MediaCom-North America’s CFO Mark Piazza exercises left brain and right to achieve well-rounded financial management success.
By Christine Gatuiria
When Mark Piazza is presented with financial data, he does not focus exclusively on the numbers. Instead, he looks for the story behind the numbers to paint a full picture before making any decision.
“People don’t think a CFO needs a creative skill-set,” Piazza remarked, noting that indeed his position calls for a great deal of imagination. One might even say MediaCom-North America’s CFO has discovered the holy grail of financial management: the ability to blend left-brain (analytical) and right-brain (intuitive) talents to ensure that budgets are spent on priorities and that dollars are matched with real key performance indicators.
A proud native New Yorker, Piazza grew up knowing he wanted to be a leader. “As a child, I loved competition,” he said. “I enjoyed taking risks and the challenge associated with being told I couldn’t do something.” Early on in his career, Piazza set his sights on a CFO role; he systematically worked toward achieving his goal, taking on various financial management, strategic planning and operational positions in the CPG, retail, marketing and advertising sectors. He also worked as a general manager for two years, a role which exposed him to all aspects of business management and solidified his overall expertise.
When Piazza stepped into his current CFO role five years ago, it was a goal accomplished, paving the way for new ones, and a natural, mutual fit.
A People-Focused Finance Pro
Piazza enjoys the various responsibilities that come with his job. “We [the Finance Group] are risk, procurement, financial and operational. No matter what you’re talking about, all roads lead to finance,” Piazza said. “That’s why I love the role, it’s so diverse.”
Finance is at the center of things in another way, too: in collaborating with clients and agency management to develop compensation models that give the agency some skin in the game. “I work with some of the most amazing and talented people in the industry on a daily basis,” he said.
Piazza interacts with the executive leadership team often and also manages seven direct reports. He knows his co-workers well—personally due to his own easygoing style and professionally due to MediaCom-North America’s 360° Performance Review process. This intensive evaluation and multi-assessment procedure helps create an open, collaborative and respectful work environment.
“There’s nowhere to hide and it’s a humbling process,” Piazza said, “but in the end you get honesty and balanced feedback.”
Not that Piazza is the type of leader who waits to give or receive feedback. Being a CFO is a high-pressure job, and he relies on his team to get him answers “quicker, better, faster.” So when it comes to managing his people, Piazza believes in praising staffers when they do well and giving them timely, constructive feedback when they run into obstacles.
Piazza puts the need to nurture strong relationships in a corporate environment simply: “I’m only as good as my people.”
And a Team Player
To accomplish such a balanced left-right brain approach, Piazza works closely with other departments outside Finance, especially Human Resources. Recently he collaborated with Virginia Hanchar, EVP HR and Talent, to initiate the Buddy System, a new initiative focused on helping newly hired senior executives to navigate the fast-paced MediaCom environment.
The program provides the new executives with a confidant outside of his or her reporting hierarchy to help the individual acclimate into the organization comfortably and steadily. The Buddy System has significantly improved employee satisfaction and retention, and also has made an impact to the bottom line.
“If you spend six figures on a senior hire and they don’t work out, then you have to start all over again,” Piazza said. “It’s not good for the hire, the agency or the staff.”
Hanchar agrees with Piazza, and works closely with him to identify and recruit the right people to fill open positions. “He’s been an unbelievable support for talent acquisition to be more of a strategic function within the company,” Hanchar said.
Piazza prides himself on his mantra of “no surprises.” He has learned the art of managing expectations and directs his high-performing team according to this philosophy. And it all makes sense once you understand the story behind the numbers.
Christine Gatuiria is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri.