This year nearly
CFOs are expected to
leave their current jobs. Most will move on to other finance positions,
often at larger companies. A few (think Indra Nooyi at
PepsiCo) will move into the coveted corner office. But a growing number of CFOs
will wave an emphatic goodbye to corporate life altogether and instead launch
themselves into a wide variety of other pursuits. While the CFO post is undeniably
a pressure-cooker, it can also be an incubator: executives acquire a broad range
of skills, experiences, and contacts that leave them well prepared to indulge their
passions and interests. They can strike out in new directions even as they leverage
the finance savvy they've spent many years developing. Some will become independent
directors, others will explore opportunities in the private-equity/venture-capital space, still others will take the "left to pursue other interests" boilerplate to heart — and actually pursue the dreams they feel they've put off for far too long.
The reasons for the exodus are multifold: increased regulation, corporate
politics, a desire to more fully embrace the spirit of casual Friday. The destinations
are also diverse. After all, CFO pay being what it is (see "Pay Up"), many finance chiefs can walk away from the job and live quite comfortably,
thank you. They can often come back whenever they want — or need — to. Ken Yamamoto, for example, left the CFO post at Gartner to run a cleaning
enterprise in Georgia; he has since returned as treasurer of Affinion Group.
Longtime CFO Ellen Richstone ran a specialty consulting business leveraging
C-suite executives, but was enticed back to the CFO post at Sonus Networks
after two years.
On the following pages, you'll meet 11 former CFOs who have closed the door on finance — at least for now. What's
true for all is that their finance careers have given them a foundation for their new endeavors, whether it's running restaurants,
teaching the next generation of finance executives, helping to manage a renowned charitable organization, or writing
the Great American Novel. Most of these CFOs recall their business careers fondly, but seem decidedly more excited
to talk about their current pursuits. Not that they regret their former jobs. As one career-changer notes, "When you're
a CFO, you can pretty much do anything."
Become a Restaurateur
To those who know her, Susan Frasca has simply fulfilled
her childhood dream. Even as a nine-year-old, she whipped up
crepes and Baked Alaska in her family's kitchen. "My mom used to
think I would be a cook when I grew up," she remembers.
Instead she became an accountant, capping her career in
finance with the CFO post at Restaurants-America, which owns 45
upscale restaurants nationwide.
Then, nine years ago, she traded in her calculator for a chef's
knife. Frasca secured a 100 percent-funded nonrecourse loan and
took over four of the group's restaurants. "When you're a CFO, you
can pretty much do anything," she says. "A business is a business
regardless of industry."
After changing both the staffs and the menu selections, as
well as sharpening her wine and culinary tastes, Frasca has made
two of the original four (Kinzie Chophouse and Mambo Grill) quite
profitable. In fact, Kinzie Chophouse grew 40 percent in its first
year under her management. Today, those restaurants are worth
$5.5 million, more than double their $2.3 million value before she stepped in.
"Running a restaurant is very similar to finance," she says. "You have to have a business plan, and then
you follow a science." In this case, that meant adding prized family recipes to the menus, and tweaking them
just enough so they would cook quickly in large volumes and satisfy varying palates. At the Kinzie Chophouse,
for example, the apple pancetta salad features a dressing straight from her grandmother's cookbook, with one
minor change: it's served with a pastry puff in place of the traditional Italian bread.
Frasca's success rate is running at 50 percent — not bad when you consider that 90 percent of restaurants
fail. She sold one restaurant in 2000 when it failed to reach her expectations. "I kept wanting to fix it,
and spent too much of my time there," she explains. When a similar situation materialized with a second
restaurant, Frasca reacted much more quickly and closed the facility in October 2003. "I learned when to
stop fixing and just get out," she says.
Despite long hours and a hectic pace, owning restaurants has its advantages. For one, Frasca has been
able to combine business with pleasure by becoming a certified sommelier. Then, of course, there's the fact that
she can have her favorite meals — the New York strip steak at Kinzie Chophouse, for instance — prepared the
way she likes whenever she wants. Sometimes, she says, "it's great to be your own boss." — Laura DeMars
Teach the Next Generation
Call it serendipity. The day after Christopher B. Paisley, the former CFO of 3Com, said in a press release that
he would be retiring at the end of the year and hoped to teach, he got a call from Santa Clara (California) University. Six
months later, he became the Dean's Executive Professor of Accounting and Finance at the Leavey School of Business.
That was more than six years ago, and Paisley hasn't looked back. In fact, the 54-year-old always fancied himself
a teacher. "My mother taught first grade and my father was a principal," he says, adding that he actually taught accounting
at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, California, while working at Hewlett-Packard early in his career.
Paisley knew even then that he would eventually go back to the classroom. The turning point came in 1999,
when 3Com was approaching $6 billion in revenues and the board prepared to spin off its Palm unit, asking Paisley
to be CFO of the new firm. "It was really tempting," he remembers. "But if I did it, I had to commit for a number of
years and possibly never get back to teaching." Thus the fateful press release.
Now carrying a full-time teaching load,
including the introductory accounting class, Paisley
sprinkles his lectures and class discussions
with his own experiences. There is plenty to tell
from his 15 years of growing a high-flying technology
company. And he keeps adding to his repertoire. Last year, as chairman of the audit committee
at Brocade Communications, Paisley led the internal
investigation into the backdating of stock
options there. "It was an eye-opening experience,"
says Paisley, who attended 88 board meetings in
one year at the company, where two former executives
became the first indicted in the scandal.
Still, the most satisfaction he finds these days
is in class. "Almost without fail, at the end of a quarter
one or more students will shake my hand and say
it was the best class he's ever taken." — Lori Calabro
Open a B&B
Travel to the Annabelle
Inn, in Aspen, Colorado, and
you'll find plenty of evidence
of owner Dennis Chookaszian.
the one-story bed-and breakfast
are the ski boots
and poles his family has used
over the past 50 years. Even
the name Annabelle has a
connection: it's his mother's.
What might not be so readily apparent is the sweat equity that
Chookaszian put in to bring the stylish B&B into existence. Chookaszian,
who was CFO of CNA Insurance for 15 years before moving to president
and chairman, spent 4 years developing the hotel that opened
in January 2005 and describes it as "a labor of love."
Not that it didn't have a difficult birth. "Construction was a
nightmare," remembers the 63-year-old, who worked on the design
with an architect and oversaw the entire process. The first contractor
went bankrupt, the permitting process took two years, and building in
the mountains offered endless obstacles. Chookaszian's finance skills
were always in evidence, although he says there was "nothing sophisticated
about it." But he did fall back on his engineering knowledge (he
has degrees in chemical and biological engineering). Case in point: the
former owner refused to allow inspectors, so Chookaszian had to
determine himself that the original structure needed to be torn down.
The result is an inn with all the amenities Chookaszian likes to
have in his own travels. Sitting on six public-company boards means
that "I still travel 200,000 miles a year," he says. So it's not surprising
that the inn features all the most up-to-date electronics, with a
flat-screen TV in every room and wireless Internet access. And there
is "air conditioning in each room, which is actually very important in
Aspen," he adds.
Chookaszian admits that his ventures seem somewhat
removed from his days in finance, but he says he now has something
even better to crow about than a rising stock price: "TripAdvisor has rated us number one of all the B&Bs in Aspen." — L.C.
Grow a Nonprofit
There should be plenty of reasons
Lyn Jensen would want to leave finance altogether.
After all, the former CFO of Napster was
put through the wringer as the online-music
pioneer was bombarded by lawsuits and eventually
plunged into a near-fatal bankruptcy.
But she doesn't. Although Jensen admits
that her time at Napster — where she was literally
the last employee — was "a roller coaster," she
insists that her new position, as CFO of Habitat for Humanity International, is not her way of turning her back on Corporate
America. Instead, she says that accepting the position at the home-building organization was a matter of timing. "Some people
get called to a mission at an earlier stage," she says. "But God wanted me here."
At Habitat, Jensen, age 61, is on a mission to bring corporate best practices to the nonprofit, which operates in 92
countries and took in about $357 million in revenues last year. "We're [upgrading] technology so we have end-to-end processing,"
she says, adding that "on the people side we are adding the right skills to run the group to scale."
The ability to scale is crucial at an organization that has doubled its revenues since 2004 and has had to respond to
such monumental disasters as Hurricane Katrina and the December 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia. Case in point: previously
the organization manually processed its donor checks. But with 2 million of them pouring in annually, Jensen is currently
automating the procedure. At every step, however, the challenge is to "build an infrastructure that will allow exponential
growth" and to do it "within the framework of a ministry," says Jensen, who started as controller of HHI in June 2003.
Jensen seems suited to the task. In describing her experience at Napster, she says, "It had lots of intense times, but I was
definitely the calming person and I tried to keep an even keel." Bringing that influence to a rapidly growing nonprofit, she realizes,
would not be the choice of many finance executives. "They need to know why they want to go into the nonprofit world,"
she cautions, adding that for her, "it isn't about the money. This is where I am supposed to be." — L.C.
Return to Your Roots
Tom Sager grew up in a family-business environment. His
father, Howard, ran a milk-delivery business with a heavy emphasis
on customer service and small-town values — the very values that
Sager, who worked at six different companies, including two stints
as CFO, found lacking in Corporate America.
"I spent years building my credentials to get
to the top. And when I got there, I didn't enjoy
it," says Sager, who mostly blames the
"quarterly board-meeting mentality" for
souring him on corporate life. So in 2002, the
47-year-old left his position as CFO of Zoots,
a national dry-cleaning chain, to run his own
family business: Tri-Valley Sports, in Medway,
"It just came naturally to me that this
business would be something I'd enjoy," says
Sager, who, along with his wife, has been both coach and cheerleader
for the multiple teams on which his three children, Kevin,
22; Valerie, 21; and Craig, 18, played. "Watching kids play, providing
them with equipment, that's real fun," he says.
Still, Sager has called on many of his finance skills to run
the small store, located just eight miles from his home. At Zoots,
Sager was involved in installing an innovative system that helped
turn "a mom-and-pop operation into a big, centralized cleaning
company." At his own company, "we put in a
new computer system," he says, "so we're
now able to track inventory with a great
point-of-sale software application." While
Sager does not plan to grow to Zoots's level
(78 stores in nine states), he is certainly keeping
an eye out for the future, despite having "no
short-term, definitive plans. The business is
growing organically, and when it has grown as
much as it can, I'll look to broaden the market."
Being the owner, however, allows Sager to
be much more hands-on both with day-to-day decisions
and customer interactions. "You don't need a Harvard
MBA to be sincere and polite and fair with customers," he says.
And while he's happy to be out of corporate finance, he is thankful
for the experience. "I'm absolutely happy with my decision,"
he says. "You may not know what you want to do, but you certainly
know what you don't want to do." — Gareth Goh
Start a Winery
Ask Dennis Groth to order a 2003 cabernet sauvignon and you'll probably make out OK. The onetime Arthur
Young partner became a wine connoisseur during his time in the company's San Francisco office, partly because of
the time he spent entertaining clients. And in the early 1980s, that passion led him to scout properties in Napa Valley.
Groth wasn't just window-shopping. In the back of his mind, he had the audacious notion that he could
make wines. Of course, drinking wines and making them are decidedly different pursuits. Moreover, Groth was
already knee-deep in his second career as CFO at electronic-games pioneer Atari, which at the time was on a roll.
Still, once Groth and his wife, Judy, found their dream 165-acre vineyard in Oakville Appellation, he parlayed
his accounting background and Atari's success into bank financing to start the operation. It was short-lived, however.
Within months, the overheated video-game industry crashed — and so did Groth's financing. But instead of
pulling out, the 64-year-old left Atari and moved his family onto the farm. Armed with only a building permit to
construct a wine-making facility, he got creative,
opting to outsource his grape-growing —
a common practice today, but unusual
in 1984. "We put off constructing our building,"
he explains. "We wanted to first
demonstrate we could make good wines."
The gamble paid off. Although it took
Groth Winery and Estate two years to sell all
10,000 cases of its 1983 cabernet sauvignon,
word spread. Then, in a stunning development,
critic Robert Parker gave the 1985
Groth Reserve Cabernet a 100 rating — the
first California wine ever to receive his perfect
mark. Suddenly, business skyrocketed,
with sales doubling and then tripling.
Last year, Groth Winery and Estate
sold 65,000 cases, and word is that several
larger operations wouldn't mind buying the
farm. But Groth has too much skin in the
game. "Judy and I were looking back at the
data recently, and we said, 'What ever
prompted us to take this risk?' We put
everything we had into it." — John Goff
Spread the Word
Blythe J. McGarvie remembers
the trigger very well. It was August
2002, and she was a shocked
bystander as former accounting
giant Arthur Andersen — the firm
where she had spent her formative
work years — was dismantled,
"If a company of that historic caliber
and ethics could disappear, what did that mean
for so many other companies that didn't come close?" she says.
At the time, McGarvie was three years into a CFO stint with Bic
Group, living in Paris and New York, and had returned the maker of disposable
pens and lighters to a positive cash-flow position. It was her
second CFO gig, having previously been finance chief at Hannaford
Bros., a Maine-based grocery retailer. But the whole Andersen episode
"shook me" so much, she says, that she paused to reevaluate her
skills — which included communication in addition to finance — and her
most satisfying accomplishments — developing future finance leaders.
That reassessment gave rise to the novel idea that she might
help company leaders gain "financial savvy, a global perspective, and
integrity." By January 2003 she had done the unthinkable: moved back
to the United States to start her own company, Leadership for International
Finance LLC — one part consultancy, one part executive
coaching firm, and one part advocate for the importance of finance,
even for nonfinance professionals.
Almost four years later, the 49-year-old McGarvie describes her
new life as "more like jazz than a symphony." She has published a
book, Fit in, Stand out: Mastering the FISO Factor for Business and Life
(October 2005, McGraw-Hill), in which she outlines her six "catalytic
agents" for becoming a more effective leader, including financial acuity
and integrity. In addition, she addresses audiences around the
world on finance's potential and also finds time to sit on five for-profit
boards, including Accenture. And while McGarvie admits that
she would jump back into the C-suite if the right offer came along, she
cautions, "I'm probably not free for a while." — L.C.
Travel the World
Christine Mead got the travel bug early. By the time she
was 25 she had lived in three countries, including Zambia. So
it wasn't a total surprise 11 months ago when she left her CFO
post at Seattle-based Safeco to bicycle around the world.
"With Safeco financially secure and a strong finance
team in place, the option was too exciting to ignore," says the
51-year-old Mead, who was brought in to help turn around the
property-and-casualty insurer in 2002 by then-CEO Mike
McGavick. (McGavick also left the company this year, to run
for the U.S. Senate; Mead declined to be a candidate for CEO.)
Currently, Mead is exploring Tibet with three other
women who have also taken time out from their careers for the
18-month trek. "The first phase took us from London through
southern England, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Romania," she says. To get to the Asian leg, they had to take
a train to Istanbul and fly over Iran and Pakistan. "But the beauty of traveling [mostly] by bicycle is that I see and experience
so much more than by car, bus, or train," explains Mead, who is also an avid hiker, skier, and climber. "Whenever
we stop, we're immediately joined by a crowd fascinated by our gear, panniers, GPS system, and maps."
In addition to managing the group's expenses, which are funded by personal savings, her other business skills
are also apparent. "My adaptability, teamwork,
and problem-solving skills all come
into play," says Mead, who was previously
a divisional CFO at Travelers.
For example, Mead, who took
both first-aid and self-defense courses
before embarking on the trip, makes sure
she doesn't travel after dark and keeps a
low profile in tense situations. That's particularly
important, since "some countries
that we visit are in the midst of
political transition," she says. Ditto for
So far the trip has supplied both
unique opportunities and inspirational
encounters. In Nepal, for example, Mead
met three sisters who developed a
trekking company that strives to empower
women by training female guides and
porters. "It was fascinating to learn about
their experiences building the company,"
she notes, adding that she also "enjoyed
encouraging them in their groundbreaking
As CFO went to press, Mead was
in Tibet, on her way to China. Upon her
return to the United States, she has no
set plans beyond possibly reconnecting
with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra,
where she served as a member of the
board before this trip. "It's 10 months
away, so I have an open mind at this
point," she says. — L.D.
Write the Great American Novel
There may not seem to be much common ground between serving in Vietnam
and serving as a CFO. But don't tell that to Christopher Joyce, a retired divisional
CFO at AT&T Corp. and a marine veteran, who weaves both experiences
into the plot of his first mystery novel, Last Effects.
Published in 2005, Last Effects tells the story of a business consultant who
decides to investigate his brother's death during the Vietnam War. As the plot
unfolds, the main character, Jack Keane, is weathering a career challenge in the
form of a new client even as he begins to realize that his
brother's death may not have been accidental. "I wanted
the protagonist to be challenged professionally and personally,"
explains Joyce, who spent three years in the Marines,
including a stint in Vietnam.
Typically, says the 57-year-old, "CFOs get in trouble if
they get creative. Finance and writing have a lot in common;
both have their own language and both require you to string
words and numbers together to produce a complete story or
picture." When they are combined — Joyce wove his knowledge
of fraud-recognition software into the plot of Last Effects, for example — it
generates "a bit of authenticity and color," he says.
Having a passion to write doesn't guarantee success, however. After facing
multiple rejections, Joyce quickly realized how "very difficult [it is] to get into publishing
houses and booksellers if you haven't been published before," and opted
to launch his own publishing company, Centennial Books. "It's become quite an
expensive hobby," he says. And while his first book has sold only 200 copies, Joyce
is hopeful that the second one, Father Land, will do better.
"Our motto at Centennial Books is, 'Publishing fact and fiction for fun and
profit,'" he says. The profit part may not have been realized yet, but for Joyce, it's
much more satisfying than writing a 10-K. — L.D.
Save the Environment
Joy Covey looks back at her time as CFO of Amazon.com as "180
percent intensity on one narrow slice of life." When she left in 2000, at age
37, she says, "it was time to think about the rest."
Not "rest" as in taking it easy, of course. Living in Utah with her
family, Covey has since focused much of her energy on environmental
issues and maintaining open spaces in the West. "It's the area I feel
the most urgency about,"
she says. "The Bush Administration's
assault on the environment
has been very energizing."
Her response has been
to start the Beagle Foundation
with her anesthesiologist
husband, and to serve on several
boards, including the
National Resources Defense
Council (NRDC) and the
Santa Fe Institute, which is
devoted to the study of problems
that transcend traditional
fields of study.
Covey launched the
foundation in 2000 with a
broad mandate that included
grants. She and her husband
sharpened their skills by
Workshop West, a crash course in maximizing effective giving.
The foundation, funded largely with appreciated Amazon stock, is
named for the ship Charles Darwin took to the Galapagos Islands. (It was
in planning the first trip there with her husband that Covey came up with
the idea for Beagle Foundation — naming it after herself was just not her
style.) Today, their foundation "is not huge," she says, describing their
endowment for it as "seven figures, although we're planning to turn it into
eight at some point."
One project of which she is particularly proud is the Beagle/
Harvard Law School Fellowship, which sends recent graduates to the
NRDC for two years of training in nonprofit environmental law. Another
program funded by Beagle Foundation's $1 million gift to Harvard Business
School was directed to the Harvard University Center for the Environment.
(Covey holds both law and business degrees from Harvard.)
While her passion for the environment was less a factor in
her decision to leave Amazon than were "the fertility tables," Covey
doesn't rule out at least a part-time return to the workforce, perhaps
when her young son starts school. It may not end up being a CFO role,
she says, but finance "is so much a part of my vocabulary that it's hard to
identify anything that I now do differently." — Roy Harris
Mix It Up
The simple life is not in Thomas J. Meredith's
nature. If he were "etymologically based," the 56-
year-old former Dell Computer CFO laughs, "I
would be a compound complex sentence."
On the one hand, there's his private-equity
investing. Meredith's last brief job before
leaving Dell, running Dell Ventures, taught him
"how hot — and then how not — the IPO market
would be for technology companies." While there,
he teamed with former Dell treasurer Alex C. Smith
to create an investment advisory firm, Meritage
Capital, that specializes in multimanager hedge
funds. Meritage now has about $350 million in
assets under management.
Then there is his family charity, MFI Foundation —
whose mantra is "inspiring, investing,
and involving" — making a difference in the world
with the personal wealth that he considers largely
a product of luck. "I was fortunate early on to be
involved with technology companies that got to be
big," says Meredith, who was treasurer of Sun
Microsystems before joining Dell. MFI Foundation
takes the notion of a family foundation literally:
Meredith and his wife, Lynn, run it, and all four of
their children participate. "It's been really fun to
watch them invest," says Meredith, recalling with
special fondness his then-9-year-old daughter's
effort to organize a benefit screening of the first
Harry Potter movie to aid the families of those
killed in the September 11 attacks.
Mixed in are myriad causes to which Meredith
lends his finance connections and his sense for
a reasonable ROI. For example, he is on the board
of One Laptop Per Child, which is developing a $100
laptop for distribution to millions of impoverished
children. And while simplicity may not be the end
result of all his endeavors, he hopes they add up to
"significance." — R.H.