'The CFO Must Be Persuasive And Eloquent In Sending A Message That Can Receive Appropriate Attention'

Interview with Don Janezic, CFO of Bigelow Tea


Don Janezic is the CFO of Bigelow Tea, a position he has held for almost 30 years. Before taking a role at Bigelow, he was the CFO of Heminway and Bartlett Mfg and an accounting manager at KPMG Peat Marwick. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for a number of for-profit companies - both closely held and SEC registered - and a Board Member for several non-profit organizations.

We sat down with him ahead of his presentation at the CFO Rising Midwest Summit, taking place in Chicago this September 7th.

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

I was actually first enticed into finance while in my sophomore year at high school when a young teacher (we were all young back then!) made a pointed comment that 'if you want to get into an area in business where you can make good money, become a CPA.' Simple words back then, but I made that a goal which culminated in earning my CPA certificate 8 years later.

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

Certainly electronics has changed our careers dramatically and is the very obvious answer. However, equally - if not more importantly - is the mandate for finance leaders to become more 'forward facing' and a strategic partner to the CEO. The job has definitely evolved from a back room function to C-suite leadership. Being partner to the CEO in dealing directly with business partners, investors, and fellow executives has put the CFO as second, if not equal to, the CEO as a company leader.

Do you think executives' perceptions of finance leaders as accountants still prevent them taking up a role as a strategic partner in their organizations? If so, how can they overcome this?

Yes, perception is still not good in some instances. However, in those companies where the CFO has exhibited progressive and dynamic attention to strategic matters both for the company as a whole and between relationships with other C-suite partners, the perception is changing. It really depends on how CFOs are prepared to conduct their actions. Reality creates perception, perception is reality.

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What do you see as being the most important thing to consider when forecasting during a period of sustained growth? What else can finance leaders do to drive growth?

Sustained growth creates problems with regard to adequacy of capital, both financial and human. Being able to adequately project and adhere to plan, making adjustments as necessary will help improve credibility with the financial capital market place.

To help drive growth, finance leaders must become strategic growth partner when providing timely pertinent and predictive financial data - with emphasis on the predictive part.

What do you see as the finance function’s role in innovation of new products?

Understand the composition of the product, the costs needed to create, market, sell and distribute the new product or service and then keep all levels of management advised of gaps that occur to prevent success. While it sound perfunctory, the message delivered must be direct and strong in cases were exception exists and the CFO must be persuasive and eloquent in sending a message that can receive appropriate attention – it cannot be another spreadsheet with minor red flags.

Do you see new technology as having made your life easier, or has it also introduced new complexities? Which technologies do you think will have a major impact on your role this year?

There was a time when technology was justified by converting manual effort to electronic and reducing costs. Today, technology is not just adding complexities and made life easier, it presents opportunity. Opportunity that is justified by providing more analyzable data, effective transfer of information, and timely communication. Web-based systems ('cloud') and project management tools that permit online traceable collaboration.

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

Major challenges include successful brand and product development in a very competitive consumer market within the constraints of being a relatively small company with limited resources. Also maintaining effective technology in a secure and retrievable environment is an area of high risk.

The greatest challenges is keeping up, if not ahead, of a rapidly changing global environment. The job will no longer be as insular.

Strategies are always being planned and executed using outside resources to help guide, direct and advise.

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

My presentation will be focused on providing and interesting, cost-effective, and sustainable opportunity to creatively manage risk in three defined areas: workers compensation, general liability and automobile (rolling stock) liability. It will open minds and provide interesting alternatives that are out of the normal scope and boredom of business insurance.

You can hear from other industry leading finance leaders like Don at the CFO Rising Midwest Summit. View the agenda here.

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