Name: Michael Durney
Education: State University of New York at Oswego
Company headquarters: New York City
Revenue: Approximately US$127 million for fiscal 2010
Countries of operation: U.S., U.K., Singapore, Dubai, Australia
Number of employees: About 320
Number of direct reports: 6
Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I started my post-college career in public accounting at Arthur Young & Company before it was Ernst & Young, to give you some idea of how long ago that was. I started there in the mid-'80s and I was there for about five-and-a-half years. And then I had the opportunity to take a job with one of my clients, which was Univision, back in its formative days.
From a career path standpoint, I like to do different things, so after I worked at Univision for about six years I had a progression of CFO jobs at relatively small companies for about two years each. Then, I had an opportunity to be a CFO of this Internet portal company called EarthWeb. That evolved into Dice Holdings.
Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
I think probably the most influential person post-public accounting was the CFO of Univision [George Blank], who was my first boss after I left public accounting. He gave me the opportunity to fill a role that was created for me. I became the comptroller of the whole Univision company.
From an experience standpoint, his style was to let me do what I thought was right with very little direct involvement from him. From a leadership style, I think it involved me in doing a lot of things I wouldn't have otherwise had the opportunity to do.
What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
I think for our business -- and this may be slightly different for other spaces -- but our business is doing pretty well in this environment, so I see the biggest challenge for us today is where to invest to keep growing and where to invest either geographically or in new vertical opportunities. I think in a lot of respects it's easier for CFOs to manage in downturns because you can just say no to a lot of things. Here, we have a lot of opportunities and it's harder for me to decide where to put our resources.
More generally, regulation [is a challenge for CFOs]. There's the Dodd-Frank bill, there's Sarbanes-Oxley, there's the health-care reform. There are international rules -- there are different rules for doing business in different places. I think one of the biggest challenges is managing all of those.
What is a good day at work like for you?
For me, it's to interact with as many of our business operations and as many of our people as possible. A good day for me is half pre-planned items I have to deal with and half unplanned. When I look at my calendar and see a lot of planned things, it may be interesting, but it's not as much fun for me. To me, dealing with unplanned opportunities is more interesting. I like a combination of the expected and unexpected.
How would you characterize your management style?
If I think about words that would describe me, at least in my view, I think I'm supportive of people that work for me. I like to let people do what they want to do, but I find myself to be overly supportive of people who report to me, which sometimes gets me in trouble, but I do it. I like to let people have an opportunity to do new things. One of the things I've always done when we have turnover is to reassess what we do and to restructure. I like to look at different structures [for employees and their roles].
I think I'm relatively fair. I don't think I'm too far one way or the other in terms of pushing people too hard, yet I push them to make sure they have an opportunity to do the best they can.
What strengths/qualities do you look for in job candidates?
I tend to look for a fair amount of positive personality traits, as best you can [in an interview]. I think at some level if we do background checks that will determine whether the person can do the job. But I think fit in an organization is important. I look for people that when you ask them a question their answer is not too long. I see [long answers] as a sign of relative discomfort with a question. I am not a big fan of people not being direct -- I am quite direct with people. I think that goes hand-in-hand with answers being too long.
When i speak to students on campus occasionally [at SUNY Oswego], I talk about the chances to work with people you like and to get along -- I think that's important. When I interview somebody, I want to have a sense that the person will fit in and that others will like to work with that person.
What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company?
Generally, the first question I ask somebody is, "what do you like to do and how do you judge success for yourself?" My interview style is typically conversational. You can learn a lot about someone just having a conversation that is work-related.
What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?
The biggest one is what appears to be a canned answer about something like, "doing what it takes to get the job done" or "whatever you wish me to do or work on." So, if the question is "what do you like to do?" and the answer is "whatever you tell me," that to me is a canned answer.
When I ask somebody what they would like to know from me [about the company or the job], having typical interviewee questions from them is not a red flag, but a sign that this is just part of a process, as opposed to somebody who can be actively engaged.
What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I'm a big sports fan. I like to watch sporting events and I like to go to sporting events -- football, basketball, hockey. I like watching my kids play sports, although I only have one left in high school. And I play tennis.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
I think about that occasionally. I always would like to have pursued being an architect.
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