Name: Joe Freda
Time with company: 4 years
Education: Bachelor of Arts in economics, University of Illinois; Master of Science in accountancy and MBA, DePaul University
Company headquarters: Schaumburg, Illinois
Revenue: $172 million
Countries of operation: U.S., U.K., Hong Kong, Australia, Japan
Number of employees total: 500
Number of employees the CFO oversees: 35
CFO's areas of responsibility: All areas of finance (financial reporting, budgeting and planning, treasury, cash management, taxes) plus oversight of the legal function
About the company: Flexera Software provides application usage management software and services.
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I began my career with Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) in audit services, serving clients primarily in the software and technology industries. I left public accounting for a senior financial management role with a large software company, which led to further roles of increasing responsibility with other organizations (mostly software) before landing at Flexera Software as CFO.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
I have worked for several really good bosses and have gleaned some lessons and guidance from each. One in particular showed me that leading is about respect -- getting it from your team only after you give it to them first. When people on his management team did something really well, he praised their success. When they made a mistake, he never yelled at or demeaned them -- the focus was on using it as a learning experience to ensure they did not make that mistake again. Respect for every individual on the team was what mattered most, no matter the value of the role they filled at the company.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
After the economic downturn in 2008/2009, the pressure is greater than ever to "do more with less" and reduce costs in the finance function (and across the enterprise in general), so there is greater focus on process improvement, financial automation and operating efficiency. And yet CFOs are also expected to be a strategic partner to the CEO and executive team and provide a broader perspective than just financial matters. It's a difficult balancing act.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
Since no two days are ever the same, that's difficult to say, however, the best days are those where I leave knowing I made a positive impact on the business, or, better yet, a positive impact on one of the members of my team by helping them solve a difficult issue or coaching them to help them improve their performance.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
I am a big believer in providing good direction and guidance to my management team, then getting out of their way to do their jobs to the best of their abilities and to fully utilize the talents and skills they possess. I am not a "100,000 foot" type of manager but neither am I down in the weeds. I operate somewhere in between. One of the most important aspects of being a CFO is risk management, so I need to ensure I am aware of a lot of things going on across Flexera Software, which requires involvement in many facets of the company's operations. And that requires me to place reliance on my team to be able to manage the details day to day and provide me with input and feedback on the key issues they are dealing with.
6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?
A candidate needs to meet the basic financial skills to perform the job -- that's a given. Most of my focus is on cultural fit with the organization and ensuring they are good communicators -- both in delivering information as well as being good listeners as part of the team. I want people on my team to provide their honest and candid assessment of issues, that's critical to the financial integrity of the company, so they need to be comfortable and professional in that communication.
7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?
The best way to solicit the information I am trying to gather is through situational interviewing, making the candidate describe in great detail how they have addressed a particular issue or scenario I provide them. You can quickly gain insight into their thought processes and decision-making ability, plus the conversational nature of this interviewing causes people to open up and share more about their background, style, etcetera. The red flags go up as soon as I get answers that show the candidate is not team focused or does not appear to be a good listener. The interview is done at that point.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
The chemistry of the executive team is better than I have seen anywhere else in my career. We don't always agree on issues -- and that's a good thing -- but we find ways to reach consensus and make the right decision for the company. We all have a strong belief that the success of Flexera Software is tied to the success of each and every employee and we make decisions accordingly. And the culture is one of celebrating our successes, so we know how to have fun as well. I have never enjoyed a role in my career as much as this one.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I try to spend as much time as possible with my family to make up for the long hours and extensive travel. So that means making it to one of my son's soccer or volleyball games or getting time with my daughter at an event at her nearby university. The best way is laughing and joking with my wife and kids over a nice meal.
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
While getting my master's at DePaul, I was exposed to some adjunct faculty who were former CFOs. They provided me with great insights and perspective about being a financial leader. When I am done with being a CFO, I would love to provide that same insight and perspective to university students as an adjunct professor. And hopefully one with some really good sports teams!
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