CFO Corner: Sensitivity analyses for working capital
Bob Pinkerton, CFO of contact center solutions provider Alpine Access of Denver, discusses streamlining the deal-review process and running sensitivities around working capital for cash flow forecasts.
What was the biggest challenge your company faced over the last 12 months and how were you able to overcome it with financial leadership? We managed a frenetic pace of 50 percent revenue growth and, at the same time, built business systems that allow us to drive operating leverage and scale. Fortunately, our senior management team is versed in handling growth, and building scale and repeatability into daily operations. From a finance perspective, we have streamlined our new business deal review process and implemented weekly P&L meetings with our biggest account teams, among other things. This has helped standardize deals, ensure that we are looking at deals from a holistic company perspective, and has kept operations focused on profitability as the company breaks revenue records.
What has made your company stand out and be successful financially? Alpine Access has led the industry in revenue and profit growth over the last four to five years because our customers understand that the virtual @Home customer service representative provides the best quality customer interaction and is infinitely more flexible than any other representative – onshore or offshore. We use a 100 percent virtual @home agent workforce and we have always been virtual – it is our DNA. We can hire the best people wherever they live. We give employees the freedom to live where they want, along with the flexibility to work at times that best meet their unique needs. Finally, we are experts in recruiting, training and managing a truly virtual workforce. We recruit and train 100 percent online, and our employees work 100 percent online. That expertise shows up in the quality of service, our flexibility and the value we deliver to our clients.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your position? Having been CFO for several companies, I believe it is the responsibility of the senior finance executive to be an expert at both analytics and communication. The CFO must be able to take a massive amount of financial, operational, and market data, lift from it the most important facts, trends, and insights, and communicate the message and conclusions in a clear and concise way for non-financial people. It is the CFO’s job to “get to the heart of the matter” and make a recommendation. A CFO is a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Ronald Reagan.
How do you prepare for board meetings and what information is most important for you to present? I first spend time as Sherlock Holmes – looking at spot data, trends, relationships, industry dynamics, account performance, cost structure, etc., and arrive at half a dozen conclusions. Once the most important insights and conclusions are teased out, I determine the best way to communicate what is going on, my interpretation of it, and how best to act on the conclusions – this is where Ronald Reagan takes over. I spend as much time getting the slides, graphics, and words right as I do doing the analytics. I believe in three to four “money slides” that tell the story so well that if the board only remembered those slides, they would have the entire picture. I DO NOT BELIEVE in huge 30- page decks with pages after pages of numbers and graphs. Less than a dozen slides with the most critical information highlighted and, most importantly, interpreted is the best. That does not mean the board doesn’t get all the detail. I send out the full board packages at least a week in advance of a meeting. That way, they have ample time to review all of the highly detailed financial and business information and can be ready to engage on the most important messages.
What’s a common error in cash flow forecasting, and what advice do you have? A common error for middle market companies is not running sensitivity analyses around working capital. In the budgeting and forecasting process, so much work goes into the detailed revenue and expense/CapEx forecasting that often, not enough time and energy is applied to working capital. Many companies assume that their customers will continue paying them generally in the same manner as in the past. Given the recent challenges in the economy, those assumptions are not necessarily holding up. Additionally, many vendors are often having cash flow challenges themselves, making stretching payables a risk/reward balance. If you stretch them too much, they might break, leaving you with very few near-term options. The obvious way to address this is to run the budget/forecast with different working capital sensitivities so that you can gauge how sensitive your business is to 2%-5%-10% swings in AR, how you might address that, and the implications to your cash flow.
What do you do to retain your strategic vision despite the crush of day-to-day operations? The best ways to maintain a view toward strategy when the team is caught up in tactics is by (1) hiring the right team – one that understands the importance of staying on strategy even when near-term benefits might suggest otherwise, (2) driving structured processes in managing the day-to-day business so you aren’t running the business with your hair on fire, and (3) forcing yourself and your team to take several hours a week to discuss/review where the company is going long term and how what you are doing every day helps or hinders that journey.
What’s your favorite book? (For business or escape) Favorite business book: “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” by Patrick Lencioni. In my view, every leader should be required to read the Lencioni Series. Favorite escape book: “Touching the Void,” by Joe Simpson. There is no better book on mountain climbing.
Alpine Access, based in Denver, provides virtual contact center solutions and services, and workforce solutions, including SaaS-based talent management platforms, security solutions in the cloud, and consulting services. CFO Bob Pinkerton began his career as an investment banker, and is the former corporate treasurer and CFO of CSG Systems International Inc.’s global software division. He has also served on the board and as transitional CEO of mix1 Beverage Company. He has an MBA from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester. He is also a member of the board and executive committee for the Epilepsy Foundation of America in Washington, D.C.