Welcome to the next in our series of “5 Questions With…,” an article series that profiles CFO RoundTable members as they share their thoughts on their careers and professional development. 

Steve Wasserman, Early Stage CFOAs CFO, Steve is responsible for financial stewardship of the company. Steve has more than 30 years of experience in finance and accounting at numerous companies including small and mid-sized businesses; public and private corporations, including turn-around, international and start-up environments.  

Prior to AppNeta, Steve held roles including CFO at Memento, Inc., CFO at Constant Contact, Inc., and CFO Med-i-Bank, Inc. In addition to his role at AppNeta, Steve is an Adjunct Professor of Finance at Bentley University and a member of the board at Byallacounts, Inc. Steve holds an M.B.A from Babson College and a B.B.A from the University of Michigan.

 

Describe your career path for us.

While at the University of Michigan, I realized that I didn’t like auditing and didn’t want to go into public accounting.  As a result, I focused my job search on treasury and finance work and ended up starting my career as a financial analyst.  After two financial analyst roles, I then moved to EG&G, Inc.  I was at EG&G for nearly 16 years in multiple roles and was able to get hands-on operational accounting along with additional treasury experience there.

I consider my time at EG&G (now Perkin Elmer, NYSE: PKI) as my professional growth time, and I credit the former Treasurer and CFO as my guides through those years. Like many young professionals, I spent nearly all of my time trying to be the best technical professional that I could be.

While at EG&G, one of my responsibilities was to prepare a quarterly slide deck for board meetings.  The CFO would call me into his office and have me sit with him while he paged through and discussed the presentations. It frustrated me immensely at the time, because I had a lot of work to do.  It wasn’t until later that I realized he was doing me a tremendous favor. The lesson he imparted to me, without ever directly saying it, was that while the numbers were important, it was as important how the numbers and information was communicated to the board.  He taught me how to present to boards.

With those skills in hand, and after a few other roles, I decided to look for my first CFO position.  I joined a publicly held company with about $24 million in revenue and about $10 million in net losses. Working with the management team, we were able to help turn the company around and sell it for $100 million. As typically happens after a company is acquired, my position was eliminated and I began looking for my next CFO role.

Since that time, I have had several CFO positions and been involved in several exits. Needless to say, just like any other CFO, I’ve had some hits, and I’ve had some misses. However, as the number of successful exits that I was involved with increased, it became easier to find new CFO roles.   In both my hits and misses, I believe that I have contributed positively in some way to every company.

What have been some of the ‘hits’ that you’ve found the most interesting?

One that I’m asked frequently about is my time with Constant Contact. I joined the company in 2005 when it generated less than $15 million in revenue, and was part of the team that grew the company to well in excess of $100 million in revenue. While I was part of the IPO team, I certainly didn’t envision an IPO exit when I joined the company. Constant Contact looked like a great company with strong prospects and I was excited at the prospect of helping it to grow. However, with the support of our board, we realized that we did have the business model and performance that were required to have a successful IPO and be a successful public company. The team outlined a path to IPO, and the rest is history.

After Constant Contact, I’ve been fortunate enough to join a few earlier-stage companies which are (and were) focused on building their foundations for growth, including AppNeta.

And where do you see yourself going from here?

While I absolutely enjoy working side-by-side with entrepreneurial teams to help companies grow, I’ve also found it personally rewarding to mentor through other avenues, such as teaching.

Teaching is something that I’ve always wanted to do.  I currently teach an MBA finance class at Bentley University that is geared for students with no prior business education. My students include part-time students including engineers, sales professionals and mental health professionals as well as full-time students many of which studied engineering in another country.  I get a great deal of satisfaction watching the students master the basics of finance.  

Earlier this semester, I bumped into a former student.  She told me that she and the other students who had taken my class last semester were doing well with their finance classes this semester, whereas the students that had not taken my class were finding the classes to be very difficult.   

That must be so inspiring for you. What do you enjoy the most about your profession these days?

What gets me excited is solving problems, identifying business trends, and creating order from disorder.  I enjoy going diving into the frenetic environment of an early-stage company and helping it grow and prosper.

Equally as much, I enjoy mentoring people. I enjoy seeing people become better professionals and advance in their careers.  I felt great when two former direct reports recently took positions as CFOs of early stage companies.   

That’s fantastic. Of course I have to ask, what’s the one thing that you could do without?

Reading legal contracts. Having a General Counsel is a luxury at early-stage companies, and quite frankly, I can’t wait for us to get to that point.

The CFO landscape changes all the time. How do you keep yourself educated on the latest developments that affect your profession?

Communicating with my network is the primary way I keep myself up on the latest developments in my profession.  I am an active member of the CFO Roundtable (which you know) and HTFEN.  Both of these groups are helpful in understanding what my peers are dealing with as well as getting advice and perspectives.

I’d love to end this by asking you to describe your ‘Aha!’ moment, or a crowning achievement to your career thus far.

The crowning moment of my career definitely was the successful IPO at Constant Contact. The team at Constant Contact executed the IPO well and its success has increased by name recognition with the venture capital community and retained search professionals.  

 

Our thanks to Steve for his time and thoughts, and be sure to stay tuned for more “5 Questions With…” interviews!

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