Brad Perry is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of beqom, the provider of a cloud-based total compensation solution. beqom’s mission is to make the people of the world's largest enterprises happy, with correct, fair and transparent compensation.
Brad has 22 years of experience in senior Finance positions, creating value for customers and shareholders of blue-chip technology companies. He served for a decade in Finance at IT services innovator EDS, which was acquired by HP. At HP, Brad served as a Finance and Operations leader of some of the company’s largest and most complex global IT services engagements and in its largest and most complex market segments. He went on to become VP of Finance for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and then DXC Technology, before moving to his current role at beqom.
While we continue to face the realities of COVID-19, how have you seen your approach to Finance/Business Operations evolve?
Initially, COVID-19 forced us to take emergency measures – we implemented spend restrictions, some short-term actions, such as taking advantage of some government support programs. We looked at it as a temporary impact that we would need to buffer before moving back into the normal operating mode.
However, we quickly realised that the impact would not be short-term, COVID itself would last for a longer period and, even after COVID-19, a lot of the norms will have changed. So, we started to try to make more permanent shifts, like moving away from things that require physical interaction, like trade fairs, our office setup, the way that we did travel, the way that we interacted with customers, and we invested more in digital activities. We were already pretty big in digital marketing, but we did more around remote webcasts and things like that to build pipeline, to build a view of new customers and, as we looked at the software, we’ve really tried to start to invest to make it more self-service, to allow customer autonomy and not require onsite interaction.
Additionally, the good news for most companies that sell into corporate enterprise is that we found that we can do strategic selling remotely; we don’t have to be onsite, we don’t have to have a single customer interaction. It’s preferable, but we have successfully managed to attract and close deals without a physical meeting.
What do you think is the future of Finance?
I think immediately it is about automation and making the job simpler. We have tried to look at what makes the processes that we run complex and simplifying them in various ways, for example, reducing the number of legal entities, consolidating the way that we make payments, etc.
Automation is a lot about the tools; there’s a lot of products on the market right now to automate tasks around time tracking, billing, everything from payments to preparing your annual financial statements, and we’re working to implement that. All companies are looking to simplify the core activities around Finance and Accounting and it’s important that we do that to free up mind share to do the next thing.
Beyond more the mid-term, we are trying to enable ourselves to manage things more dynamically, by shifting our spending, shifting our resources between areas and quickly being very reactive - being proactive on how we deploy our resources is critical. We need to be very flexible and almost start from a zero-budgeting mentality, where each month we question the base that we have and think about how we would operate in the new environment each day as we see the situation unfold.
Longer-term, I think we’re going to see Finance move not just away from transaction on inter-business partnering, but beyond that, incorporating a lot of operational elements and changing the way businesses operate around IT, Procurement, employing personnel, and that is where the big value is going to be and finding ways to drive the financial performance of a company from all aspects.
COVID has accelerated these changes to a point - it really taught us the need for speed. I think we have seen the same in the recruitment area, too. The workforce is changing quite quickly and, at the company level, being able to attract and employ new skills quickly is super important. On the individual level, it is important for people to be able to evolve themselves and upskill for the future. It was a tough time, but it was an important learning for businesses and people in their work.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of your role?
As CFO of a mid-size company, I get to do it all and that is really the most interesting thing about my role. I work on very specific problems that need solving; making payments happen in countries and avoiding VAT, to creating strategic long-term business plans to present to the Board and to drive the performance of the company towards that objective. Working both at the transactional level on very practical things that need to happen and encouraging strategic initiatives at the same time.
Additionally, in my role, I get to work on a lot of things that are not traditionally in the Finance and Accounting domain, which includes how we structure the software to maximise revenue, how we hire the best talent to do that software development, to do the sales and marketing. So, being able to work around all aspects of the company is exciting for me and that’s the best part of my role. I’m fortunate that, in my company, in my role, there is a lot of trust and there is an openness where we can talk about other people’s domain and really have a say and help to make everyone great.
How do you think companies could reduce bias in their hiring process?
It is important that you start at the beginning and you set up a process where you get a good pool of candidates with the required skills and experience. You must make sure that that pool of candidates includes underrepresented parts of the community, so that you have allowed enough of the process to run where you have the opportunity to include diverse candidates in the selection process.
In the selection itself, you need to make sure that everyone’s been screened, has the skills and experience, can fit the company culture, is a solid candidate for the role and you believe could do the job. Then, take a step back and review the top candidates, asking, “Have we brought in diversity for consideration?”, and then as you go into the actual selection, if you find equally great candidates, always try to select the one that would bring more diversity into the company, because we know that more diverse representation in companies - especially in more senior positions - improves the company performance. It’s known that having different perspectives really makes companies better, so when you have the opportunity, lean towards that and take advantage of it.
What risks have you taken throughout your career and how did they help you to get to where you are?
The biggest risk I’ve taken throughout my career is not being afraid to talk to people. I have always been very ambitious and wanted to grow myself in different ways; not just climbing the ladder, but have different experiences, move to different regions of the world, work in different disciplines, manage different aspects of the business, learn how to lead in all different respects. The way that I did that was really proactive networking. I wasn’t afraid to identify people that I thought could help me to progress my career, either directly through giving me an opportunity or mentoring me or opening other doors and introducing me to other people to talk to. I wasn’t afraid to do that, and it really helped me build my network, both within a company and outside of a company, talking and really explaining where I want to go and understanding the path to get there.
A lot of people are afraid of that. They are either afraid to set up the conversation to approach someone or, when they speak to the person, they are afraid to be clear about what they want and ask for help and ask for assistance to get there. As I’ve gone further in my career, I know that more senior people appreciate it when people are proactive and have a great aspiration and want their help and advice, so I think it’s great that I did it and I would definitely recommend it to other folks.
Moving back to the diversity discussion, I think it’s equally, if not more important, for people who are coming from underrepresented parts of society to build those connections and to be more proactive to overcome the natural bias that exists in business.
What is the biggest myth about your profession that you want to debunk?
The biggest myth in my profession is that Finance and Accounting people are boring and very conservative. It’s absolutely not true! Technology is evolving to the point of automating the boring, mundane tasks that go around Finance and Accounting and what’s needed is really creativity, being not risk adverse, but identifying the right risk to take to maximise the business performance, and being really quick and innovative in the way that you approach the role and support the business.
The people that are attracted to Finance and Accounting roles are, by nature, thinking big. They know that the numbers represent the business in a way and understanding the Finances of a company you really can see through and understand the whole company. There’s this big picture aspect that attracts a certain type of person and then there’s the problem-solving element that drives creative thinking, and all of that attracts interesting people who are ambitious and want to take on challenges, think the big picture, think creatively. That’s not boring and I think it’s also not conservative. The other thing is, we are always the most fun – Finance is the life of the party!
What’s the biggest compliment anyone’s ever given you?
I have been told a few times in my career, “Oh, you’re not like the typical Finance guy,” “You’re not the typical Accountant”. So that was always a nice compliment for me, because the stereotype is real, and everybody expects that you’re boring and super conservative. So, personally, I’m trying to debunk that myth.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who was looking to leave the corporate structure and go into something newer and a bit more dynamic?
I worked for 20 years in large corporate enterprises, and I knew when I was looking for the next role, the next change, I wanted to do something quite different. I really wanted to try my hand at something more entrepreneurial for the second half of my career. I made a conscious decision around that, but I didn’t fully understand what it meant until I actually got it. I knew it was going to be a big change to go from a large corporate enterprise to a mid-market type of company, a smaller company, and it was.
I think a lot of what I expected was true; I knew that it would be much more hands-on, I knew that it would be much broader in terms of responsibility, but I think I did not appreciate how much work it would be to really get control of it to work on the details, to worry about things that I never would have had to worry about in previous roles. Bank accounts, payments going through, employment regulations at the personal level, really transactional level things that are super important for the business that I would never have had to have worried about in the past all of a sudden become really important and, in a way, strategic, even though they’re at the very detailed level.
It took me a while to see that and to realise that and now that I’m comfortable with it, having the ability to do that, to get involved where it matters, while at the same time doing the very big strategic stuff thinking long-term, thinking about how we should really change things dramatically and move towards a different direction, and then making it happen at the detailed level.
For people that are considering making such a change, it really takes a certain type of person. First and foremost, you cannot have a huge ego coming into this role. If you think you’re above doing certain things, then it will never work. You need to really be a doer; you cannot be afraid to get your hands dirty, you also need to be really flexible, and able to take a decision and move in a different direction overnight.
Also, being able to tackle issues and not be overwhelmed by the latest problems that might crop up that need to be addressed. I think somebody coming into this role has really got to be able to manage their time really effectively and decide what they want to focus on, what’s the most important thing to close down and to communicate that clearly to the team and to the company.
Another aspect is, typically Finance and Accounting people work internally in their company in large corporations, interacting primarily with other people in the company, other parts of Finance, the business owners, whereas when you move into a smaller company, you have huge volumes of external interactions with the board and shareholders, but also with lenders, with customers, with partners that supply resources… all of that has a huge responsibility under the CFO.
So, being comfortable to interact with people that you’ve never met that work in entirely different domains, negotiate leases for offices, service agreements, these are things that a lot of people in their corporate roles have never experienced. It takes a little bit of someone that’s comfortable, someone that’s a bit extroverted to be able to make that transition.
You need to have built the skill before taking this type of role; it didn’t come naturally to me in the beginning, I’m not a natural salesperson, but I knew that I needed to build that skill over time, as it was important to my career. Coming into this role, you cannot be a back office person - you need to be ready to engage at a lot of different levels, which is really fulfilling.
At the end of the day, you know that you’ve worked on what you think are the most important things, and you’ve driven the business forward and you feel a great satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment at the end of it.
Thank you to Brad for speaking to our Finance & Accountancy recruitment team in Switzerland.
Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.