The Present Role of the CFO

October 4, 2022 Lydia Adams

Cfo working from a high-rise building in her present role

Chris Caprio, the Chief Financial Officer at Focus Technology, joins us in the next episode of the CFO podcast. Joining Focus in 2017, Chris lends his 20+ years of experience in planning, forecasting, and reporting financial data for companies in numerous sectors, including tech, energy, and professional services. He has experience across various operations, including finance, accounting, recruiting, HR, legal, tax, and employee training. Learn more about the evolving role of a present-day CFO from Chris Caprio's experience.

During his tenure, he has been a primary contributor to the company’s modernization, transformation, and record company growth. Recognized as an industry thought leader, Chris serves as Vice President for the Financial Executives International (FEI) Boston and Co-Chair for the CFO Leadership Council Boston Chapter and is a sought-after keynote speaker at industry events across the country.

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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 Chris Caprio. Joining Focus in 2017, Chris lends his 20 plus years of experience and planning, forecasting, and reporting financial data for companies in numerous sectors including tech, energy, and professional services. He has experience across all aspects of operations including finance, accounting, recruiting, HR, legal, tax, and employee training.

During his tenure, he has been a key contributor to the company's modernization, transformation, and record company growth. Recognized as an industry thought leader, Chris serves as a vice president for the Financial Executives International, Boston, and co-chair for the CFO Leadership Council, Boston Chapter, and is a sought-after keynote speaker at industry events across the country. Chris, thank you very much for being my guest today on CFO Weekly.

Chris Caprio: Thank you very much for having me, Megan, happy to be here.

Megan: Yes, I appreciate you taking the time to be here with me today. This morning, we're going to be discussing the evolving role of the CFO and the many hats that today's CFO wears. First, let's start with you, can you tell us a bit about your career journey to date and how it is that you got to where you are today?

Chris: Yes, I've been-- a lot over the last 25 years, I actually got introduced to the accounting world. My father was an accountant and he took me on when I was in high school as an intern at the company he was working for at the time just doing some accounts payable, some invoicing to just figure out, from an accounting perspective, what that all was all about. Got me interested enough to go on to college and get my undergrad degree and went on to get my Masters in accounting as well. Then just grew up on the accounting side and got into finance as a senior account controller working at a small company, so expanded my accounting knowledge into finance as well.

Just ended up here at Focus. I've been here about five years and a mutual friend of mine was the CEO. We hit it off when we met and they were looking to bring on a CFO and trying to upgrade that role at the company, and it's been working out great for me.

Megan: Wow, that's great. Yes, my father was an accountant too and I went into accounting. As you look back on your career, are there any particular stories or moves that stand out in your mind as turning points?

Chris: Yes, I was in a role around the tech bubble in 2001 and it was a public software company and we were probably 400 plus people at the time. Just had rounds of layoffs after rounds of layoffs and I'm sure I was younger in my career. I wasn’t making very much at the time so they kept me onboard through, I think, four rounds of layoffs. As the next round of the layoff came on, I got more work to do, which at the time I didn't love it but I got into payroll. I got into collections, I got into cash management. I was dealing with the CFO directly. I was dealing with our investor base. In the 15, 18 months I was there even though it was pretty quick, the amount of different things that I got into that probably could have taken me 5 or 10 years to get into some of those had we remained as a growing company, which we were when I first got there.

I stuck it out and it allowed me to accelerate me a little bit faster in my career than I thought. I learned so much being on the cash side of the business scene, reconciling that, managing that. You really get to know a company very well and what areas they need to look at. What areas we can utilize to continue to grow and it was just a great experience for me.

Megan: Yes, those trials by fire are always tough but definitely the best learning experiences.

Chris: Yes, absolutely.

Megan: Let's talk about your current organization, Focus Technology. What is it that they do?

Chris: We're, I like to say an IT consulting company. We grew up a value-added reseller. We've been in business about 25 years. I got here five years ago with other members of our management team to help diversify. We're in cloud, we're in cyber security, we're an outsourced managed services provider. We have customers, small and large. Really, anything that an IT department would do, we either are the outsourced arm or the pro-sourced arm of the organization that we're working for where we sell high-end technology, Dell, Cisco, Barracuda, Hp. We get involved with AWS and Azure. Again, anything from an IT consulting perspective from compliance to cyber security, helping companies migrate to cloud, we're involved in.

Megan: Yes, cyber security is crazy these days. I'm blown away by how sophisticated hackers are becoming.

Chris: It's amazing. Their knowledge, the tools they have. When people migrated to home with the pandemic, their guards dropped a little bit. I think they've really taken advantage of those vulnerabilities that companies have not being all under one roof on one network. They've definitely utilized staying ahead of the curve and have really been successful the last couple of years at really driving companies crazy. What we hear about it in the news is a fraction of a percentage of what is really going on out there that companies are a little ashamed to admit to but it's amazing. It's amazing, that whole theory, and we're just trying to do our best to help companies minimize the risk in that area.

Megan: Yes, I always ask in closing, and I'll ask you eventually too, but what is keeping you up at night. That is among the most popular answers, the cyber security.

Chris: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely and my three daughters, that keeps me up at night.

Megan: Yes, I saw that you have teenage or close to teenage daughters.

Chris: Yes. I do. I do, yes so that's number one, cyber security is number two. [laughs]

Megan: As you look back on your five years of Focus Technology, what have been your proudest achievements?

Chris: When I came over, we had been growing organically and in 2017, the tail end, we closed our first acquisition. It was a company called NFK that was a pure managed services provider outsourced IT. It was really the first one that Focus had done and just bringing two companies together. Obviously, it's been over four years. The two companies are now one obviously and we got along so well. I think we benefitted from that acquisition so much from the people we acquired are still with the company and grown. I used to think that was a really inflection point and a really big pivot for us that got us into the consulting wing that we've been able to grow of off today and really can look back at that acquisition as a turning point for Focus for sure.

Megan: Yes, consulting is such a valuable service and pretty profitable one too.

Chris: Yes.

Megan: The typical CFO job description may not always include the management of human resources, however, that's precisely what many CFOs, including yourself, are doing these days. What do CFOs who are also in charge of HR need to know?

Chris: Good talent, good culture, and reducing your expenses don't always align perfectly.

Megan: No. I imagine they rarely align.

Chris: Exactly, especially today. It really takes the spreadsheet and gives it a new meaning. I think, certainly earlier on in my career, you have to learn to get out and meet with people. Those are the people, especially in a consulting business. We don't have a product, we have our people and making sure you have the right talent, making sure they're directed correctly, they're managed correctly but they also have the freedom to do what they need to do both within their personal careers but also in front of some of our best and biggest customers. It really forces you if you're going to manage HR, I oversee and talk with my team in that area about talent.

Whether it's existing talent we're trying to maintain, whether it's talent we're trying to recruit and bring into the company, it takes the financial aspect out of it for those conversations. Then you come up with a strategy and a plan and then have to figure out how to align those with your budget, but certainly, getting to know the people is extremely important and the value of good resources and the disincentive of having some resources that just aren't a fit for the company really gets you to think about that in a different area that's outside of just the name on a spreadsheet or on a word document.

Megan: I guess as accountants, not always known as being people persons.

[laughter]

You first became a CFO back in 2004. Talk to me about the evolution of the CFO role? Where have you seen it come from and where is it heading?

Chris: Certainly, it came from what everybody knows of and the defining that still, people look at from the outside world of the financial wellbeing of a company. I would say where it's evolved for me has been more into operations. I was talking to somebody recently. I've never worked for a company that had a COO. I've worked for some medium-size companies, some smaller companies. That could be the reason, but I think the companies I've worked for, there's been no COO. I think while I don't take on all of those roles, I think inherently, you have to take on some of them.

From an operations perspective, we have typically good control backgrounds, good process backgrounds. I think those help roll out and ensure all the operations of the company are running effectively. I think that certainly has been an evolution over the last 20 years. I think where it's going is going to continue. We talked about HR and we talked about cybersecurity. I think it's really expanding to really anything in the back office.

Being training, being IT, being HR, all legal, all those areas of the company that falls outside of accounting and finance, which will still remain. I think companies are looking for more knowledge at the top, more widespread knowledge. Being able to identify and see those across the organization are just extremely important I see moving forward.

Megan: I guess becoming more strategic and definitely breaking down silos these days.

Chris: Absolutely.

Megan: It's impossible to just operate in a finance and accounting silo.

Chris: Definitely.

Megan: HR, so many times just looked at as being part of the back office. How can a CFO who understands the value of HR showcase its importance throughout the organization?

Chris: Going back to getting to know the people. I think when I found success in oversight of HR, you get people to realize that money can't be the only decision-maker. The budget can't be the only decision-maker. You can't forget about it, don't get me wrong. I think when people realize whether it's small things, you're giving raises where maybe it wasn't as obvious but you're trying to pay people what they deserve if they've shown their value to the company.

It's tools, going out and purchasing, maybe, more higher-end tools that help people perform their jobs better that are not necessarily in the short term, the best value decisions or business decisions. When you're looking at it more long term into saying "If I can acquire this piece of software or this tool from my employees, in the long run, it's going to be better for them." I think when employees realize that certainly the CFO, and I'm sure others running the organization, are willing to invest and help their employees. Not just make decisions, "Well, we don't have enough money or we can't do that because there's not enough money." Finding ways to get their employees to see that, I think you get more out of your employees on the other end saying, well, they're willing to do whatever it takes to give me the tools as an engineer. "I'm willing to give back more to the company because they take care of me." It's really seeing both sides of it and getting them to realize it's not all about money. It needs to be about solid business decisions.

Megan: We've touched on this just a bit, but with talent in such short supply right now across, definitely, the country, maybe even the world but many companies are having to lure candidates with better benefits for one thing. With the cost of rising medical benefits and just benefits in general, as a CFO, how do you balance the company's budget with your HR efforts?

Chris: It's really looking medium and long term. Obviously, depends on the organization you work for. I'm fortunate enough to be one that's privately held. Making our number this month is less important than making our number over the next three to five years. Really making decisions that are going to maintain employees. Everybody knows the cost of replacing employees well outweighs the cost of retaining them. Once you have them, you gotta do things that are going to excite them to come to work.

Certainly, pay is a part of that, benefits are a part of that but culture is a part of that. Their manager is a big part of that. What they do on a day-to-day basis. Do they feel empowered to make decisions and are they learning and growing within their position and given opportunities to be promoted? To me, there's so many factors that go into it. Any one of those may be able to get away with but you start getting a negative check X next to two or three of those. Obviously, that employee's going to go and that's going to cost you in the short, medium, and long run.

Really making sure you have the right people but giving them the opportunities that they can grow. Compensating them well, both from a paid perspective, from a variable comp perspective, and certainly from a benefit perspective, which can include health and dental and 401k match. Also, what's your vacation policies, your holiday policies, your time off policies, your work from home policies, things like that that obviously have grown now during the pandemic but are going to remain important even when companies start to migrate back to the office, whether it's hybrid or fully.

Megan: So important to do all of those things well really to keep people where they are and happy.

Chris: It's hard. It's hard. It's hard, for sure.

Megan: I see poaching going on all over the place but you're right. It doesn't always come down to money and benefits but that is a huge factor for many people. In your opinion, does finding the right solution justify stretching the budget once it's been set?

Chris: I do. Yes. I think you always have to look, you have to understand the short term. You have to have capital to make investments but I think you always need to be looking at medium and long term and identifying just the right solution for where we're going. Not necessarily today but I'm just looking at a new accounting system that we rolled out a couple of years ago in less than a six-month process to find the right tool and probably six to eight months process to roll it out. You're looking at almost a year and a half. You got always be looking at where you're going and believe in the business and your plan and your strategy and make sure you're thinking about the future.

Certainly, in the long term, you should be able to get ROI off that, whether it's automation, whether it's not having to hire up as many back-office staff because now you have the right tools in place, streamlining processes that allow people to do other things that you're not able to do today. I think that's where you get that longer-term ROI, which would justify stretching a budget in short term.

Megan: I suppose working at a growing company, you have to stretch the budget often.

Chris: That's where the CFO comes in to make sure you have access to capital to be able to do that where it makes sense. The best time to find capital is when you don't need it.

Megan: Whether it be HR or accounting, are there any tools or technologies that you are using right now that are helping to make your life or your team's life easier? I know you just mentioned a new, somewhat new accounting platform.

Chris: We rolled out a NetSuite, a new accounting system about two years ago, and certainly [crosstalk]

Megan: The timing.

Chris: Yes, exactly. Right before, about three months before the pandemic, we rolled that out. It's certainly helped streamline our process. We've been able to build automation around it within accounts payable, within invoicing, within collections. It certainly has helped us. Obviously, we didn't plan for it from a remote workforce perspective but it's allowed us to seamlessly migrate our employees to home when we needed to. Now we have some people back in the office, some people are at home but without that tool, that's a cloud-based tool where before we were on a VPN-based tool, it just would've made things slower and take more time.

It has made myself and my team's life so much easier the last two years of working remote with that tool. Certainly, as a CFO, you're always going to lean toward a good accounting system.

Megan: Definitely, a lot of companies run a trajectory to move towards the cloud but I think the pandemic has expedited that process.

Chris: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Megan: What advice do you have for CFOs looking to drive strategic value to grow revenue and margin?

Chris: Get to know the business. Get to know your customers, your vendors, your employees. I realize many people are working remotely. The old term of, "Get out of your office, get out of your cube," metaphorically, it's still the same. I try and talk to, I go out with customers, I meet with our vendors. Again, a lot of it may be on Zoom now, but trying to get back to a lunch or dinner or coffee, with all those, again, customers, vendors, employees, to really get to understand your business, because the worst thing you can do is make a decision that you have no idea what the impact of that decision is going to be because you haven't talked to the right people.

Again, all three, your supply chain from your vendors, your employees, and then your customers. You don't want to impact them negatively, certainly without knowing it. If you're going to do something that you strongly believe in, that you think may impact them, you get out ahead of it and talk to them. Being able to add value, think strategically. I know, personally, I'm unaware, or I'm unable to do that in a bubble, with just a couple of people in a room or whatever.

I think you really got to get all factors, listen to them. Still, at the end of the day make the decision you feel is best, but at least you're getting input from people in tracking that over time. Getting out there and talking with all the people that touch your company is extremely important.

Megan: Yes, I guess that goes back to the point of finance and accounting can no longer just function in a silo, or make decisions in a vacuum.

Chris: Absolutely. Money only, that's where you get the people aspect of it, you can only do certain things, because you may only have access to a certain amount of capital, but being able to talk with people to make best use of that capital is huge.

Megan: Lastly, we already know what's keeping you up at night.

[laughter]

As we look to close out 2021 and start a new year, what goals have you set for yourself?

Chris: We're on a growth trajectory. We're fortunate, we were in an industry that was actually benefited by the pandemic. I don't want to say that too loud, but, certainly people's reliance on technology grew with all their employees working remote. Our core product is servicing those employees from the Help Desk and field technician perspective as they're working remote. We have that and want to continue to grow that while keeping an eye on what's going on around us.

We got, companies that are still, committing to fully remote, some companies are coming back. I think, really our goal is to fine tune our service offerings to fit any type of company. Some of them are going to be virtual forever. Some of them are already back in the office, maybe they're in biotech or manufacturing where they need people on site. Certainly, there's going to be companies that are like Focus, probably continue on a hybrid approach. We need to make sure our offering suit all three of those types of companies, whatever is unknown out there for the type of company we need to support and be able to offer them, the best service we can based on what their needs are.

That's ever changing, certainly changed dramatically in 2020. I feel Focus, we've adapted really well, we got some great people and have worked hard to get us to this point. We want to just stay on top of it and understand what companies are going to do in 2022 and beyond and how we can support them the best we can.

Megan: Chris, thank you so much for being my guest today.

Chris: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Megan. It was great talking with you.

Megan: Yes, I really enjoyed speaking with you and hearing about your experiences and all of the resulting insights that you've shared with us today. I appreciate you taking the time to be here with us and I wish you and Focus Technology all the best.

Chris: Thank you so much, Megan.

Megan: To all of our listeners, please tune in next week, and until then, take care.

[music]

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In this episode, we discuss how a CFO can effectively manage HR, the evolving role of the CFO, why CFOs need to stretch their budgets on achieving long-term goals, among other topics related to the CFO role of the present day.

Managing HR

Present day CFO managing HR

To successfully manage HR, CFOs need to engage with people, make sure they have the right talent, and direct them correctly, but also give them the freedom to do what they need within their careers and in front of the customers.

“You have to learn to get out and meet with people.”

The Evolution of the CFO Role

The evolution of the cfo role quote

The role of a CFO is becoming more strategic. Much of the attention goes towards operations. But also CFOs need to become more versatile and learn more about all aspects of the business.

“When I've found success in oversight of HR, you get people to realize that money can't be the only decision-maker.”

Balancing the Budget With HR Efforts

Chris caprio CFO Quote

Firstly, take decisions that are going to maintain employees. Secondly, identify and offer them motivational and engaging benefits to do their work with excitement and see that they can grow.

“You need capital to make investments. But I think you always need to be looking at the medium and long-term and identifying the right solution for where you're going.”

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

Need a hand in your accounting department? Personiv can help you fill finance positions for a fraction of the cost of a full-time employee, starting with one team member and scaling up as needed.

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