Master Data Analysis with Power BI & Tableau

March 28, 2024 Theresa Rex

finance executives using Power BI and Tableau to visualize data

The emergence of new technologies like AI and the increasing influence of data-driven decision-making tools such as Power bI and Tableau have brought new challenges to professionals in the finance department. At the same time, CFOs can use them to provide the most value to a company’s financial performance. It's all about the strategy. And today, Tom Panther shares his wisdom on how CFOs can leverage all these modern tools.

Tom is an experienced finance professional with a 25-year track record in the industry, encompassing finance, accounting, and HR roles. Throughout his career, he held leadership titles such as Director of Corporate Finance, Corporate Controller, Chief Accounting Officer, and Head of Total Rewards at companies like FLEETCOR, SunTrust, and EVO Payments.

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Megan - 00:00:18: Today, my guest is Tom Panther. Tom was named FleetCor' Chief Financial Officer in May of 2023. He is responsible for all elements of the company's finance function, including corporate finance, investor relations, accounting, tax, treasury, and internal audit. He is also an active participant in the company's strategic planning, M&A, and enterprise risk management. Prior to his tenure at Fleet Corps, Tom served as a CFO at Evo Payments and spent nearly 20 years at SunTrust Banks in numerous leadership roles, including Chief Accounting Officer, Corporate Controller, SVP of Corporate Finance, and Head of Capital Planning and Analysis. He began his career at Arthur Andersen and is a certified public accountant. Tom, thank you very much for being my guest on today's episode of CFO Weekly.

Tom - 00:01:41: Great, megan. Great to be here.

Megan - 00:01:43: Today, we're going to be discussing several topics, including technology and talent, and how these tools, among others, can be harnessed to enable CFOs to drive value to a company's financial performance. And Tom, I'm looking forward to hearing your perspective on this topic and learning from your experiences. So let's jump right in. First, let's just start with a little bit about you and how it is that you got to where you are today.

Tom - 00:02:07: Sure. Well, I've been at it for a little over 30 years now. Started my career at Arthur Andersen in public accounting. And I would say those were the first 10 years, real formative years of learning the technical side of accounting and finance. And then I spent 20 years at SunTrust Banks, a super regional financial institution headquartered here in Atlanta, across a spectrum of finance and accounting verticals. I'd say that's where I really learned how to manage people, large teams, getting work done through others, and then also building those conceptions an strategic sales. And then about four years ago, I became CFO of a public company here in Atlanta, Evo Payments. And that's where I was able to kind of put all of that together and be the CFO of that company for about four years until it was acquired about a year ago by another payments company. And that's when I had the opportunity to join FleetCor as its CFO. So it's really been the culmination of decades, I guess, of putting all the different pieces of the puzzle together in order to be the finance executive.

Megan - 00:03:12: And tell us a little bit about FleetCor and what it is they do and for who.

Tom - 00:03:18: Sure. Well, at its very simplest level, FleetCor helps companies pay their expenses. We are a spend management company. And so whether it's across a variety of specialized products associated with, say, something like paying for fuel or charging or lodging, or whether it's broad-based AP and paying a whole host of vendors and third-party providers, we are a spend management company for businesses around the globe. We operate in Brazil, in the U.S., and in the U.K. Predominantly, but also have presence in Asia-Pacific and in Europe. And we're a $4 billion top-line revenue organization, a $20 billion market cap, and process well over $200 billion of spend volume in a given year. We also have a business that is focusing on consumers as well. It's about 15% of our business. And it's also an area, a new addressable market that we're looking to. We're looking to expand into in terms of applying our products and our networks to also the consumers that are out there. We're excited about that opportunity.

Megan - 00:04:24: And in a past interview, you mentioned that a good way for CFOs to think about their career is like a jigsaw puzzle. So first, can you talk a little bit about this metaphor? And second, how much of your own personal puzzle after 30 years have you filled in?

Tom - 00:04:40: I have used that metaphor a lot. I pride myself over the course of my career in trying to mentor people and offer people the opportunity for what I called coffee chats to get together for a half hour in an afternoon and just kind of talk about my career if they were interested in that or their career in terms of where they are in their journey. And I did use that metaphor a lot. It resonated with me. And I like to share things that maybe resonates with others. And when you think about a career and you think about a puzzle, you start with the building blocks. You outline the frame of the puzzle and then you start filling it in. But you don't fill in the hardest pieces. You fill in the pieces that are a little more straightforward, things that are a little easier. In the case of a career, a little easier to understand. And then you start working from there in terms of filling in those more challenging pieces. And it also isn't linear. We learn linear. We read linear. But puzzles tend to be a bit more haphazard where you're gathering information. The picture isn't clear. Obviously, you could cheat and look at the box and figure out what it is you're putting together. But if you didn't do that, you'd say, gosh, what is that? Is that upside down or is it sideways? That's a lot of that ambiguity that professionals have to sort through throughout their whole career. So the metaphor. The puzzle never ceases to evolve. Maybe the frame has other dimensions to it. But as it relates to my puzzle, I like to think I've got the easier sections filled in. It's now working on the challenging, problem-solving, complex areas of supporting a company from a finance perspective. But I think the puzzle is ever-evolving. It never stops. And a lot of that has to do with just how the economy, customer demand. Innovation, technology, to your point earlier, that's always evolving. So I think the puzzle is always evolving.

Megan - 00:06:28: And switching gears a bit, let's talk about technology. So how important is it for CFOs these days to be experts in this area? I've spoken to some CFOs who've actually gone so far as to teach themselves how to program.

Tom - 00:06:44: It's a great question, and I'm one who ascribes to the view that you have to be very close to the technology. Expert in terms of programming and that technical level is not where I would say the knowledge needs to focus. It's more on how the technology works because a lot of how the technology works is how the company ultimately runs. It defines our cost structures. It defines, in some cases, our revenue models in terms of how we earn revenue from customers. It's an area to find areas of friction, customer friction, maybe even waste within the organization. So my vantage point in terms of wanting to stay close to technology is I would say a level of fluency, not expertise, but fluency around how technology enables the business to run. Because then you overlay that with your financial expertise to look for opportunities to enhance and improve the company from there. It's not that the technology people aren't obviously looking for efficiency within their own domain, but I think the finance professional brings a perspective around the business and the economics. That is a unique position within the company that really kind of makes it important for those knowledge sets to come together and really kind of critique and tune the technology.

Megan - 00:08:14: And let's look specifically at artificial intelligence. But to what extent would you say AI has changed your processes and how you're forecasting for the future?

Tom - 00:08:26: I would say directly within finance, we're in more of a wait and see mode. We use it in our credit area to a degree, which is an area that rolls within my set of responsibilities here at FleetCor, but not necessarily. That's not the way all companies are structured. So in what I call purebred finance, we're in more of a wait and see mode. Where I see AI having its biggest impact is in areas where you have significant amounts of data and that data can be processed and evaluated. You have machine learning. All of those things occurring is, I think, where AI can be particularly impactful. From a finance perspective, I think that is likely to evolve, particularly within the accounting space where we're doing various reconciliations, matching off of transactions, things where we're crunching significant amount of data. But I don't see AI as something that's going to disintermediate FP&A or forecasting, IR, treasure. Tax, because that judgment and that technical knowledge and those years of experience is notwithstanding the capability of a computer and machine. But I like the human element of that that can overlay that level of judgment and that experience. AI may enable those people to be faster and maybe more proficient in their judgments, but I don't think it's something that causes them to be disintermediated.

Megan - 00:09:51: And what advancements in technology, either related to AI or maybe not, but what advancements do you see as most consequential for finding solutions to the problems that CFOs are facing?

Tom - 00:10:03: It's really about problem solving and maybe even problem anticipation. I'd put it ahead of problem solving because problem solving in and of itself kind of defines you already in reactive mode rather than anticipatory mode. And so we do a lot of analysis generally through Power BI, Tableau, those types of tools necessarily than, say, AI, where we are evaluating data in order to try to draw conclusions and analyses from that data in order to help, as I said, anticipate problems, look for opportunities, figure out ways in which we can trim costs without impacting service or quality, look for a pricing opportunities. Things of that nature. The tools we use today is built off of our ERP environment. Given the size and multinational nature of our company, we don't have one singular ERP environment. We are moving towards consolidating some of those. But then with those ERP environments, those then feed tools that integrate very seamlessly to our predominantly Microsoft environment. Then that allows us to do a variety of analyses, whether that's in the forecasting arena, or whether that's in the data analytics. I'm a big believer that data lakes, where you create data warehouses and then have tools that allow you to build queries into those data lakes, give you the optimal flexibility to be able to do the kind of analysis that you need at the time. It's hard to build something that anticipates every single type of scenario or business problem or question you may have. So I like the flexibility that comes with those data lakes and being able to analyze transactional level data in a much more query type environment.

Megan - 00:11:52: And let's talk about the role of CFO, but obviously the role has evolved quite a bit over the last 10 to 20 years. But how have you personally changed your own approach from your first CFO post to the one you now hold with FleetCor?

Tom - 00:12:07: I'd say it's been more solidifying. My philosophy than necessarily changing. Obviously I've adapted to the FleetCor CFO responsibility, just given size and a little bit of different type of business. But at its core, in terms of kind of the role of the CFO, I'm very much a business-focused CFO. I didn't come out of the business, as I mentioned earlier, when we were going through the introduction. I spent 30 plus years in a finance vertical, in the finance domain, over across a number of different roles. But I've always viewed it critical that the finance team really works to understand business how it works, what makes it tick, how it makes money? Whats the costumer experience? I just walked out of a meeting just before joining the conversation, were talking about customer experience related to one of our products because i think that`s really what makes the numbers come alive is when you get into business reality and have an understanding of how the company is really working. And we used the example of technology earlier. So I will always emphasize to my team that our recipe for success, which is ultimately how do you add value? How do you add value to the organization? It's got to be grounded in making sure that we're understanding the business at a fairly deep level. We won't be the experts in that field per se, but we will be fluent in understanding of what drives the business and what that customer experience is like and what that employee experience is like.

Megan - 00:13:44: And I'm always reminded of the show Undercover Boss when I hear stuff like that. But how do you personally ensure that you know the business and what the customer is needing and maybe not getting?

Tom - 00:13:57: It's just the relentless desire to constantly be asking questions, being a good critical thinker, interacting with the business. I think it's got to be beyond reading and the decks. Those are nice. Those are nice reference sources, background information. But it's really getting, sitting with the business leaders, doing product demos. Again, another just real-time example within the last 24 hours, we recently launched a product called Corpay Complete. It's an end-to-end AP automation solution, something that we're really excited about. Bumped into one of the product leaders, sits down the hall here for me and said, hey, let's sit down. Let's do a product demo. I'm your target audience. You're selling to CFOs, to treasurers, to controllers. I've been all of those. Let's do a product demo with me. I want to see it. I want to touch it and feel it. That way, when I sit across the table from an investor, from an analyst, from a banker, and they want to understand our company, I've touched and felt what our customers, our customers are touching and feeling. So it's just constantly putting yourself in those situations of getting beyond the numbers and getting into what's going on within the organization. And it's not an uphill battle for me to do that here at FleetCor. One of the things from a culture and from a process perspective is we are very focused on that very thing. Sure, we all have our own domains, but we really do come together with multiple domains sitting in the room at the same time. And it gives me and others an opportunity to kind of cross-pollinate that knowledge and the ability to understand what's the marketing person thinking? What's the HR person thinking? What's the IT person thinking? What's the business person thinking? What's the salesperson thinking? And so on. And so I think it's a very conducive environment here for those disciplines to come together and talk about their environment and the things that they're focused on and how one another can work together to kind of move forward. I sometimes think of that as the orchestra. Everybody's playing their own instrument. If you're out of tune, it doesn't sound very good. If each of the instruments are in tune, then you sound good together.

Megan - 00:16:03: And I believe you've been traveling a fair bit in your role at FleetCor, meeting business and financial leaders. So have you noticed any common challenges that all CFOs are facing around the world, given the world's current complexities?

Tom - 00:16:17: Well, it's certainly complex out there. So I think everybody shares the common thread of just it's a complicated world. Information turns over at massive speed. So you're constantly working to be that perpetual student of keeping up. The markets in which we operate in, you want to stay in touch with what's going on from an economic perspective. But we're not an overly economic sensitive organization. Yes, companies and individuals spending money drives our business. But generally, we operate in areas of spend categories that are not overly discretionary. I would say in terms of inside the organization, the things that they can control, it's really around prioritization and then execution. I think those are the things that leaders are regularly focused on and working to make sure that we recognize we have finite resources, both financial and time. Time is probably the bigger binding constraint than financial. And how do we prioritize? How do we continue to assess that workload? And then how do we execute effectively against those things? I sometimes use the example, everybody starts with 24 hours. I woke up today, I had 24 hours. Megan, you woke up with 24 hours. It's how do you spend those 24 hours in the most productive way possible that on the increment is the difference between great and good. And I think the leaders are focused on how do we make sure that we're working on the things that differentiate us between great and good. Many of that 24 hours is already consumed before I even wake up. I know a certain amount of time that's going to be what I call the table stake kinds of things that are just going to consume those 24 hours. It's the amount of time that's on the margin that is where you differentiate.

Megan - 00:18:04: And switching gears one last time, but let's talk about talent. So when you look at your own financial team, what skills do you find are the hardest to fill in? And how do you deal with the competition and trying to hire top talent to fill in those gaps?

Tom - 00:18:20: The thing that I find hardest or most differentiating is more in the character category than necessarily the competency category. I put the competencies as something that's table stakes. I can generally gather whether or not they have them or not from reading resumes or certainly in a short period of time of interacting with them. That's not where the judgment comes into play. I can look at their experience. I can talk to them and I can evaluate pretty quickly, I think, do they have the competencies for the job? Now, I'm not saying those competencies are easy to come by. There are definitely challenges finding people who have the depth of skills. It's more on those character pieces. The people who are willing to dig in into the business to go that extra mile. It's the people who have that persistence and that critical thinking skill that want to dig a little bit deeper. That don't just stop with, hey, I'm technical. I'm smart. I've been successful. I got good grades. I've been promoted a few times. Okay, that's great. Now, how are you going to apply those skills in a way that's going to really add value? Are you going to be able to communicate to a variety of audiences? Finance has a number of audiences. That they have to interact with. If I only speak in one way, a highly technical way and give you a bunch of abbreviations and adjectives and things like that, as if I'm sitting in my accounting 301 course again, well, I'm not going to be very effective in communicating with IT or the business or HR. So, it's those softer skills that come with the hard skills and the technical skills that I think are the differentiators that I look for.

Megan - 00:20:01: And speaking of soft skills, but what's some advice you would give someone who's just taken charge of their first financial team in terms of the soft skills required to get the most out of that team?

Tom - 00:20:12: Be yourself. It's hard to come to work and be your best if you're not being yourself. So it really is important, I think, for you to just recognize, have a grip on who you are, how you work. Once you know that and are comfortable expressing that, and I think that's the tougher leap, is be comfortable expressing that so that you can cultivate relationships with the people that you interact with. If they know you because you've expressed and shown a little bit of vulnerability, then I think they'll know where you're coming from. So it allows for that communication to be not clouded or confused by what somebody's motivations. It allows the communication to be something that's very clear and transparent. So I think it's critical with whether it's their team. Their peers, if you think horizontally, or just people in the organization that don't necessarily have a direct organizational connection, for them to be approachable and transparent with those individuals so that people get to know them, get to know their motivations, recognize that they're on the team together. And I think that just fosters some good two-way flow of information.

Megan - 00:21:23: And where do you stand on the debate around productivity with in-person versus remote working?

Tom - 00:21:30: I'm a believer of flexibility. When I was at SunTrust, it's now been over five years. But here in Atlanta, large city, we had lots of people commuting over an hour. And these were people who had complicated work-life balance challenges that they had to deal with. So it was about flexibility. And we even went as far as not only the traditional stuff of providing people flex hours or two days at home or stuff like that. We even started to create satellite offices around the perimeter of Atlanta so that people didn't have to drive as far. We cut their commutes in half. Being your best at work every day, I think, requires a culture of agility, flexibility, but not necessarily the full entitlement of I'm a work-from-home employee or I'm a work-from-office employee. You're an employee and you need to work in an environment where you're learning and growing and developing, where you're adding value, where you're... I've talked a lot here during our time about the importance of relationships. I think that's very hard to do through a screen, but it is something where people therefore need to invest time to interact with other people. I have people who report to me, they sit in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They sit in London, England. They sit in Brentwood, Tennessee, Tennessee. They sit all over the globe. I have very good relationships with them, just like I do with people who sit 30 yards from me. Why? Because we have spent time together. They've invested time to come here. I've invested time to go there. So I'm more of a guy who's going to support flexibility. But the notion of coming out of the pandemic of work from home, and I'm a work from home employee, and I'm exclusively work from home. I think that's more on the edges of what a healthy work culture looks like. I think that's more of a specialized resource where you have somebody who is in an individual contributor, a key contributor role, but not somebody who's part of the broader organization, or they're on the road a fair amount coming to the various offices in order to create those relationships. I have found that once you invest the time to create those relationships, whether it's with the person in London or the person down the hall, our ability to engage through various mediums of communication. It's quite effective, but you have to be able to spend time interacting with those individuals in a face-to-face environment with some level of frequency.

Megan - 00:23:58: That's great advice. So last question, but as you look out into the future, what keeps you up at night? What has you concerned or worried?

Tom - 00:24:08: Getting at the purpose of your question, what are the big challenges that are out there? I think it's just navigating a complex environment. We are a high-performing company with very high standards. We're in kind of rarefied air in terms of being able to continuously grow our top line 10% and our bottom line mid to high teens. And so when you're set a high standard and you want to achieve it year after year, regardless of the economic environment, regardless of ebbs and flows of consumer and business preferences, technology innovation, it's just balancing that complexity of the environment with the goals, financial and business of the organization. It's been on a lot of plates all at one time but I'm proud to work for a company that has high goals. If you're somebody who scores 30 points a night, you get a little frustrated if you score 20 points. The person who only scores 10 points a night is going to be thrilled to just score 20 points. Our goal is to continue at that upper echelon of high-performing companies in a very competitive space, payments in particular. And I think that's just the challenge, not the concern, but it's the challenge that I think that I focus on. And it gets back to that puzzle, not to end where we started, but that's the fun of the puzzle. It's figuring these things out in a very problem-solving, collaborative way that I think keeps me going.

Megan - 00:25:33: Thank you so much for being my guest today.

Tom - 00:25:35: Megan, I enjoyed it. Really appreciate the opportunity.

Megan - 00:25:38: I really enjoyed speaking with you and thanks for finding the time to be here with us today. I wish you and FleetCor all the best.

Tom - 00:25:46: Great, thank you.

Megan - 00:25:47: To all of our listeners, please tune in next week. And until then, take care.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The impact of technology on the CFO role

  • Using tools like Power BI and Tableau for better finance insights

  • How authentic leadership drives financial success

  • Talent acquisition strategies for CFOs

  • The future of high-performing CFOs

  • What role does AI play in finance?

Key Takeaways:

Why CFOs Must Become Fluent in Technology Like Tableau and Power BI

Embracing technology is increasingly critical for CFOs, not necessarily to become coding experts but to gain fluency in how technology impacts their company's operations, revenue models, and efficiency. While AI's influence on finance is still evolving, its potential to process vast amounts of data and enhance decision-making is undeniable. Tom believes that anticipating and solving business problems through advanced tools like Power BI and Tableau offers CFOs a practical approach to managing these challenges.

Quote CFOs becoming fluent in technology like Power BI and Tableau

“I think the finance professional brings a perspective around the business and economics that is a unique position within the company. That makes it important for those knowledge sets to come together and critique and tune the technology.” Panther said. - 06:28 - 11:52

Beyond the Balance Sheet

Regarding the evolution of the CFO role, Tom highlights a business-focused approach that values a deep understanding of the company, from customer experience to product knowledge. He practices active management with business operations and continuous learning, stressing the importance of asking questions, collaborating across departments, and directly experiencing products. This helps Tom represent the company accurately to investors and analysts while truly immersing himself in every part of the business.

Tom Panther CFO paycor formerly fleetcor Quote

“I've always viewed it critically that the finance team works to understand the business. How does it work? What makes it tick? How does it make money? What's the customer experience?” According to Panther. - 11:53 - 18:03

Talent Acquisition and Leadership in Finance

Finding the right talent for your financial team goes beyond just checking off competencies on a resume. It's about identifying individuals who possess the necessary technical skills, as well as the character and soft skills that make a true difference. Look for those willing to immerse themselves in the business and showcase persistence, critical thinking, and the ability to communicate effectively across various departments.

When it comes to leadership, being authentic and cultivating transparent relationships is essential. Additionally, embracing flexibility in work arrangements can contribute significantly to a productive and engaged team, acknowledging the value of face-to-face interactions for building strong relationships across global teams.

using Power BI and Tableau to get finance talent acquistion insights

“Be yourself. It's hard to come to work and be your best if you're not being yourself. So it's really important for you to have a grip on who you are and how you work.” Panther claims. - 18:04 - 23:57

For more interviews from the CFO Weekly podcast, check us out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and our RSS or your favorite podcast player!

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