June 2, 2009

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2009 CFO of the Year

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Article

2009 CFO of the Year

Financial Champions

By Sarah Ryther-Francom

June 2, 2009


With a struggling national and local economy, today’s CFOs play an increasingly vital role in securing a corporation’s future. Our CFO of the Year award recipients take on that challenging role and go beyond it, working side-by-side their CEOs to ensure their company’s short-term and long-term success. Though our honorees’ careers have directed them across diverse paths—some beginning with large accounting firms, others putting down roots in the public or nonprofit sector—one thing is clear: the day of the back office bean counter is long gone. Private - Small Blake Wright Architectural Design West, P.C. When Blake Wright was hired for his first summer job at age 16 at Architectural Design West, little did he know he’d one day be leading the 117-year-old company. After receiving his MBA from Utah State University, Wright joined Design West in 1992 to head its landscape architecture department. After proving his determination to see the company succeed, Wright was named CFO in 2001—a time when the company was going through severe hardship. Upon his appointment as CFO, Wright took the company from years of revenue drops to revenue increases of more than 120 percent from 2004 to 2008, with a 42 percent increase during 2008 alone. In addition, the company’s overhead rate was 15 percent less in 2008 than it was prior to 2003. “My appreciation of Design West’s legacy and heritage and a drive to see it continue for at least another 120 years gets me out of bed most mornings,” he says. Private – Small Morgan Brown Lifetree Clinical Research Morgan Brown led Salt Lake-based Lifetree Clinical Research to experience 40 percent growth during 2008, a time when similar companies were hitting the brakes. As CFO, Brown strives to play a leading role in the company’s overall success beyond its financial aspects. “The role of the CFO is more than just that of leading the finance and accounting departments,” he says. “Although this is an important aspect of the CFO’s role, it is almost expected that the CFO be an expert here, and contribute in other ways to the success of the company. The CFO…is responsible for the strategic and operational direction of the company.” Brown says much of his success as CFO is the relationship he maintains with Lifetree’s CEO, Alice Jackson. “The CFO should be the ‘right hand’ of the CEO and support the position and initiatives brought forward by the CEO,” he says. Private – Small Reyn Gallacher | Amedica With more than 20 years of financial experience in both public and private companies, Amedica’s Reyn Gallacher says key to his success is the ability to adapt to changes in the market. “You have to understand what is going on in the marketplace and be able to spot those changes as they are occurring,” he says. “While overseeing all financial aspects of a company is still a critical aspect of a CFO’s role, today’s CFO must also be a business strategist in guiding the company’s direction.” Gallacher’s take-charge attitude has equaled success for Amedica, according to Ashok Khandkar, the company’s CEO and president. “In the current economic climate, it is natural that business leaders and CFOs in particular, are less optimistic. Reyn is an outlier amongst his peers. With due credit to Reyn’s stewardship of our company’s cash and general operating management skills, Amedica is bucking the trend…sales have grown steadily at over 50 percent month over month,” Khandkar says. Private – Medium Ben Henderson | CLEARLINK Ben Henderson, CFO and in-house counsel for CLEARLINK, says the challenging times he’s experienced have led to his, and CLEARLINK’s, success. “As many young companies experience, it became very difficult, from a cash-flow perspective, to try to grow [CLEARLINK] when it was nearly all we could do just to survive,” he recalls. “We got ourselves into a fairly significant cash crunch, and had to come up with a variety of creative ways to pay vendors and employees, largely through us, as a group of owners, tapping into home-equity lines and other resources to keep the business afloat. It wasn’t so much how we overcame this challenge, but what I learned in the process as far as dialing in to what really drives profitability in our company and learning how to forecast cash-flow and future business activities that really had a significant effect on our ability to achieve substantial profitability in later years.” Today, CLEARLINK has experienced record growth. The company went from experiencing approximately $200,000 in net profit in 2007 off $12 million in revenues to achieving roughly $4.5 million in profit on $22 million in revenue—a profit margin of more than 20 percent. Private – Medium Matt Frost The Buckner Company Since joining The Buckner Company in 2002, Matt Frost has led the firm to more than 650 percent growth, says CEO Terry Buckner. “Matt has been deeply involved in the design and implementation of upgraded financial standards and procedures allowing for that growth,” says Buckner. Spending much of his childhood on a Minnesota farm, Frost says nothing can replace traditional hard work, adding that today’s CFO should consider himself or herself a key advisor to the company. “As a CFO one needs to be more of a generalist, doing not as much detailed work in preparation of financials, but more in the area of the company’s framework for internal controls and the strategy and growth of the company,” he says. “I see the CFO now as infusing in the organization a high level of ethics and integrity, managing risk and providing sound financial reporting and business strategy skills.” Private – Medium Jon Pexton | Interbank FX Though Interbank FX is the smallest company Jon Pexton has ever worked for as a CFO, his position at the Salt Lake-based company is one of his most challenging and rewarding. “As a finance guy I am used to wearing a lot of hats, but at Interbank FX I am wearing even more,” Pexton says. “I am part of a very collaborative management team. We discuss and consult with each other often. So that gives me an opportunity to get deeply involved in every aspect of the business, from marketing, to customer service, technology, sales and compliance…and that is in addition to being responsible for the finance, accounting, legal and human resource issues.” And under Pexton’s leadership, the company is booming. Last year, Interbank FX generated more than $60 million in revenues and doubled its trading revenues. The company also added more than 20,000 new customer accounts in 2008. Private – Large Kent D. Stratford L.W. Miller Companies While many transportation companies struggled to survive last year, Kent Stratford positioned L.W. Miller Companies on the road to success, according to President Larry W. Miller. During 2008, the company experienced approximately $100 million annually in revenue, increasing by 10 percent. Stratford says he faced one of his most trying challenges when fuel prices soared last year. But instead of hunkering down, the company utilized creative strategies to turn the potential crisis into an opportunity. “We implemented at least five different strategies to control costs which had a cumulative annualized savings of over $1 million.” Beyond creativity, Stratford says another trait of a successful CFO is flexibility. “When one avenue closes, what other avenues open up as a result? Don’t become so entrenched in a single process that you aren’t willing to look at it from a different perspective. Be willing to look at opportunities in areas that we previously hadn’t looked at before,” he says. Private – Large Dallis Christensen The Layton Companies As CFO of The Layton Companies, Dallis Christensen says there’s not a function of the business that he doesn’t feel a part of. “It’s really hard to find any part of the business that isn’t financial,” he says. “The CFO and CEO are working in concert to run the company. I may be more focused on the financial side of the company, but there isn’t one part of the company that I don’t feel isn’t my responsibility.” Christensen says 2008 was a great success for Layton. “Last year was a record year in any way measurable—revenue, profit, number of projects, size of projects—it was a record year. It was profitable, yet we did some things that we never did before.” In 2008, the company’s revenues grew by 23.3 percent and its net income grew by 35 percent. The Layton Companies also became the largest commercial contractor in the state of Utah with almost $1 billion in revenue, and became the 80th largest commercial contractor in the U.S. Private – Large Don McGee Clyde Companies, Inc. Though the economy has hit the construction industry especially hard, Don McGee of the Clyde Companies views today’s economic troubles as an opportunity for a stronger tomorrow. “The bump in the economy has given us the opportunity to evaluate where we are and what we need to change to remain an industry leader and a top performing company in the economy of today,” he says. McGee, who is celebrating his 30th year with Clyde Companies this year, says he’s positioned the company for a healthy future by working closely with the executive team. “At one time the CFO was simply a reporting mechanism to management. I now observe that most CFOs are an integral part of the management team,” he says. “There is a great team at my company and I know that we can solve any problem, resolve any issue and correct any error by working together. The management team at Clyde Companies depends on each other every day.” Public – Small Martin F. Petersen Raser Technologies, Inc. As CFO of Raser Technologies, Martin Petersen has been an integral part of securing more than $185 million for the energy technology company, including $51 million of project financing for Utah’s first geothermal power plant built in more than 20 years. A proven business leader and financier, Petersen helped Raser complete its first power plan in Beaver County in 2008 and finalize plans to develop seven power plants in neighboring states. Petersen says the company’s environmental innovation and diligence will see it through the tough times. “Despite challenging economic conditions and tumultuous capital markets, exploiting the green aspects of our business and how we can help the nation achieve energy independence has helped us overcome some of the challenges others face in this difficult environment,” he says. “We have made significant progress toward achieving this goal in 2008 and look forward to a bright, environmentally friendly future.” Public – Medium Kay Hall Zions First National Bank In a time where banks have experienced considerable losses, Kay Hall has positioned Zions First National Bank to overcome the challenges, says Scott Anderson, CEO and president of Zions. “Zions’ performance in 2008 was remarkable compared to what was going on with the economy and in the banking industry,” Hall says, pointing out that the bank ended 2008 with a net income of $106.7 million. “I attribute that to strong management, good fundamental risk measurements and making sure that Zions Bank keeps its focus on what’s important.” Hall, who started at Zions 20 years ago in its internal auditing department, is considered key to the bank’s success. “Hall has the unique ability to couple his analytical skills with exceptional interpersonal skills,” says Anderson. “He understands at the end of every number is an employee or a shareholder, and works to create value for all the groups he interacts with.” Public – Large Walton B. Booker L-3 Communications West As CFO of L-3 Communications West for more than 20 years, Walton Booker says his responsibility has shifted from being a traditional accountant to being an integral part of the executive team. “The job has gone from being a ‘green eyeshade’ accountant to one that is almost physically attached to the CEO,” he says, adding a bit of advice for the young CFO. “You need to be [the CEO’s] best advisor; you need to help them run the business. You should feel you are as responsible for the well being of the business as they do.” Last year, L-3 Communications West grew orders by 15 percent, sales by 17 percent and profits by 28 percent. The company also added more than 200 employees; today it employs approximately 3,000 Utahns. Booker says the company is positioned to keep growing during the economic trouble. “I love the risk as long as I know the odds are in my favor,” Booker says. “If you have world-class products, fair prices, good business practices and industrious, innovative employees the odds will be in your favor to be successful.” Government Linda Makin Utah Valley University When Linda Makin started at Utah Valley University nearly 30 years ago as an administrative assistant, she quickly found a passion for higher education. After receiving her master’s degree in public administration from Brigham Young University and working in various financial positions, Makin was named executive director of planning and budget and is considered a key player in UVU’s executive team. As CFO, Makin says she asks herself one question before making financial decisions: How will the decision affect the institution’s mission? “At UVU, the plans drive the budget—the budget does not drive the plan. With that philosophy in place we have some guiding principals to help us make cuts or changes. My goal is to use our resources in ways that will help the institution and students,” Makin says, adding that she’s facing the economic turmoil head-on. “When we think of challenging times like the one that we’re in, we think in the negative. But challenging times tend to be very positive.” Government Val Peterson Utah Valley University As vice president for administration and legislative affairs for Utah Valley University, Val Peterson oversees numerous aspects of the institution’s finances, says Elizabeth Hitch, interim president of UVU. “Val Peterson knows how every penny is spent and oversees the campus business operations,” she says. “He also has responsibility for all of the facilities on campus, from the time they are placed on the master plan, until they are designed, built and operational.” Last year was an exciting, but challenging time for the institution as it officially became a university. Merely months after the institution received the status change, the economic downfall hit, forcing major funding cuts. Together with Linda Makin, Peterson was able to keep the university financially strong despite a slimmer budget and increased student enrollment. “Linda and I worked closely to make sure that our institution was solvent…making sure we stayed within our budgets and expectations.” Government Rich Anderson | Logan City While many cities across the nation are struggling to survive today’s economic storm, Rich Anderson has positioned Logan City to excel. In recent months Logan has been named one of the nation’s strongest cities, having the second lowest unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Labor Department. But the picture wasn’t always rosy for the city. In 2003, Logan faced a negative fund balance of 2 percent and a ballooning debt. Under Anderson’s financial lead-ership, the city’s general fund reserves rose to 18 percent and all deficit balances were paid off by 2008. “We overcame this seemingly overwhelming issue through constant vigilance and teamwork. Not a minute passed when I was not thinking about how we could fix the problems we were facing,” Anderson says. “A good CFO needs to have a vision and direction for the future of the organization and an ability to communicate this vision to others.” Non-profit Sue Skanchy Utah Food Bank Services Sue Skanchy, CFO of Utah Food Bank Services, says though her position can be challenging at times, helping the community is worth every moment of stress. “I have the responsibility to manage funds donated by our community, grants from corporations and foundations and funds awarded by government sources,” she says. “I take very seriously the source of these funds and the trust that these donors have placed in our hands to ensure their money is used for the purpose intended.” While at the Utah Food Bank, Skanchy has helped the organization’s inventory grow from 3 million pounds to 19.2 million pounds in 2008. She also helped secure $34 million total in in-kind and cash donations. “Sue’s honesty, trust and integrity are practiced at the highest levels,” says Gil Fuller, a member of the organization’s board of directors. “These qualities are known and understood by all who come in contact with her and are imperatives for all successful organizations and particularly for a non-profit organization that depends on public trust to function.”
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