October 2, 2014
I recently attended a CFO RoundTable event at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. I had heard positive reviews about the organization so when Ethan Carlson, CEO of Carlson Management Consulting, asked me to take his place due to a business trip abroad, I jumped at the chance. I was very impressed with the well-attended event. The keynote presentation was provided by Bob Bixby of the Concord Coalition, who spoke in a sobering yet often humorous manner about the growing debt crisis in the country. I also had the opportunity to meet Becky Blackler, the Executive Director of the CFO RoundTable, and followed up with her to learn more about the organization that she directs.
David: Hi Becky, can you tell us about the history and mission of the CFO RoundTable?
Becky: The CFO RoundTable was founded in the Boston area by Jack McCullough in 2006. Jack had been the CFO of a technology start up and was dissatisfied with the networking and education opportunities for CFOs in the area. Most events were focused on big companies and were heavily attended by service providers. He decided to establish the CFO RoundTable based on a simple model: use people’s time wisely, minimize the number of sponsors, and create quality content based on the needs and suggestions of members. The model has clearly worked as it has gone from 20 members meeting informally to four operating chapters with over 400 members. Each chapter has a steering committee comprising CFOs or senior executives that design the content. The committee asks members what topics they want to cover and then creates the program based on their feedback.
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Since launching new chapters in different cities, what we’ve found is that no two programs are the same. For example, a popular program of ours is “The Habits of Highly Effective CFOs,” which we’ve produced in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. While the speaker profiles are generally the same, the areas in which our CFOs like to focus the discussion are very different, which leads to a more robust discussion on the role of the CFO and best practices to improve.
But no matter where we go, we’ve kept our model simple – ask our members what they want, and then deliver it to the best of our ability. If they want to meet early in the morning, we’ll do that. If they like evening events, or would prefer to have more networking time as opposed to education, we’ll do that as well.
David: Can you tell us about your background and how you got involved?
Becky: I’ve been involved with the CFO RoundTable for almost five years. I have a background in marketing and worked primarily in high tech public relations and marketing positions. In 2009, I started a marketing consultancy to get a better balance in my professional and personal life. Serendipitously, the CFO RoundTable was my first client. Initially, my role started at the administrative level, and keep in mind that we only had one chapter at the time. Over time, working hand-in-hand with Jack, I took on greater leadership with the group, and was offered the opportunity to lead the organization on a full-time basis. While I wear many hats, I’m primarily responsible for running the Boston, New York and Philadelphia chapters, corporate marketing of the organization, and assisting in the creation of new chapters as they come.
David: What are some of the key issues that are top of mind for CFOs?
Interestingly, many of our CFOs are looking to enhance their communications and leadership skills. They want to constantly improve upon their business partnerships with their teams, and wipe away that stigma of ‘business preventer’. So in addition to topical issues of finance, they want to develop complementary skills related to emotional and political intelligence.
We’re also seeing a lot of interest in the idea of big data, or better data analytics. There is so much data available to consume, and pulling key metrics and tangibles out of the mess is quite a challenge for CFOs. Their job is to tell a story with the numbers that helps propel the business forward. However, finding the processes to automate that data collection and analysis is tough – after all, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Finally, we always see a lot of growth-related programs – whether it’s acquisition strategies, going global, building an infrastructure to support growth, hiring and retention strategies, I would say that our CFOs are singularly focused on intelligently scaling their enterprises.
David: Can you tell us about some memorable events at CFO RoundTable meetings?
Becky: There as so many which makes being a part of this organization so much fun. The people that you meet are so thoughtful, kind and funny. One of the great things about the CFO RoundTable is that the members can relax and be themselves. This type of environment is very conducive to memorable events.
One such event was our annual conference two years ago. Brigadier General Darryl Williams, Assistant Surgeon General of Warrior Care and Transition and Commander of the Warrior Transition Command, US Army, gave the keynote presentation. He talked about the physical and emotional damage that our service members have to deal with upon their return from deployment. He related, in a very personal and powerful way, stories about how wounded warriors were able to overcome their struggles. The message that people could prosper again after such incredible adversity was very inspiring. It was the first time that I’ve seen 300 plus CFOs sitting still and being completely absorbed in a speech, and it’s also the first time I’ve seen every single one of them rise to their feet for a standing ovation at the end of his talk
What’s more memorable is really our members, and their inherent kindness and willingness to give. Jack and I are both incredibly passionate about helping our local communities. We believe in supporting the communities that help to support us, so we use every advantage that we can to help raise funds for local charities that we believe in. So when we hold our conferences, we choose a local charity that we’re passionate for, and ask our members to donate. Time and time again, our members have blown us away – in the past, we’ve raised $20,000 for Autism Speaks and $30,000 for The Wounded Warriors Project.
This year, we chose Birthday Wishes, a local non-profit that provides birthday parties for homeless children in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Long Island. Last year, they provided 18,000 birthday parties for kids. This year, they are on track to host 24,000 birthday parties. It’s important to remind kids, especially those who are disadvantaged, that they are special. We partnered with Birthday Wishes and created a dollar-to-dollar matching program with our members. We even upped the ante a little, and promised that we would do something special if our members raised a certain amount of money (for example, Jack and I would hula-hoop if we raised $3,000). At our cocktail hour following the conference, we proudly announced that we raised over $10,000 for Birthday Wishes, which was above and beyond our goal.
And of course, as we promised our members, since we surpassed our goal, we all dressed as superheroes for Birthday Wishes’ Annual CakeWalkevent. I was Wonder Woman, Jack was Superman, and our Marketing Director, Kristin Todd, was Batgirl. We were joined by our families and friends who also dressed up and joined us for a 5K walk to celebrate the organization. Nothing beats having fun while supporting a worthwhile cause.
David: So what are the future plans for the CFO RoundTable?
We continue to expand based on the success of our existing chapters. In addition to our two Boston chapters, we have chapters in New York City, Philadelphia, and are starting chapters in Atlanta and Washington D.C..
While we are growing our organization, this is very much an organic process. Our approach to growth is designed to ensure our high standards and to make sure that we are meeting or exceeding member expectations. We will continue to focus on offering unique and valuable programming for our members in all of our chapters.
David: Thanks for your time Becky and I look forward to your upcoming events!
For more information about the CFO RoundTable and their upcoming events, please visit www.thecforoundtable.com.