Modern CFOs have oversight of accounting, financial reporting, operations, financial strategy, and even financial teams. There are many aspects of the role, and it's not easy handling them effectively. Brian Hayes, Chief Financial Officer at NOW CFO, has some nuggets of wisdom on how to manage everything while increasing financial visibility successfully.
Brian has over twenty years of leadership and management experience and has managed operations and accounting for small to multi-million dollar businesses. Before joining NOW CFO, he worked in small manufacturing (job costing), import/export from Brazil and the Philippines, product sales price modeling, inventory management across multiple states, small business and personal tax returns preparation, and financial statements.
Brian has also been an owner of a business that provided bookkeeping services. Today, he shares how a CFO can get better visibility into a company's financial performance and how to improve accounting processes and financial reporting.
Welcome back to CFO Weekly, where we're talking with financial leaders about how to build efficiency in their teams, create time for strategy and ultimately get results, with your host, Megan Weis. Let's jump right in.
Megan Weis: Today, my guest is Brian Hayes. Brian joined NOW CFO in 2014, and serves as the CFO. Brian has experience in working on multi-state law firms, engineering firms, non-profit accounting, construction, job costing, loan mortgage servicing, and preparing year-end audits.
Brian attended the University of Phoenix in Phoenix, Arizona and obtained his associates of accounting. Then continued to Colorado Technical University in Colorado Springs, Colorado and obtained his Bachelor of Science in Accounting, as well as his MBA in finance. In his free time Brian loves to hunt fish camp, read, barbecue, and spend time with his family.
Prior to joining NOW CFO Brian worked in small manufacturing, job costing, import/export from Brazil and the Philippines, product sales, price modelling, inventory management across multiple states, small business and personal tax returns preparation, and financial statements. He worked for a pest control company for 10 years, and was licensed in California in all three branches. Brian has also been an owner of the business which provided bookkeeping services. Brian, thank you very much for being my guest today.
Brian Hayes: Thanks for having me, Megan. I'm really excited to be here.
Megan: Today, we're going to be discussing your journey to the C-suite at NOW CFO, as well as some of the insights you've collected along the way. I'm really looking forward to learning more about you and your organization, so let's get started. First, if you could just tell us your career journey. How it is that you got to where you are today?
Brian: I've actually had a very non-conventional or unconventional career path.
Megan: More and more common these days.
Brian: Yes. Mine is interesting because I spent nearly 10 years in the pest control industry in Southern California first. I actually ran a structural fumigation division for most of that time. It was a career path I thought I'd stay on for a long time, but when the housing market crashed in '07 and '08, that really devastated that industry. It forced me to really rethink what I wanted to do with my life. That's actually when I decided to go to college. I was already 30 years old and already had a family of four kids, and was working obviously. We decided that college was the right thing to do, so I actually started doing online college. Did that for five years straight.
Brian: We actually added another kid during that time, so we have five kids now, and made a move to Utah from San Diego. Got tired of paying for the weather in Southern California. It was pretty expensive. Moved out here for a job. Kind of crazy, because then I got laid off three months later because they're having financial issues. Being new to the area and not having many connections, I thought that was a great opportunity to start my own business. I started my own little bookkeeping and tax practice. I worked with an uncle of mine in Idaho Falls to get some more experience and started picking up a few clients.
It never got really big, but eventually one of those clients hired me to come in as their controller and operations manager. They were importing acai and other food products from Brazil and South America, and in other places around the world to the US. It was a great, fun job. We really learned a lot. Helped them through a merger and purchasing a large food processing facility in Brazil. Then worked for a couple smaller companies for a time, doing both controllership and operations management. 2014, I ended up here at NOW CFO, originally as a consultant.
I thought it'd be a short-term stay, and I maybe go off and do my own thing again, but really ended up loving it. I worked with some awesome clients right off the bat. I was lucky enough to work with a couple different Habitat for Humanity affiliates here in Utah, which was really fun. About a year later, the opportunity came up to me to partner, and relocated to San Antonio, Texas. That's what we decided to do. We sold our home here in Utah, moved out to San Antonio. I was out there for about two years and got our San Antonio and Austin markets off the ground.
After that, family situation needed us to come back to Utah. We came back here and ended up taking over the Utah market and became a regional partner and helped out running our Idaho offices. Then offices down in Las Vegas and Phoenix as well. Did that for a couple of years. Just last year, the opportunity came up to come in-house as the CFO for Now CFO.
Which is something I never really thought about doing, but our CEO, Randy Christensen called me, he's like, "What do you think?" It felt right. I came onboard here in-house as the CFO. I really enjoyed it. It's been a lot of fun taking all my experience in operations and running our practices, and helping grow practices and mentor other people to come in and bring some of that to our corporate team. It's been very non-conventional or unconventional, but it's been a lot of fun.
Megan: It sounds like it's been a great adventure. Did you study accounting as an undergrad?
Brian: Yes, actually, I got my bachelor's in accounting. Then I also did an MBA in finance.
Megan: How did you choose accounting?
Brian: In my naive mind I thought, one, accountants are always in demand.
Megan: It's true.
Brian: Two, they're never going to have to work a lot of extra hours because there's never an accounting emergency. That was my naive thinking.
I was like, "this would be great." I did have two uncles that had done different things in accounting. The one that, like I mentioned earlier, had his own practice. Then another one had been in accounting and private industry, and also for some banks, so I just thought, "Man, that was really cool. Might be fun to do something like that."
Megan: That's awesome. Your first idea was right. Your second, not so correct.
As you look back on your career, and you might have already touched on this, but are there turning points or stories that stand out in your mind as really having shaped your career?
Brian: I've been thinking about this a little bit, now as I'm getting older. One of them is that decision to go to college when I was 30, I think it would have been really easy to just do what I was doing, be in management and sales or different things like that. No one else in my family had ever gone to college before. My dad had enlisted in the Marine Corps. My mom had just worked a little bit in home hospice. This was something very different for my family and myself, so I went ahead and did it.
I remember, I was really proud of a project I'd worked on with my undergraduate. I was trying to show my dad about it and talk to him about it and he said, "This is just a waste of time, Brian. You need to just go get a job." He had ended up at UPS after he got out of the Marine Corps, had been almost 30 years there. He just like, "You need to go work at UPS, get a job there, let them take care of you. You'll be fine."
That really got my hackles up a little bit. I was like, "That's not cool." I was really upset about that. It made me dig in more and work harder. It's gotten me to where I'm at now. It's funny because my dad's really changed his perspective. He's really said, "You know what, that was a really good decision on your part." It's just opened up so many opportunities for me and given me a lot of confidence to just go, "You know what, I can do whatever I set my mind to." It's been a game changer, honestly, for me.
Megan: That's awesome. That was a brave decision, especially with four kids already at home and making a change like that is never easy.
Brian: My wife was basically a single mom for five years while I was working. I got to give her a lot of credit. She did a lot of the hard work.
Megan: Absolutely. Let's talk about your current organization, NOW CFO. What exactly is it that they do?
Brian: NOW CFO, we are an outsource accounting and finance firm. We provide controllers, CFOs, even staff accountants, on-site generally with our clients. COVID, obviously, changed that up with that, but we work on-site with our clients as much as possible on an hourly as needed basis. We hire consultants who a lot of them have come out of the CPA world, had a lot of experience maybe in private industry, and want to do consulting as their career.
We've grown from 2005 when we were founded here in Utah, to now. We're in about 40 different cities across the US. Almost 400 employees company-wide. We've just been growing and trying to help our clients and our networking partners, and our employees to just achieve the things that they want do. It's a lot of fun. It's very gratifying to come in and help an organization to maybe get the extra help that they need for a short-term or even long-term basis, and help them to really continue to grow.
Megan: Who is your ideal client?
Brian: The ideal client is typically a company that's growing, has some account and some pains in the accounting department, finance department. Just maybe had their friend or family member doing the accounting for a while and now they're underwater, don't know exactly what to do and they need the extra help to help them through a transaction or raising some debt, or equity different things like that, or even controller services.
We see a lot of work in the controller space with our clients just to bring that technical accounting skill to help them with their financial reporting. We do a lot of cleanup and organizational work with companies to help them have better, more efficient accounting. We work with typically companies that are all sizes. I'd say most of them are under that 50 million in revenue mark, but we do have a lot that are even Fortune 500 companies as well.
Megan: You've done a lot of things since you've been with them. What are your proudest achievements since joining? You said you joined in 2014?
Brian: Yes, I joined in 2014. Just take a step back, our founder, Jim Bennett, actually talks about this a lot. He wants to create lift in people's lives. That means helping our employees, our clients, our networking partners. I feel like I have embodied that philosophy and I'm the poster child for that where you can start out as a consultant. You can grow into just about any position in the company, or you can actually succeed and do the things that you want to do. I feel like that's something fun for me to do, and is an example to everybody else here in what they can accomplish. It's maybe intangible, but it really feels like it's a lot of benefit for everyone else just to be there. A lot of pressure obviously too, being the CFO to a bunch of other CFOs that run markets, but it's a lot of fun.
Megan: Sounds like a great place to work.
Brian: Yes. I've really enjoyed my time here. It's a lot of fun. Don't plan to do anything else.
Megan: What has your transition into the CFO position been like?
Brian: It's different than I expected. I have been running markets and practices. We've got about, like I said, 40 markets across the US, and each is run by a partner or market president. I was helping run several of those markets. Going from being the market leader, hiring and training our consultants, and managing a sales team to coming in-house and having to go back into the accounting, and the numbers, and the actual financial reporting was a little bit different. I had been out of it for a little while, so I had to reteach myself a little bit. The nice thing was I really understand our business and I knew what the operational side of it was.
It was really good for me to just start marrying up my accounting skills again to that financial reporting side and helping to continue to help grow in practices. Nowadays it's a lot of fun because I can just-- I'm the liaison between the markets and our corporate office here in Utah because I've been on both sides now. I've experienced them both. I feel like I've been able to bridge the gap between what's going on in the market, and teaching that to our corporate people here who are trying to serve those markets, and also working with our partners in the markets to get the help that they need from our corporate staff. It's that bridge that really was the big transformation for me.
Megan: That's awesome. It's true. You've come up through the organization, so you definitely know the operations. These days I think it's so important for successful CFOs to really understand how the business operates.
Brian: Yes. It seems like CFOs more and more doing more on the operational side of things as well. It's not just the numbers. It's really focusing on how what do the numbers do to help us understand the operations, and how can we make the operations run better? That's what I see happening a lot in the CFO space.
Megan: NOW CFO adopts a roll up your sleeves approach to financial consulting. What exactly does this entail?
Brian: It's really started from the first touch point with our clients. We try to be in person and onsite with our clients as much as possible including in the initial analysis meeting, we do a whiteboard session with our clients. We really try to get to know them, their business, the people that are involved. We whiteboard this all out. We look at what's really working for the company, what's not and then what are the solutions that they really need so we can create a roadmap for them to get to where they need to go. From there, we work on site as much as we can.
Our model up until COVID was we're on site, we're there with you, your people, we're not there to tell your people what to do and come in and just do that analysis. We actually will do the work. We're very hands-on. We can get into that general ledger and do the cleanup. We'll do the balance sheet reconciliations. We'll get into the nitty-gritty and not just sit back and expect you to do it all. We're there to help you and guide you as much or as little as you want us to. From that process we've really learned a lot about our clients. We try to be very transparent.
We actually have developed a project management software that not only tracks the time that we are working on our clients but the projects and the status of those projects so they can log in any time and see what we're doing for them. They always can get that update anytime they want. They've got a dedicated consultant that's there or even a group of consultants that are working with them.
It's very customized to their needs. It's very customized to their budget as well. We work on an hourly basis without a long-term contract. We feel like for our clients we have to earn our keep every hour that we're working for them. That's the focus that we have, is try and give them that hands-on, roll-up-our-sleeves approach to helping them succeed.
Megan: Just curious, how have the last two years been for your company?
Brian: It could have been really, really bad for us. When COVID first started, we were caught flat-footed like many people because we're so relationship-based. We have sales people who are used to being at networking events and being in front of our clients and consultants on site. We actually took an approach where we said, "You know what? Let's try something different." We adopted the Zoom platform basically. We started doing these whiteboards via Zoom and really upgraded our technology, better cameras, microphones, even TV so we could see the person we're talking to almost full size.
I think it really helped us to focus in on doing a better job in that process and better communicating, and better understanding, and deep-diving into what the client's needs are. We've actually grown significantly in the last two years. We added another 25% growth in 2021. 2020 was still a growth year. It wasn't as big. We're still experiencing that growth right now. Things are still moving forward very quickly.
Megan: That's great. Talk to me about the importance of financial visibility. What are the steps that a business leader can take to get better gain visibility into their company's financial performance?
Brian: I think the first thing that really needs to happen is just making sure that your data is accurate. Working with your team to make sure that they're trained and they have the right tools to do the job correctly so that the information you have is is as accurate as possible. Automation, I think, plays a big part into that as much as you can automate you'll be in much better position so that you can actually focus on the data and you're not so worried about doing the work. From there, it's creating the systems that will allow you to see the data.
A lot of ERPs are great because they bring a lot of this information together. If you have a lot of different systems, it becomes harder to aggregate that data. We ran into that as we were growing. We actually started developing a data warehouse for ourselves that would aggregate data from our accounting systems, our applicant tracking systems, our payroll systems, our CRM and a couple different places. From there, we adopted Power BI to be the data visualization platform for this. It's been phenomenal because now I can start looking at gross margin by client and by the consultants working on that.
I can put out the financials on a daily basis to our markets. We can give them valuable insights into their sales and closing ratios, and a lot of different things. You've given us the ability to really deep-dive in to what's going on faster and see trends sooner to allow us to make pivots faster and make better decisions. Really just making sure that the data's accurate, and finding ways that are going to work within your system to pull that data. For us again it was that data warehouse and Power BI. We actually even created another company to just do that for other companies because we found it so successful.
Megan: I was going to ask you if you do that for your clients as well.
Brian: Yes. We actually created another company called DeFinity that really does that for our clients. We've got a great, great team there that can come in and do test lights, not only just software development but really that data visualization. We've got a very large electrical contractor here in the state of Utah that we've been working with for several months. They just keep coming back and going, "What else can you give us? What else can we see? What else can we get?" It's just been a game-changer for them. They're a large, large contractor. They have a wonderful ERP and all this stuff, but they just couldn't get the data visualization that we're able to provide them.
Megan: So much data available these days, but it's really knowing how to use that data. That's important.
Megan: You guys obviously improve a lot of accounting processes for your clients. What can CFOs be doing right now to approve upon their accounting processes and financial reporting?
Brian: A lot of it I think is looking for opportunities to understand the new technologies that are coming out, staying up to date with training, making sure even your teams have training. With as much turnover as a lot of companies have seen recently with the great resignation and things like that, and finding people it's hard to find ways to attract people, but training and development in your people, even the CFOs, are so critical. Spending that time learning, investing in the systems that are going to make your work more efficient, easier.
Again, going back to automation, CFOs really need to start understanding not just the financials, but also how can we automate. There's more technology involved. Really being the person who understands all aspects of the business so that they can create value across the board. A lot of that is going to be involved with technology nowadays, even AI, machine learning.
Again, automation. Systems that'll help you to speed up the process of your closes and your financial reporting, and getting data to people. I think we've got more people that are data hungry nowadays in business. We've got to be the aggregator of all that knowledge and be able to disseminate it without giving too much or putting the information out that's not accurate. We really got to vet that.
Megan: You just brought it up. With the great resignation obviously affecting a lot of businesses right now and especially accounting, how are you guys attracting and retaining talent?
Brian: We've started doing a lot more remote work, which is something our consultants have really appreciated. Many of our clients really like it too because we're able to give them a better variety of resources. If we've got a client in Seattle who needs some specialty healthcare experience and I've got somebody in Austin, who's got that experience, I can marry them up.
Megan: That's true.
Brian: Yes. We've got clients now who are comfortable with remote work. Our consultants love it because they're actually getting more projects, so they can do more diverse projects than just what's in the local area. Giving them interesting work, a little more freedom has been really helpful. We've created different compensation plans for our consultants, not just hourly, or a full-time salary, but a hybrid between a salary that's based on 30 hours a week so that they can maintain benefits, but still have some flexibility in their life. We want our consultants to be able to have that balance.
We try not to make it a situation where our consultants have to work 70, 80 hours a week. They've been in the CPA world. They've done that. We try to focus on a 40, 45, maybe 50-hour workweek if that's what they want, and giving them just their life back a little bit more. Same here for our corporate office, we've got a lot of people here on our call center, our marketing team, accounting, legal, everything. We've been looking at ways to create a hybrid work environment that will allow them to serve our markets but also be able to get their work done. That seems to be very successful and very helpful.
Megan: Seems like you guys are doing some cool stuff.
Brian: We're trying. It's hard, because there's so many people that want different things. Compensation's not even the most critical thing anymore. It's just that flexibility that people want in their life. That's what we're trying to offer.
Megan: COVID, not been fun in any way for the last two years, but I do think some very cool things have come out of the situation we've been put into, like the fact that we can work from anywhere and geography is no longer as important.
Brian: Right. I remember it was probably in mid-2020 I was listening to a podcast. I can't remember who it was that was speaking, but it was a CEO of a private equity group that had a large portfolio of companies. With COVID going on, everybody was frantic about, what are we going to do to get through this? How are we going to get through and just survive?
The comment he made was, "We don't need to figure out how to survive. We actually need to figure out how we can build our business to succeed in the current environment." That's the attitude I think a lot of business owners, if they adopt it, it may be finding answers that they don't like, but is the answers that'll help them continue to grow and move through this so that they can succeed in the future, because I think our economy and the dynamics have just really changed quite a bit.
Megan: I guess we've all learned resilience and adaptability over the last few years.
Brian: We don't have a choice.
Megan: Yes, exactly. You touched on Power BI. Are there any other tools or technologies that you guys are using right now that it's helping to make your lives easier?
Brian: Yes. Power BI has been great for our data visualization and admittedly we probably stretched it beyond what it was maybe originally capable of. The other thing that we've done is we've developed a software called Bizview, which is, I think I mentioned before, it's a project management software that allows us to create our projects and tasks, and create visibility for our clients to see what we're working on.
It doesn't just track our time. It actually will allow us to collaborate and work with our clients, allows our consultants to be very transparent in the work that they're doing and the progress they're making with their clients. We can actually track the progress by-- There's percentages that we can assign to each thing so the clients can see where we're at, and just collaborate, share tools, share files, even communicate through that as well.
That's been really helpful because now our clients-- Everybody hates that phantom lawyer bill that they get and they wonder, "Man, I got all these dollars. What's that for?" We wanted to take that away from our clients too because with accounting, it's sometimes hard to see the tangible work. By putting this together, it's allowed us to show our clients this is what we're working on. We're working towards the goals that you've established. It's created that visibility they need to know that they can count on us to stay on track.
Megan: What advice do you have for CFOs who are looking to drive strategic value to grow revenue and margin at their organization?
Brian: Really, it's looking at the details. We talked a lot about data. That's, I think, been one of the greatest tools for me is just, as a CFO, to drive the value for our revenue growth, I can look at things like one of our margins by customer even, and are we being successful in managing those margins? I can give those tools to our market leaders to make better decisions or we can collaborate on and discuss. It's really getting into those details, and then providing coaching and leadership to the rest of your teams and the people you're responsible for.
We've got a lot of newer markets and newer salespeople, and a lot of new people on our accounting staff here at corporates that I got to work with them and help them to be the best that they can be because that will trickle up to everybody else actually. It doesn't necessarily trickle down, it trickles up. As we're able to provide the training to our people that they need to achieve their goals and to provide that information and data, and be able to get into the details with our teams, we can actually have meaningful conversations. We can make better decisions. We can use those as coaching and teaching moments for those that we work with. That's really a large part of the CFO world as I see it.
Megan: That's great advice. Lastly, as a CFO, as you look into the future both the near-term and the long-term, what are you seeing on the horizon that's keeping you up at night?
Brian: There's the obvious thing with inflation being at a 40-year high. That doesn't seem like it's going away. I'm not 100% confident that the fed's going to come down with a soft landing with that. Really that's my big concern going forward is this inflation. The fed's going to do what they need to do to get things under control, but next year, the next 12, 18 months, what's that mean? That's what worries me is just if we're going to run into a situation where we're into a big recession or not.
How's the inflation going to affect not just us but our clients and the economy as a whole. It's not necessarily what's happening this week or this month, it's really what's happening in the next 12 to 18 months that makes me wonder. It's what I'm focusing on to try and think about how can we be ahead of that. What are the indicators to help us to stay ahead of the changes that are coming?
Megan: It seems like just from one challenge to the next these days. I was hoping for a normal summer or something. It doesn't seem like normal is going to happen any time soon.
Brian: No, I don't know. I hate that term, the new normal, or the new norm. Just because it sounds like things aren't going to be as good as they once were.
Megan: I think in many ways it'll be better.
Brian: I do too. I think we've seen that already. A lot of it just depends on your attitude going in to it. You can make a good situation out of anything if you look for it, or at least make it better.
Megan: Definitely a silver lining in everything.
Brian: Yes, that's true.
Megan: Brian, thank you so much for being my guest today.
Brian: Well thank you for having me, Megan. This has been a pleasure and I really appreciate you putting this together for us.
Megan: I really enjoyed speaking with you and hearing about your experiences and all of the resulting insights. I wish you and NOW CFO all the best. Sounds like you're both doing great things. To all of our listeners, please tune in next week. Until then, take care.
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In this episode, we discuss why CFOs need to understand business operations, what a roll-up-your-sleeves approach to financial consulting entails, how to get better visibility into your company's financial performance, and how CFOs can improve the accounting processes and financial reporting, among other exciting topics.
Understanding Business Operations
Nowadays, a successful CFO needs to understand how the business operates. Top CFOs not only focus on numbers but also on finding solutions to make the business operations run better.
“It seems like CFOs are doing more and more on the operational side of things as well.”
Adopting a Roll-Up-Your-Sleeves Approach to Financial Consulting to Achieve Full Visibility
NOW CFO focuses on giving its clients a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves approach to helping them succeed. The company has a direct, onsite, and transparent manner of working with clients to understand their businesses and work together on applying the right solutions.
“We do a lot of cleanup in organizational work with companies to help them have better, more efficient accounting.”
How to Get a Better Visibility Into Your Company's Financial Performance?
Look to see if your data is accurate, and make sure your team members are well-trained and have the right tools to do their job correctly. Also, try to automate as many processes as you can. Then, create the systems that will allow you to see and understand your data.
“The first thing that needs to happen is ensuring that your data is accurate.”
Improving the Accounting Processes and Financial Reporting
Look for opportunities to understand new technologies, stay up to date with training and developing your people, and invest in the systems that make your work more efficient.
“CFOs need to start understanding not only the financials but also how they can automate them.”
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Learn how Personiv can help your organization get better financial visibility.