Digitas CFO Joseph Tomasulo’s journey from accounting to M&A (and Springsteen cover band).
By Karen Brooks
There is no such thing as a typical week in the life of Joseph Tomasulo, who is always on the move. In the past few days, he has been to a slew of meetings in London and Chicago; now back at his home base in Boston, heready to tackle whatever his job as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Digitas and Razorfish has in store.
Tomasulo became CFO of Digitas in 2007, and in 2009 he assumed the simultaneous CFO position at Razorfish. Tomasulo’s responsibilities include serving as strategic partner to both brand CEOs, with the following key focuses:
–Making acquisitions and building business initiatives;
–Developing the global international network in partnership with the International CEO; and
–Actively partnering with senior leadership to drive business objectives.
“I enjoy the complexity and the challenges that surface in the areas in which I work,” said Tomasulo, who has maintained a successful scorecard thus far.
The Staten Island, New York, native has always had a passion for math and numbers. “My dad worked at Citibank and was smart about making me think about saving money,” Tomasulo said. “Business was a natural fit for me.”
In college, Tomasulo took accounting classes and was recruited into the audit program at Price Waterhouse Cooper. “It was a very professional environment,” he said. “I had to grow up pretty quickly.”
“Competing at the highest level and adding value is what drives me”
Upon earning his CPA, Tomasulo had major career decisions to make. “I thought audit was interesting,” he said, “but I found myself drawn to the complexity of tax, and I realized that in order to approach tax problems with a different perspective and toolset, I’d need to go to law school.”
Tomasulo took a tax director role at a global marketing service company so he would have time for his law studies and ended up working in mergers and acquisitions (M&A). “My law school studies, tax, audit and M&A experience all worked together very well,” Tomasulo recognized.
After law school, the young professional was asked to stay on as head of the department. “The deals started getting more strategic in nature,” Tomasulo said, “i.e., merging with one of our main competitors to form a $2-billion-plus revenue business.”
Tomasulo was an M&A Senior Vice President when Digitas extended the CFO position offer to him. He contacted a global COO for whom he had previously worked to help him think through the challenges of the new position.
“It’s critical to have a network of people you can trust that will give you unbiased advice,” Tomasulo said. “I don’t know how you can do without it.”
Tomasulo met with the CEO of Digitas and landed the job. “The first 12 months were hard,” he acknowledged. “I had a steep learning curve. But I was excited about the challenge, and it all came together really well.”
Tomasulo credits part of his success to the fact that he is confident in what he does and respectful of others for the skills they bring.
“There has to be a level of mutual respect that must be established almost immediately—you have to listen to what people need and what their issues are,” Tomasulo said. “If you treat people without the requisite respect, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
He also is passionate about giving his team members the tools they need to succeed, especially when it comes to communication. “I’m very open with them,” he said. “Even though we all travel, we use devices like Google Hangout and Skype to stay connected. It’s all about constant contact.”
Tomasulo says he is known for his “open-door” policy. “People come into my office and feel really comfortable talking about a problem they’ve encountered,” he said. “They don’t have to go through a chain of command to get to me.”
It is not every day that a leader has so much faith in his team. “I can’t express my gratitude to [my team],” Tomasulo said. “They’re really terrific professionals. I give my team flexibility and accountability, and I’m always impressed to see them deliver over and over again. They represent me, our team and our brand at global meetings at the highest possible level. That’s exactly where I want us to be.”
This level of teamwork makes a crisis easier to handle when it occurs. “We have great leadership by our CEO and know if there’s ever a crisis, we need to stay calm and solve the issues at hand,” Tomasulo said. “The challenge is not to solve them with one strike of a sword, but with thoughts of ‘How will this impact us 24 to 36 months from now?’ We have to make the right decisions for our business and our employees, and do what it takes to ensure a successful future.”
Tomasulo takes his free time as seriously as his professional life. When not busy keeping his company on track, he talks Pokémon cards with his six-year-old son, putts around the golf course and plays keyboard in a local Springsteen cover band.
“It has nothing to do with numbers, and everything to do with collaboration and team leadership. It’s a fun release.”
Karen Brooks is a freelance writer based in New York, New York
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- Man on the Move – Joe Tomasulo, CFO at Digitas and Razorfish - January 6, 2013