Video: The Role of the CFO in Times of Business Uncertainty
Got 5 minutes? Emerge Stronger: Executive Insights for Uncertain Times is a weekly video series where we share perspectives on what we’re hearing from clients and the market about what companies are doing to navigate these challenging times and plan ahead for success.
Watch here, or continue for the full transcript.
RODERICK CARMODY: Hi, I’m Rodrick Carmody and today’s topic is the role of the CFO in times of business uncertainty. My guest today is Todd Ford, the CFO of Coupa.
Todd, thanks for joining me.
TODD FORD: Thanks for having me, Roderick.
RODERICK CARMODY: Absolutely. And to get us started, would you mind providing a short overview of Coupa?
TODD FORD: Coupa is a business spend management platform – SaaS – Software as a Service – that helps companies manage all elements of spend, whether it be procurement, invoicing, expenses, and then other things, such as strategic sourcing and contract lifecycle management. So, the full suite of business spend management solutions in one technology platform.
RODERICK CARMODY: Excellent. Thanks, Todd. My first question is what was it like throwing out the first pitch of the San Francisco Giants game? I saw the video and it looks like you’ve got a pretty strong fastball.
TODD FORD: Yes, it was unexpected. I’ve been lifelong Giants fan. And one of my claims to fame is I pitched against Barry Bonds in high school. So being able to throw out the first pitch was a little bit nerve wracking, quite frankly, because there’s no upside. If you throw a good pitch, everyone expects it; if you throw a bad pitch, you hear about it for the rest of your life.
RODERICK CARMODY: Very good. It was a nice pitch, but my compliments. Thanks.
My first real question is, Coupa is not only surviving, but thriving against the current backdrop with your market cap and doubling since January 1st. I’m curious, as CFO, what actions did you and your team take to survive the immediate shock of the pandemic?
TODD FORD: Obviously the pandemic caught a lot of people off guard. And really, the first core element was to make sure that the company could continue to operate right from a dev ops perspective – a work-from-home perspective. But we really looked at it as an opportunity, quite frankly, from a business resiliency perspective.
If you look at the past few economic downturns and the financial crisis, and the dotcom crisis, there has been a lot of work done by Harvard and McKinsey with respect to the companies that continue to invest in R and D, go to market and acquisitions. We’ve done a couple of acquisitions during the pandemic that come out stronger for extended periods of time – like 10 years-plus.
So that’s really how we looked at it: stabilize the business and then position ourselves for long-term success.
RODERICK CARMODY: As the events have unfolded since then, and the world seems to be changing day to day, how are you and your CFO peers positioned to change your strategy on the fly and still make decisions with confidence, but also quickly?
TODD FORD: A lot of that depends on the companies and where they are on their digital transformation journey. Quite frankly, having the ability, the visibility and control, and the agility to change to the continuing market conditions, macro and micro, socio-economic, whatever it might be, and being able to make the investments that are going to create the longest-term shareholder value. But you need to have the right people process and systems in place to do that.
RODERICK CARMODY: That’s great. In your opinion, why is now, of all times – the summer of 2020 – the best times for CFOs to assume greater roles of leadership at their organizations?
TODD FORD: Anytime you’re in a storm, which we are, you want to have somebody that’s got a steady hand on the wheel, and the CFO has full visibility into the organization. It’s the steward of the company’s capital, which is its lifeline. And being able to help the organization understand where they are from an operational perspective and where to invest incremental dollars – or maybe pull back in some cases, as well. You’re giving them the dashboards by which to operate their business, and also instill confidence within your employees, your stakeholders, your prospects, and your customers.
RODERICK CARMODY: Todd, as a CFO who took Coupa and other companies public, what advice would you have for other CFOs that may have had visions of going public in 2020, but now find themselves in the middle of a global pandemic?
TODD FORD: The easy part is going public; the hard part is being a public company. Whether it’s a pandemic or not, I would always say, wait until you’re ready. If you’re going to make any mistakes, you want to make them as a private company, and the pandemic has given you the opportunity to make sure that you are in your people, processes and systems. And if you go into next year and things do improve, the current year during the pandemic should provide a good compare for you from which to launch an IPO.
RODERICK CARMODY: Let’s go back to when a younger Todd Ford assumed his first CFO role. What advice would you give him to make sure that he has accrued the proper skill sets for today’s modern CFO role?
TODD FORD: If you look at the role of the CFO, there are two parts backwards looking, which is a little bit more technical, and forward looking, which is very much operational. I call it the sixth sense, where you should invest in incremental dollar value to optimize shareholder value.
So I would say get as much operational expertise as you can. And then as you continue to build your team – you’re only as strong as your team and always hire people that are smarter than you. And I’ve been very fortunate at Coupa to have a very strong team, which has enabled us to scale and grow in a very rapid fashion within the six years that I’ve been here.
RODERICK CARMODY: Excellent. Well, Todd, thank you very much for your time today. I really appreciate your thoughts and insights. Have a great one, and go Giants.
TODD FORD: Great. Thank you for having me.