Sunny Donenfeld, Dean of Finance and Administration and CFO at USC Marshall School of Business, interviewed Kenneth Goldman, Chief Financial Officer at Yahoo, in a fireside chat about his role as CFO at Yahoo and the advantages of being a CFO in a tech company.
Donenfeld began the fireside chat with Goldman at the 2017 Chief Financial Officer Leadership Forum held in San Francisco on February 8 by stating, “Let’s talk about Yahoo. It seems to be the most scrutinized company out there. Does that scrutiny affect your job as CFO?”
“Since the late ’90s, I’ve aspired to get back into the Internet if that opportunity came along,” replied Goldman. “I followed Yahoo over the years, because I felt I’d do something different if I were there. My taking the job at Yahoo was a situation where the CEO called me out of the blue and asked me if I’d be interested in the job. I didn’t know her, but she talked to people who mentioned me as a good person for the role. By the way, I can’t overemphasize how important referrals are in finding a good job. Also, I like consumer-facing companies. You get rapid cause and effect,” he said.
“In our last quarter, Q4, our head count was essentially flat. We were able to hire and attract as many people as we lost. People tell me they want to work at Yahoo, knowing the challenges, because they feel it’s an important company. People like what we stand for, what we do, and they root for us. We’re content-rich, media-rich, with a strong technology flair.”
Donenfeld asked, “There have been a couple issues in the news regarding Yahoo. Relating to the hacking issue, how do you, as CFO, think about risk, and how did that issue impact the company for the long term?”
“Obviously, the brand and reputation are important,” replied Goldman. “The hack was unfortunate, and this issue has increased the significance of visibility for a number of companies. In some areas, like finance and accounting, we know where to look for surprises. In the cybersecurity area, it’s not as straightforward as some people might think. It’s a tough situation. We have to be careful what we say publicly. Over the years, our stance has been relatively quiet. I think we could have been more forthcoming and direct with the press about telling our story.”
“The hack was unfortunate, and this issue has increased the significance of visibility for a number of companies. In some areas, like finance and accounting, we know where to look for surprises. In the cybersecurity area, it’s not as straightforward as some people might think.”
“I want to switch gears and talk about the Verizon proposed acquisition, particularly as it relates to HR,” said Donenfeld. “How do you keep employees engaged and retain them in a time of uncertainty?”
“Verizon is concerned that we retain people, however that might be accomplished—from benefits to pay to days off and so forth. The way that Internet companies compete and what they provide to employees is different than a software company, and we compete for talent against those companies. What struck me and continues to strike me is that our employees, at large, really like our company—the management, what we’re doing, the culture, the open atmosphere, the products and technologies. This is what binds and attracts employees to our company.”
Donenfeld’s next questions was, “Many of us consider tech synonymous with innovation. Does the finance team have a role in bringing innovation to tech companies?”
“The CFO is a great role in a tech company. You can have a lot of impact on the business. The CEO relies on you because you’re viewed as independent and objective in your advice and counsel,” replied Goldman. “You need to love your products and love your company, because you’re a salesperson for the company. You can’t do your job if you don’t believe in your company. Which brings me to the question, How do you decide when to leave a company? It’s very simple. I leave companies when I can no longer do what I just said. If I can’t look somebody in the face and attract them to or keep them in the company, it’s time for me to move on. I view employees in the same way. If they don’t feel love for the company, I wish them good luck. The only other time I leave is if I get a job offer—like this one at Yahoo—that I can’t say no to.”
“You need to love your products and love your company, because you’re a salesperson for the company. You can’t do your job if you don’t believe in your company.”
An audience member asked, “I’m just down the road from you at Google. I’m interested in your process in taking on different roles throughout your career. How do you approach that?”
“As far as my participation on boards, I look at the other board members and see clearly if that’s a board I want to work with. I do essentially no due diligence. As far as companies, I’ve worked for some very tough folks. People know I take on challenges. Also, I want to be wanted, so I only go if someone recruits me, wants me, and wants to listen to me,” he explained.
“Here are some important things I’ve learned,” said Goldman in conclusion. “You can’t do your CFO job well if you’re worried about your job. I’ve never been fired, but I’ve always had the attitude that if a job doesn’t work out, there’s something else I can do. Second, you have to adjust the systems to the CEO, not vice versa.”
ABOUT KENNETH GOLDMAN:
Mr. Goldman is chief financial officer of Yahoo, Inc. and has been responsible for Yahoo’s global finance functions including financial planning and analysis, controllership, tax, treasury, and investor relations since October 2012. Prior to that, Mr. Goldman served as senior vice president, finance and administration, and chief financial officer of Fortinet, Inc., a provider of unified threat management solutions, from September 2007 to September 2012. From November 2006 to August 2007, Mr. Goldman served as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Dexterra, Inc. From August 2000 until March 2006, Mr. Goldman served as senior vice president, finance and administration, and chief financial officer of Siebel Systems, Inc. Prior to that, he was CFO of several public and private companies. During his professional career—now spanning over forty years—Mr. Goldman has served on the boards of directors of NXP Semiconductor, Yahoo Japan, Trinet, and GoPro, Inc. as well as non-profit boards such as the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Foundation board.
Mr. Goldman was a member of the board of trustees of Cornell University from 2005 to 2013 and was designated as Emeritus Trustee. From December 1999 to December 2003, Mr. Goldman served on the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council (FASAC). He was a member of the Treasury Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession, a public committee that makes recommendations to encourage a more sustainable auditing profession, from 2007 to 2008. Mr. Goldman was appointed in January 2015 to a three-year term in the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s (PCAOB’s) Standing Advisory Group (SAG), an organization that provides advice on the need to formulate new accounting standards or change existing standards. Mr. Goldman holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School.
ABOUT SUNNY DONENFELD:
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