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The CFO Cohort

In this episode, we welcome Jeff Williams, COO of Shore, and Riley Looser, Head of the Resource Team, who discuss Shore's approach to CFO operations including the partnership with the Shore Resource Team (SRT). They share insights into the power of the portfolio CFO cohort for sharing knowledge and best practices. They also highlight the necessity of implementing structured processes early to enable CFOs to focus more on strategic initiatives necessary to scale the business.

Transcript

 

Introduction

Anderson Williams: Welcome to Bigger. Stronger. Faster., the podcast exploring how Shore Capital Partners brings billion-dollar resources to the microcap space. In this episode, I talk with Shore Capital's COO, Jeff Williams, and Head of the Shore Resource Team, Riley Looser, about their work leading and supporting our portfolio Chief Financial Officers.

To start the conversation, in addition to the CFO Cohort, Riley highlights the important partnership between the Shore Resource Team and Portfolio CFOs. This connection will be a common thread throughout the conversation.

To get started, will you just introduce yourself and say who you are and what you do here at Shore?

Jeff Williams: My name is Jeff Williams. I serve as the Chief Operating Officer at Shore Capital.

Riley Looser: My name is Riley Looser. I'm the Head of Resource Team here at Shore. So, part of that role, I oversee the day-to-day management and oversight of about 20 professionals that we call the Shore Resource Team. I oversee their professional development, their strategic staffing, their goals process, as well as just general coaching and development for all of these individuals.

There's a separate podcast on the Shore Resource Team. I highly recommend you listen to it, if not already. But the Shore Resource Team, it really serves as a talent funnel into our portfolio companies for future executive leaders across finance and operations. And we're really excited about this growing arm of Shore.

The CFO Cohort

Anderson Williams: So, when you think about the CFO Cohort, which is the focus of this conversation, Riley, why is that part of what you're doing as you describe what your role is and talk a little bit about what it means? What is the CFO cohort?

Riley Looser: The CFO cohort at Shore is comprised of today about 40 professionals, finance leaders, CFOs across our portfolio, in addition to the SRT.

We get together formally and informally throughout the year. Formally four times a year, quarterly, and we discuss best practices, we address business challenges, and really learn from each other's successes and failures, or if you've ever heard of the network effect, I would say leveraging that heavily in order to make everyone better at their job.

And the Resource Team members all have aspirations to become a finance leader as well as hands on experience supporting the portfolio across many different facets and ways, and they help lead and participate heavily in this program as well.

Anderson Williams: So, say a little bit more about that, because I think that's an interesting way of your introduction coming together with the CFO cohort that the members of your team with SRT are actually aspiring to or potentially growing into CFO roles, right?

Riley Looser: That's right. My team serves the portfolio across many stages and ways. They support portfolio company onboarding up front and during the hold, strategic projects, and interim management, are big ways that we get involved with our portfolio companies. And further closer to exit sell side readiness prep and supporting our CFOs in that capacity as well.

Many have a deals background and so are well positioned to help advise and lead our finance leaders in this capacity.

Anderson Williams: I'm going to build on that a little bit, Jeff. As Riley mentioned, the deals background. Will you just back up just a little bit and talk a little bit about Shore's philosophy and the way we invest and the acquisitive nature of what we do as it relates to that idea of deals velocity?

Jeff Williams: Sure, I think the hardest part about being a CFO at a Shore Capital company or even on the Shore Resource Team is the speed in which we acquire and then integrate. Most businesses I'm familiar with, and I think most people that are experienced with M&A, they might do three or four M&A transactions through the hold period, five, six, seven years, whatever that may be.

But we're buying, you know, some of our platform companies will buy 30, 40, 50 different add ons through the lifetime. And that velocity is so unique. Being part of a cohort that has experience with that sort of velocity is extremely valuable and extremely helpful because it is so unique. You can't pick up a phone and just call some other CFO that you may or may not know that has that sort of experience and that sort of velocity.

So, this cohort brings together 40 plus people and a lot of them have hands on everyday experience. And acquiring, integrating businesses at a high rate of speed.

Anderson Williams: And what is it about the acquisition process and the number that puts the pressure on, or that is so unique for the CFO?

Jeff Williams: Yeah. I mean, there's a natural tension between business development typically and the CEO and the CFO because BD is pushed to get deals done as you might expect or partnerships.

The CEO is tasked with growth and we keep doing that over and over again. And then the CFO oftentimes is sort of left there to put it all together behind the scenes and stitch it all together from an FP&A perspective, from a reporting perspective, governance perspective, compliance perspective, et cetera.

And that can be difficult. It's really behind the scenes and there's a lot of detailed steps that you have to get right and the sequence is important and no deal is a small deal. And no deal really is exactly the same.

Play Down and Up

Anderson Williams: So given in that context, Riley, and the development of potential CFOs through the SRT, what is it that makes a good CFO in this kind of environment?

Riley Looser: As you can imagine, in the microcap space, we run lean management teams. And I think what makes a CFO really successful is their ability to play down and play up if you will, if they can be hands on keyboard, jump in and help close the books and run and be a doer on a strategic initiative one day, but the next day be a strategic thought partner and decision maker for the rest of the C suite and the CEO.

I think that is what adds a lot of horsepower and velocity to these teams and that's what's really needed in order to be successful.

Anderson Williams: Anything you'd add, Jeff, to that?

Jeff Williams: I think outside of the basics, you know, do they have the right skills, finance, and accounting, certainly leadership plays a part. But one thing that stuck with me is that in the beginning, as Riley mentioned, we're very lean and mean.

You know, there's a few people on the corporate team and then they, as they grow, they start to build those teams out and you probably start at the beginning of doing everything. And then you shift to a phase of, you need to start building the perfect process because you have to let go to move on to be a strategic partner to the CEO and the board.

And so, making that pivot from doing everything to letting go and trusting the process, trusting the people that you put in place, the right controls, oversight reviews, and so on. So, you can pivot away and get to more strategic, bigger picture things, helping the CEOs see around the corner. I think that's super difficult.

It's very hard to teach, very hard to explain, but it starts with building the perfect process.

Anderson Williams: And how does the cohort model help with that idea? Shore talks a lot about process and talks about pattern recognition. How does the cohort help expedite or streamline that process that's required for a CFO to have that evolution you've just described?

Jeff Williams: Yeah. When you're a CFO, it's very lonely. You can't really explain everything to your team below you. You certainly laterally can't have honest and sometimes super blunt, transparent conversations because A. there isn't appropriate all the time or B. it's just, there's no time of the day or C. it's just different roles, responsibilities doesn't make sense.

And then it doesn't always make sense to have those same discussions with your CEO. So having that cohort, having that team of people to lean on that are anchored by the same sponsor, anchored by the same maniacal focus on process, you know, the same board meeting cadences and a lot of the same challenges.

I mean, it just helps being around a bunch of people that have been around it and done it before at all different phases. And so just having that extra group of people there to lean on and help and seek advice and laugh with or cry with or whatever's going on that day, it's almost like a therapeutic as well as educational process.

And it de levers you, it helps.

Anderson Williams: Anything you'd add to that, Riley?

Riley Looser: Yeah, I would say the biggest piece of feedback we get from our CFOs on our program is that they want to hear most from each other. So, we facilitate breakout sessions during these quarterly meetings and summits and we allow them to meet with each other and discuss topics that they've raised.

So, whether it's how to run an effective integration or how to hire slow and fire fast and how to manage your sponsor and your board. They all face similar challenges every day and that comes back to the Shore process, is that they all have something to learn from each other because they're all building similar processes and facing similar challenges.

In Terms of the Process

Anderson Williams: Are there some examples just real practical for someone listening of what it looks like from the process standpoint?

Riley Looser: Closing your books, building a closed checklist that has names and owners and timelines on it so that it can be executed month after month and even streamlined and improved to be quicker.

Building processes around reporting and communicating with your lender and credit agreement cheat sheets so that you know every month on the dot exactly what you're in compliance with and not. These are types of things that the Shore Resource Team helps our CFOs with that our CFOs lead and we hope that they can share best practices on these with each other.

Anderson Williams: Anything else from a process standpoint, Jeff, that comes to your mind?

Jeff Williams: When a CFO walks in, you know, day one, day 100, day 50, somewhere in there. Oftentimes you could be in a position where you're creating a thirteen-week cashflow from scratch. You are for the first time ever creating a budget process at the company from scratch, or I need to create a, you know, incentive based variable compensation plan from scratch.

Being part of this cohort, you can start it from scratch, but why not just reach out, phone a friend, and leverage all these interesting and really effective tools that have been tried and true over the last, you know, 13, 14 years of investing and growing and give those a shot versus starting from scratch.

That's one big, powerful element of the cohort.

The Upside

Anderson Williams: And when you look across the portfolio and over time, Jeff, and you having been a CFO before, what is the upside? What's the exciting part? What's the enticing part for someone who thinks they want to be a CFO to come into this kind of environment? Because what you're describing could feel extremely intimidating, even with the support and so forth.

But talk a little bit about the exciting part, the upside of being a CFO in this environment.

Jeff Williams: I think the cohort and the processes and a hundred-day plan and the SRT, we put in place a structure, a group around the CFO to help them get up on their feet quicker than they otherwise would, build that foundation so that you can sustain and get ready for that growth going forward.

And what I tell the people is get boring as fast as you can. If you're closing in 10 days, close in five days. So, we have tools that'll help you do that. And the reason why that's so important is get the boring kind of table stakes stuff out of the way. So, the other 25 days of the month, you can work on strategic initiatives.

You can really work on productivity initiatives. You can help drive the top line, be a true strategic partner. And that's the fun stuff as a CFO. That's where you really feel like you're making a difference. And then in terms of like, what do you get excited about? When you have upside equity potential at PE backed business, such as our 40 plus portfolio CFOs have today, it is a tremendously exciting experience knowing that you're all rowing in the same direction.

And we're trying to produce outside returns for our investors and the management team and all the employees there. And it's just a lot of fun.

Anderson Williams: And Riley, if somebody is listening to this podcast and thinking they might want to be a CFO in an environment like this, what advice do you have for someone as they're maybe on the front end of their career or potentially looking at a career shift?

What advice do you have for somebody thinking about that?

Riley Looser: I would just tell them when you start working in a micro-cap environment, a lot gets thrown at you at once. And being able to think through what is urgent and what is priority every day and keep yourself sane is really important to eliminate burnout.

And I think our best performing CFOs, they're really good at taking all of the different things that need to get done and putting them in order of what's most urgent, what's most important, and then getting those things done first and effectively and timely so that the business can run and then they're staying afloat.

And I would also say another thing that helps our strongest CFOs have a really strong controller beneath them. And they really invest in that person or the people on their team. Teams start small and grow over time, obviously, but seeing CFOs take time to find the right controller and then really invest in them, I think makes a world of a difference, for our top performing CFOs.

Anderson Williams: What about you, Jeff? Any advice? Somebody listening to this, thinking they might want to step into a role like this, things they should consider, things they should think about?

Jeff Williams: I think when you jump into a PE backed CFO role, you need to take a hard look at the sponsor. I think there's plenty of them out there.

They're not all the same. There's a lot of good ones and a lot of bad ones. I think you look at the senior investment team that you'll be working with and alongside. You know, do you get along with them? Do you gel with them? Do you want to be around them? I think it's important to look at the thesis. Does it get you excited?

Does where they want to go in the strategic plan get you excited? Do you believe in it? Life's too short. I think you need to check a lot of those boxes before you make a jump, but when you do, and if you're all in and passionate about it, it's just a tremendous amount of fun.

The Shore Resource Team

Riley Looser: Depending on your background, another piece of advice I'd have is to definitely look at the Shore Resource Team as an opportunity, and a jumping off ground into CFO roles within Shore.

That's because a lot of the team members we hire, they have consulting or transaction services background, which is FDD, other deals, and they may not have been an operator before or been in that environment, so they would have natural blind spots to the need’s day to day at a portfolio company right away.

But coming into the Shore Resource team, they have the opportunity to work with the sponsor and also work with the portfolio companies for a two to three year period or more and really get that hands on experience on what it's like to be an operator watching our portfolio CFOs on a day to day basis, their successes, their failures, the things that they need to focus on, such as integration, hiring, and they get so much more experience in that that they would have in their past life.

And it makes them so much more successful in a finance leader role. Our Resource Team members also have the opportunity to work on interim management type roles. Right now, I have three to four team members that are actually out in the portfolio in place of a CFO or a VP of finance and they're running the day-to-day duties of that individual while the deal team conducts an outside talent search for these individuals as a replacement.

And so, they get to manage the finance department at a portfolio company. I don't really know if I can think of a better experience than that. And they're learning while doing it.

Jeff Williams: I think when you're in those sorts of situations or fast paced, intense environments, your rate of learning is far greater than a normal day, let's say.

So, if you're on an interim CFO engagement for say three, four, five, six months, it's probably like working two years in the real world because things are coming at you so fast and you have to be unbelievably focused on prioritization and what really matters and where's the cash and all those things. I think when you're in a call it a friskier crisis mode, if you will, they force you to really dial in and focus on what matters.

And when you're in those sorts of situations like you look back and those are the times that you may not have thought about it when you're sitting in the middle of it, but those are the times that you really cherish because you've learned just so much so fast.

Anderson Williams: And you're learning in that sense, not just about the processes we've talked about the critical processes, but you're learning the leadership lessons in that environment, because that's not your team. You're stepping into that team and having to pick up culture and all of those things, right? Say a little bit more about that side of the CFO role from where you guys sit.

Jeff Williams: Yeah. I mean, you look at a resume and you see some outstanding resumes and backgrounds and so on, but you can't measure the GUI factor.

How are they going to do under pressure? Will people follow them? Can they lead? How do they handle themselves in situations where there's some sort of dramatic event that occurs at their company? And those reps are priceless because you really, you can't train for, you can't teach it. You have to just sort of sit in there and experience it firsthand.

And those will happen if you're a CFO. And so, if you get a chance to do that on an interim CFO engagement with the structure of the Shore Resource Team, with the structure of the CFO cohort, you know, having that bench, having that foundation is a huge asset.

Riley Looser: And I'm really excited about the future in the next few years of the CFO cohort because as we have more and more Shore Resource Team members transition into the portfolio as CFOs, they join these day summits or quarterly meetings and they're alumni of the team and they're now connecting with the more junior Shore Resource Team members.

And they're building that network as well, and it's really fun to see them succeed and hear their updates on a weekly basis across our portfolio updates, and then have them also come back and have breakfast with the team every once in a while, and share, this is what it's been like for me, leaving Shore, working at a portfolio company.

Here's what I would focus on if I were you. Here's what I would have changed. And that SRT alumni effect, for lack of a better word, I think is going to have a big impact over the next couple of years on the team as we grow.

Anderson Williams: If you enjoyed this episode, check out our other Bigger. Stronger. Faster. episodes at www.shorecp.university/podcasts. There you will find an episode dedicated specifically to the Shore Resource Team, with in depth stories and examples of what the SRT does to support our portfolio CFOs.

This podcast was produced by Shore Capital Partners with story and narration by Anderson Williams. Recording and editing by Andrew Malone. Editing by Reel Audiobooks. Sound design, mixing, and mastering by Mark Galup of Reel Audiobooks.

Special thanks to Jeff Williams and Riley Looser.

This podcast is the property of Shore Capital Partners, LLC. None of the content herein is investment advice, an offer of investment advisory services, nor a recommendation or offer relating to any security. See the Terms of Use page on the Shore Capital website for other important information.

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