Speaker Snapshot: "The CFO Role Has Expanded More Than Changed"

We spoke to Terry Curtis, CFO at Comtrade


Ahead of his presentation at the CFO Rising East Summit in Boston on March 7 & 8, we spoke to Terry Curtis, CFO at Comtrade.

Terry is a “C-Level” Finance Exec with unique cross industry experience across the globe. His career path has prepared him as a strategist & business leader as well as a CFO.

He has demonstrated his mettle as a CFO plying his skills internationally (Germany, Japan, China, the U.K.) in a diverse set of industries (multi-channel, e-commerce and retail, consumer branded products, technology products, devices and network infrastructure) under varied business conditions ( start-up and turn around)

Terry has a proven track record in implementing the appropriate & balanced level of financial, reporting, business processes and procedures necessary to guide companies to success.

Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in finance and what first sparked your interest?

Actually, I began my studies as an electrical engineer. However, a friend of mine introduced me to the business school. I Soon switched my major to economics & finance. It was then and there that I fell in love with finance, to the extent you can actually fall in love with finance. My first working experience was with Analog Devices Inc. based in Norwood Ma. My professional journey was non-traditional in that I didn't begin my career working for one of the major public accounting firms. My journey started at a publicly traded tech company.

I started at the bottom working as a financial analyst. However, over several years I progressed and transferred into Internal Audit. And it was in the Internal Audit department at Analog Devices that I began to really develop my skill sets. Given my lack of Public Accounting experience and a CPA, I developed my programming skills based on my earlier studies in electrical engineering. And, I obtained my CIA (Certified Internal Audit) certification as well as a CISA (Certified Information Systems Audit) certification in order to successfully compete with very talented professionals who had taken the more traditional path of working for a public accounting firm, obtaining a CPA and then transitioning to the private sector. I have never looked back nor have I regretted the path I chose.

How has the CFO role changed over the last decade? What do you see as having been the main drivers behind this?

From my experience, I believe the CFO role has expanded more than changed. Finance must still fulfill its historical role:

  • Issuing Accurate and timely financial reporting,
  • Implementing sound financial & related business controls,
  • Fulfilling its fiduciary duties,
  • Securing financing and capital,
  • Preparing budgets and forecasts.

Over the last decade the CFO and the finance function has developed into a strategic & business partner to the c-suite and the enterprise as a whole. The CFO has been called upon to act as an objective business counselor to the CEO. This includes business strategy, risk assessment, scenario analysis etc.

There are several factors acting as a catalyst to the expansion of the CFO and the finance function's role within the enterprise.

1) CFO's and their organizations have taken the necessary steps and made the investments in skill development to broaden their business acumen and knowledge. Gone are the days, in most enterprises, where the finance function is viewed as 'bean counters' or accountants. The finance function and CFO office have demonstrated that they can be called upon as business counselors with a unique set of skills as well as a unique perspective on business challenges and opportunities.

2) The new generation of CFOs have now proven they are capable business partners possessing the ability to rapidly respond to dynamic business conditions and opportunities.

3) Executives throughout the organization have come to recognize the value and insight the CFO possess as a partner to the business in achieving the goals and objectives of the enterprise.

As a result, CFOs and the overall business executives have forged a much stronger working relationship and alliance benefitting the entire enterprise.

What technologies do you foresee having the greatest impact on the Finance Function in the future?

There are several technologies having an impact on the finance function. Some will prove to be beneficial while others will present a challenge. Artificial Intelligence (AI) as well as Big Data, which I prefer to refer to as smart data can both be useful tools in the Finance Function. Hacking technologies and other intrusive technologies will prove a challenge to the Finance Function.

AI and Smart Data will prove to be useful technologies in helping Finance develop more robust and accurate budgeting and forecasting. With AI and Smart Data tools finance will be able incorporate relevant real time external environmental factors into forecasts. These factors can be used to test business assumptions and help determine the impact on future financial performance. These technologies will prove useful in developing real time scenario analysis helpful in making resource allocation and investment decisions.

Conversely, hacking technologies will present a challenge to Finance. As the enterprise becomes more digital and more reliant on the on-line environment, company data is at risk to cyber-crimes and security breaches. The challenges range from business interruptions to ransomware. These challenges can place enterprise at credibility risk as well as financial exposure. Companies will call upon the Finance function as well as Technical Security Officers and others within the IT community to address these challenges and maintain a 24X7 vigilance to protect company assets and reputation.

What do you see as the Finance Function's in innovation of new products?

Product innovation needs business 'oxygen' to thrive and grow. Oxygen comes in the form of support, resource allocation and capital investment. Product innovation takes time and the enterprise needs a degree of patience in order for innovative products and or services to take root and begin adding to top line growth and profitability. Finance can be instrumental in working closely with the departments and or business divisions in thinking through the investments and resources to needed to actually bring the product to reality. Product and Service innovation are normally early stage initiatives best nurtured in incubation rather than organized to compete against legacy business. Finance can best support these future contributors to the business by developing financial and performance metrics that evaluate and assess progress rather than strict financial performance measures and metrics.

What do you foresee being the major risks you face at your company over the next year? What do you think presents the greatest challenge for finance leaders over the next year? Do you have any strategies in place to overcome these?

In addition to the technology challenge noted above in question 3, there are several risks we at Comtrade face this coming year. Like most companies in the technology space legacy businesses are under intense competitive pressures which impact margins. Look at perennial leaders in the outsourcing space such as Cognizant and Infosys. This is the first time in many years they face growth challenges. Comtrade faces similar challenges. However, we are actively addressing these challenges in 2018 and beyond.

Comtrade is an 'eclectic' technology firm in that we have a buy / resell technology division which is a legacy business with margin pressure and limited top line growth potential. Our software development business is based on an outsourcing model. We recognized the limitation of these models and have implemented strategies to overcome these challenges:

In our technology distribution business we have developed a systems integration model offering value-added installation, configuration and customization service offers leveraging our deep vendor relationships and technology stack expertise,

We have addressed our software development business risks through development of license IP, deeper vertical expertise, and forged strategic alliances with several partners,

We have actively expanded markets globally, and we launched a pure technology product company focused on back-up and recovery -Hycu working with Nutanix (the focus of my presentation at the CFO Rising Summit).

All of the above, we believe strongly, will help us compete successfully in this dynamic and highly competitive landscape. We as finance leaders must meet these challenges with an agile mindset organizational structure. Related to all the above Finance leaders will be challenged to respond rapidly to an ever changing and dynamic business environment. Meeting that challenge is critically important.

What advice would you have for young people looking to get into a finance career?

When choosing finance as a career, learn everything you can about the discipline and become the best finance professional you can be. But, remember you are a business professional first and chose finance as the stepping stone to a business career. Broaden your business horizons and learn to understand the other business disciplines as well.

What will you be discussing in your presentation? Is there anyone else you are particularly looking to hear from?

I will be discussing how to nurture a company within a company. My focus will be on our back-up and recovery division Hycu which was formerly called Comtrade Software. We have set this company up for a spin-out after several years supporting it during its incubation stage.

Ahead of his presentation at the CFO Rising East Summit in Boston on March 7 & 8, we spoke to Terry Curtis, CFO at Comtrade.


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