What It Takes to Be a Sustainable Startup CFO

October 7, 2021 Lydia Adams

sustainable cfo road

Imagine you’ve spent the better part of two decades as a sustainable CFO at one of the largest companies in the world. Then, you find a great opportunity in a startup. What a huge transition.

This week’s guest doesn’t have to imagine. Joel Krutz did just that for a chance to help make the world more sustainable, while still providing value for shareholders, as Chief Financial Officer at Crown Electrokinetics (NASDAQ: CRKN). He joins the show to share the lessons he’s learned from the experience.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • What compelled Joel to make the transition

  • How an SEC-traded startup requires a CFO who is part engineer, part artist

  • How Joel thinks about hiring 

  • The role of empathy plays in success as a startup CFO

From Large Company…

On the surface, Joel’s resume reads like someone making their way through some of the world’s largest companies. Growing up in rural New Zealand, he developed what he called a “major case of FOMO '' and ended up living in some of the largest cities in the world, and working for some of the largest companies.

He worked for BBC, BP, Bloomsbury Printing, and ultimately, was the CFO for ViacomCBS International, managing an extremely diverse portfolio of international business.

Sustainable CFO

So what on earth would make someone leave a company like ViacomCBS for a small environmental startup? And what skills did he take with him from his time at the large companies to help him be successful?

To Environmental Startup

To put it simply, Crown Electrokinetics, the firm that Joel joined, has one mission. That is to significantly reduce carbon emissions levels from one of the largest contributors: buildings.

Sustainable CFO Quote

Specifically the windows. Think about a large office building. They’re usually covered in glass, and when the sun is out, that glass allows a massive amount of light and heat through. What their technology does is work like a transition lens. When it’s clear, it’s like any normal pane of glass. But in the dark state, you can still see through it, but it reduces or eliminates nearly all heat coming in. This cuts down on heating and cooling costs for the building, which in turn cuts down on pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions put into the atmosphere.

The Skills Transfer of a Sustainable CFO

To put it bluntly, moving from a company as large as ViacomCBS to a startup brings with it an incredible amount of culture shock. The startup world works very differently than a Fortune 500 company. So what sort of skills did Joel bring with him from his time with some of the largest companies in the world? What skills were needed to migrate from an insane amount of structure to very little structure?

First and foremost, a desire to learn. As he mentions, growing up in rural New Zealand, there was a lot he missed out on — a lot that he didn't know. And for someone who always wants to know things, he made sure to put his curiosity into practice.

Joel Krutz Sustainable CFO

Secondly, the ability to build relationships. Obviously, at a huge company, you know and interact with a lot of different people from, in Joel’s case at ViacomCBS, all over the world. So that ability to connect with people and form meaningful relationships proved invaluable in the startup world.

Finally, the ability to listen. Any executive knows that in a huge company, the job can get very insulated. When you’re only interacting with other executives, you sometimes lose the ability to listen. But drawing on the relationship-building skill, Joel’s acute ability to not only form a relationship but listen and care, really gave him an advantage coming into a startup.

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