Charlie Peters, CPA

CFO, Red Hat Inc., Raleigh, N.C.

The fun of an international firm is the global nature. We have more than 80 offices in nearly 40 countries. Just the international aspect of dealing with lots of different cultures and business practices is an awful lot of fun. Being with a technology firm, especially a high-growth one, presents a lot of very interesting challenges every single day. We’re going to add 800 employees this year starting on a base of about 5,600 at the start of the [fiscal] year [in March 2013]. Just finding good people, onboarding good people, having sufficient real estate for those people to work … all of that is a challenge.

I am responsible for finance, operations, and IT, and I’d say that the general rule has been [to] hire a very capable group of managers that work under me, give them clear goals and a lot of latitude to run their own operations, and then just hire good people. My theory has always been to hire people smarter than me, and I think if you do that, you’re going to be successful. It definitely has worked.

In 10 years we’ve grown 10 times in revenue and less than 10 times in the number of people. But just from a finance board perspective, it took us about four weeks to close when I joined the company. Today we have a reliable result within about five days, and we publicly report the results within two-and-a-half to three weeks. So the whole [monthly] closing cycle has shrunk dramatically. We also have significantly improved management reporting so that we have various reports available for our managers—budget to actual and other sorts of analytical reports—within a couple of weeks. We have a lot of different types of reconciliations that we provide to people that were never done before. We’ve done that with limited additions to the staff. We definitely have focused on growing engineering and sales and marketing and limiting the growth of our [general and administrative] staff, and we’ve become substantially more productive.

I think the one thing that hasn’t changed at all over a long period of time is the desire of public company CFOs that the accounting firms have continuity of staff … to have sort of a progression of staff from the staff accountant to the senior to the manager and the partner that over a period of years, as each audit is done, there are a number of the staff from the prior year that are coming back—so there is not a constant learning and relearning exercise required on the part of the auditors. I think that’s generally pretty important to most CFOs.

If you want to be a CFO at a multinational company, there’s no doubt in my mind that some international experience of your own is a big plus in terms of, first of all, just your own knowledge base and your ability to do the job and, secondly, as something on your résumé. It gives you some exposure to other cultures so when you’re dealing with people in your business who are from other countries, they know you’ve had some experience not just in the U.S.

We hire a lot of the younger folks here. The thing that many people in technical professions seem to lack straight out of school is good communication skills, whether it is written communication skills, oral communication skills, [or] public speaking skills. These skills generally aren’t taught in accounting programs or business schools, and I think it’s an oversight. I would say, “Make sure you focus on some of those soft skills, even people skills.” It’s great to be a technician, but if you can’t deal with people, then it’s not going to help your career in the long run. 
 
As told to Chris Baysden, cbaysden@aicpa.org ,
a
JofA senior editor.

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