10 questions for LogMeIn CFO Jim Kelliher
- 15 May, 2012 01:04
Name: Jim Kelliher
Time with company: 6 years
Education: Bachelor of Science in Accountancy from Bentley College
Company headquarters: Woburn, Massachusetts
Revenue: $101M as of December 2011
Countries of operation: U.S., India, Hungary, the Netherlands, U.K., Australia, Japan
Number of employees total: 500
Number of employees the CFO oversees: 50
CFO's areas of responsibility: Finance, IT, legal, HR
About the company: LogMeIn provides software that allows remote control, file sharing, systems management, data backup, business collaboration and on-demand customer support of PCs, servers, Macs, smartphones and other connected devices
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I started with what is now known as PWC [PricewaterhouseCoopers] in public accounting. I was in public accounting for roughly six years, based here in Boston, and mainly focused on high tech and within high tech specifically on software companies, as an auditor.
The software industry is a good industry for a number of reasons. It's really dynamic, it changes so quickly. The cost of entry is a lot less than having to build a manufacturing plant and, in general, it's a young industry. Not just young in age, but young in mind set. Decisions have to be made quickly to stay competitive.
The other thing that I think really positioned me for differentiating myself in the marketplace was that in my first job after public accounting I went and lived overseas as the European finance director for a software company. I spent four years in London in the late '80s for a software company that had about 35 percent of its operational revenue coming from Europe. The company's name was Cullinet Software. That role gave me great operational experience and really great international experience and differentiated me in the marketplace. In this industry, where a lot of things are changing, international experience really does differentiate you.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
There are a number of individuals -- I've been in the industry since I was 21, so I've been around for 30 years and worked with a lot of people. One guy that I'm still very close with was the lead partner at PWC, a guy named Edwin Gillis, who was the high-tech partner there who helped mentor me early in my career, and then he and I reconnected. I was at Parametric and helped bring him in to be CFO and then worked for him there for another five or six years. He is on our board here now. He is very smart, very focused and works hard to get things done.
Internationally, I was 25, 26 years old and stepping outside the U.S. for the first time in my life, and I went to work for John McIntyre at Cullinet. He was vice president for Europe. He gave me a lot of operational business experience, taught me about what the implications are in software deals and how to get licensing deals done.
So, those two, one from a finance perspective and the other from a business perspective, really helped me.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
One is helping scale organizations and developing infrastructure and business models that companies can grow off of. The second is typical of a CFO or comptroller or VP of finance, and that is keeping the business in control, making sure that companies are spending the money in the right place or investing in the right areas. I actually put that second nowadays to scaling the business. At some point, number one becomes the ability to keep the company in control and pull back expenses when you need to. But in the environment I've been in here and even before here, it is really about the ability to scale.
It goes a little with keeping the business in control -- picking the right spot to spend your money and making sure you're investing in the right area.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
For me, it's making a difference. a good day at work for me is when my department(s) somehow makes a difference in the organization, we can help people make decisions and we advance the organization. It's feeling that all the work you do helps people make right decisions. That doesn't necessarily have to be in the finance area. It can be more business-focused than necessarily finance-focused. In my case, it depends on the strength of the respective organizations. Some organizations [such as finance, IT, legal, HR] are strong and really run themselves, others you have to be more involved in and help those things along.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
It's pretty open and pretty direct. The work style and the management style are the same. In all organizations I've always been in it's really a team effort and not just a team of finance or G&A -- general and administration -- so my style is very open and very direct and very focused on helping people or the organization solve problems, more than being rule-based.
6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?
That's an easy one because I just had to go through a process of interviewing some people. We, and I, look for someone who is smart. I look for basic smarts and the ability of people to figure things out, to have the intelligence and curiosity to go change things and do different things. A strong work ethic -- someone who is going to come in and work hard and get ahead. And what I characterize as passion, someone who is passionate about what they do, whether an HR person or a finance person or a legal person, but they want to be the best and be passionate about developing themselves and making change. And I look for people who can make decisions, people who are going to be able to step up and make a decision, and if it's a wrong decision, we reverse it and go and do something else.
So, I look for intelligence, someone who is a hard worker, passionate about what they do, and able to make decisions.
7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?
I use two approaches for my interview style. One is that I always go through the background and I want to understand why someone made certain decisions in their career. Why did someone go to this school and why did someone go to this job and why did they leave it? In part, it's a little bit of history repeats itself -- if someone is doing things for the right reasons that is probably someone who makes good decisions. So one is why did you do this and why did you change it, what were you trying to get at?
The other is more behavioral. Tell me about this situation where you had to deal with an employee in a performance issue or you had to fire someone or you had to get a deal done with a certain person. How did you approach it and what did you do? I want to get not just at how they did it but at their thinking behind it.
I also ask, "Where are you going, and why would you pick us over someone else?" And in conjunction with that I ask, "Where else are you interviewing?" I ask that not to know who is our competition, but what is the thinking behind where someone is interviewing. If they're interviewing with us, a startup tech company, and they're interviewing with a large legal firm or they're interviewing with a large financial firm, I have to think they might not know where they're going. But if they're interviewing with us and other small high-tech firms, then they are focused on the same space.
Our focus in interviews is more on trying to get to how the person will react.
It's not easy to find good people no matter what the job market is. Good people usually have good jobs. The people we want are driven and usually in good environments, so we're focused on how we pull them out of that.
Red flag answers are usually around people who can't make decisions and you can see that based on their track record. I also focus on that in the behavioral set of questions on how much work they actually do versus how much they can talk about the work. It's delving down into the details to find out did this person do it or did they review the work or just know that it was done. It's diving down into that detail and making sure the person is a worker. It's around decision-making and did you actually do the work.
I'm an anti-bureaucrat, so it's also all around is this person the right cultural fit? In all of my environments, they were not political, bureaucratic environments. People who come from those sorts of environments or have that characteristic don't thrive in the sort of environments I come from. Are you in it for yourself or the team? Are you in it to build the organization or to build a fiefdom?
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance officer positions?
A couple of things -- one, we're a young company, six or seven years old, so I would characterize that as a young company, growing very, very fast both people-wise and revenue-wise. So one is just the growth and the dynamics of the company being in the software space, our market is the cloud, in remote Internet-enabled devices. That whole environment is changing very quickly so the things that set the role apart is that the company is growing very fast and the market is growing as fast if not faster than the company.
With that comes the emphasis in my job that is more around organizational development or structural development than necessarily true finance. I focus a lot of my energies right now on creating the culture and environment that is going to keep the company successful for the next three, five, 10 years, and that is to make sure we stay focused on being very entrepreneurial. The people we are hiring are from the Y Generation, so I keep focused on how we can attract the very best Generation Y people, and on keeping that entrepreneurial high-tech environment at a company that is growing and maturing, but trying to stay as entrepreneurial as when our founders started LogMeIn.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I have three kids and the boys are involved in sports. I'm either coaching those sporting events or watching those sporting events, either in school or town events. So one way is spending time with my family.
A second is that I exercise to unwind, whether that is in the gym or my wife is extremely big into yoga and she has gotten me into yoga.
The third is in the summer time, I have a decent size garden but it's focused on a flower garden. I do a lot of that on the weekends. I have a pool area in which I have a whole bunch of exotic flowers and even banana trees -- seven or eight-foot banana trees growing around the garden.
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
I think I'd go back to my roots with my flowers. I think I'd be doing something in landscape architecture or landscape design. Either that or I'd be teaching kids or coaching kids in basketball -- kids in 6th 7th 8th grade.
If I was all done [with my career] and I had enough money, I'd spend more time in my garden, I'd have a greenhouse in my back yard and I'd be growing stuff, and I'd be coaching kids.