.
SD: I’m interested in learning from you how you bridge the gap in a technology environment where you have visionaries and creatives that are running around you and coming up with hair brained schemes that can or cannot work, that needs to be thought through. How do you deal with being the grounded business person in an environment of giddy creatives?
KG: I’m not always the most popular person at the cocktail party being the voice of reason. The good news is that having done this a few times I can strike the appropriate balance between yeah, let’s jump out of the plane and put the parachute on the way down vs. let’s jump with 2 parachutes on firmly in place.
Part of the reason a company like this hires somebody with my amount of grey hair is because they want somebody who can do this. When I talk about risk / reward, downside, risk mitigation, alternatives, it’s from a position of having done it before, I’m not just thinking about it for the first time. I have the scars and the failures to prove it. It’s all about balance. You can be a gambler or put it all on red or black, you can win everything or lose everything, or you can be more conservative and take a more thoughtful approach.
As a good CFO, it’s about understanding the upside potential compared to the downside potential. It’s about making informed intelligent decisions as opposed to just rolling the dice.
SD: You talked about not enough hours in the day. In my peer group recently, I asked my CFOs how they are doing. They all say that they are busy. I have never met a CFO who ever said that they weren’t busy. How do you manage? What is your key to dealing with ‘there is not enough hours in the day’?
KG: It’s about being really good at juggling lots of balls at the same time. It’s about understanding the concept of triage. It’s about hopefully seeing around corners and out of the back of my head and hoping that in the 100 things that I have to do in any given day, I get the most important 99 done. I have what I call 51% days, where I consider it a good day because I got 51% of what I had to get done, done, but I’m frustrated that I didn’t get the other 49% done. In some ways I call it job security, because it’s not like I am going to die of boredom, but the other side of it is worrying about what was that one thing I didn’t get to today that was mission critical?
And a lot of it is because I am 3 weeks into the job and I’m still developing relationships with my team and making sure that they understand that if something is mission critical, don’t just send me an email along with the 150 that I got that day and assume that I understand the mission criticality of that email. If it is really important, come see me. If it is really important, text me. If it is really important, find the appropriate channel to communicate so that it does not get lost in the fray. Eventually I am going to get to all 150 emails, but like everyone else I use emails for time shifting. Some emails I’m going to take care of tonight when I get home. Some of them I will not get to when I clean up my emails this weekend when I get to the 400 emails I didn’t get to this week. I try as best I can to look at the header on every email as it comes in to try to figure out ‘is this something I need to drop everything else for’? Some of that is luck, some of that is skill, and a lot of it is experience.
SD: You talked about team. Most CFOs agree with me when I say that a CFO can only be as good as the team they have allows them to be. What is your approach to ensuring you have the best team possible to support you?
KG: In an ideal world, you get to go out and hire all superstars. Start with the fact that the hiring process is imperfect, all the people that you’d like to hire are not necessarily available at the time you’d like to hire them, and there is a time to ramp up. There is a lot of value to incumbency. I am very fortunate coming in to Everbridge that I have a team, some of whom have been here 5 to 7 years, They have incredible institutional knowledge, a good core skill set, and in some cases it is a question of the right management and mentorship. I believe that great employees are not necessarily hired, they are developed over time. I believe based on what I have seen so far, the people that I have today are keepers.
Even in my own job, in my own career, I believe I earn my job every single day. If I do a good job today, I get invited back tomorrow. If I don’t do a good job today, I probably don’t get called back tomorrow. It’s not that you are at risk every single day. The number one thing I look for in an employee beyond being qualified and capable, is work ethic. I want employees who have that solid work ethic, because to me, that is what gets you through the times when you don’t have enough hours in a day.
Again, I’m fortunate here to have a good core team. I think one of the things that experience teaches me is how to assess that pretty quickly. I said before hiring is imperfect because everyone puts on their best suit in the hiring process, we sell the candidate why are a great place to work, a candidate tries to sell us on why they can walk on water and turn lead into gold. It’s not till you’ve worked with someone for a while that you realize their strengths and weaknesses. If you’re lucky, you make a reasonably good choice. Perfect choices, sometimes happen, sometimes don’t. You try to do the best you can.
SD: Let’s switch over to what you are excited about at Everbridge. What’s on tap for you to accomplish going forward?
KG: Every time I look at a job opportunity I start with thinking at it from the standpoint of “if I were an investor, would I invest in this company”. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m taking a job, I am making an investment. I can either invest my money or my time, my career and my reputation.
I look for 4 things. Large addressable market, good financial results, company with a leadership position and elements of their business plan that make them / gives them a strategic competitive advantage and a great team.
At Everbridge, this is a team with a proven track record. They have all worked together multiple times. Jaime Ellertson, our CEO, is probably among the best CEOs that I have ever come across. We have a great team, with a large addressable market, great financial results, and lots of development that give us a strategic advantage. If I wasn’t given the job opportunity, I still would have invested in this company.
What I’m excited about is, we’re moving fast, we’re growing quickly, and that doesn’t happen just by momentum. We’re growing quickly, not because we are doing everything right, but almost everything right. I can say we are doing everything right, but nobody is perfect. We’re getting market validation, we’re growing at a rapid clip, picking up signature accounts, and rolling out new products. At the end of the day, the market votes with their dollars. If your revenue is growing, you’re probably doing something right. And we’re doing more than something right. That’s the most exciting thing because we have that growth, and that gives us options.
When I say options… I describe the role of the CFO – create, maintain, increase and ultimately realize shareholder value. At the end of each day, I measure each day by whether I helped create, maintain, increase or realize shareholder value. If I can check that box, than I can probably come back tomorrow. To me, this opportunity is about creating great shareholder value. We are a for profit company, we have investors, we have stakeholders besides outside investors (employees and customers). Increasing shareholder value benefits everybody.
SD: Ken, thanks for taking the time to share you CFO Success Story with my readers. Your passion for what you do comes through, and I wish you continued success and fun.
KG: Thanks Samuel.
A CFO Success Story is a feature of Samuel’s CFO Blog, where Samuel Dergel follows up on his book, Guide to CFO Success, speaking with CFOs featured in CFO Moves, Samuel’s popular and comprehensive weekly report on CFO Movement across the USA.