Dun & Bradstreet CFO Rich Veldran says discomfort is the key to success.
By Heather Weaver
One of Rich Veldran’s guiding philosophies is that personal growth comes from challenging oneself to jump into new things outside of his or her comfort zone, while keeping the bar held for oneself high. Balanced and informed perspective can only be developed through diversity of experience, so the key is to seek out as many new experiences as possible, ensuring that with each comes learning while making a positive impact.
Veldran adopted this philosophy as a young professional. As part of a five-year accelerated program at Cornell University, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Engineering and an MBA in Finance. From Cornell, Veldran moved on to Procter & Gamble (P&G), one of the premier companies in the world for management development. At P&G, the up-and-comer held financial management roles in four business units in four cities over seven years and “got a lot of experience very early on.”
This whirlwind pace gave him a world of experience not only in business and finance but also in adapting to change. After P&G, Veldran moved on to a new city—Roseland, New Jersey-where at Automatic Data Processing he held a number of formative roles encompassing financial planning, mergers and acquisitions, and division controllership.
For the past 10 years, Veldran has worked for the venerable Dun & Bradstreet (D&B), whose 170-year legacy is shared by only a handful of American companies. During his decade at D&B, the now CFO has kept up his pace of rapidly taking on new and diverse challenges, including Treasurer, Head of Investor Relations, Head of Global Business Process Reengineering and Chief Strategy Officer. Veldran has experienced the business from every angle; in many respects, his coming to D&B was an ideal match, as the company’s corporate philosophy is leadership development through experiential training.
Veldran credits his rich diversity of experience on the job with informing his business philosophy and influencing his leadership style, ultimately enabling him to make a difference. The CFO acknowledges the importance of his varied career experience to date, stating that he had “a number of different experiences in a lot of different places, all of which I think served me well to be able to do the CFO job well. I think that variety of experience makes a big difference.”
One of Veldran’s early assignments at P&G was as an expatriate Finance Manager in a Puerto Rican business unit that P&G recently had acquired. As a young, English-speaking representative from the acquiring company, Veldran faced the challenge ahead of winning the trust of the local management team. As is his nature, he dove right in, spending long nights learning Spanish, studying the business and collaborating with his new colleagues.
Soon he was able to gain the trust of the team, make a positive difference to the business and establish strong relationships that stand to this day. As in all challenges worked through, there was a lesson to be learned here: This experience taught Rich about the importance of understanding cultural differences—of both the nationality and corporate variety—and the power of embracing diversity.
At D&B, each of Veldan’s roles has proven to be valuable to his development. His time as the head of Global Business Process Reengineering—a cross between Finance and Operations—gave him the chance to examine the company’s operational aspects and then streamline them to optimize costs.
While serving as the Chief Strategy Officer, he had the opportunity to see the company from yet another angle, helping to craft D&B’s long-term strategy, orchestrating one of its largest acquisitions and even running the company’s Japanese subsidiary for five months.
Both of these positions allowed him deep insight into D&B’s business model, operations and competitive landscape: critical foundations for his current role as CFO.
When it comes to choosing his team, Veldran starts by looking for the best and the brightest available, but that is simply table stakes. Beyond intellect, he has two “must-have” traits for potential hires: “passion to make the company win” and “intellectual curiosity.”
Veldran looks for people who are driven to achieve so that the company can succeed, not simply to make themselves look better. Personal agendas get in the way and slow companies down, according to Veldran. “You only win the race when everyone has their eyes on the prize and is rowing in the same direction,” he said.
Equally important to the hiring manager is the latter trait, an inquisitive mind. The best people are “learning leaders,” meaning those who question everything (i.e., “Why do we do it this way?” “How can we improve?”) and seek feedback on and critically assess their own leadership to try to improve their performance.
Leader, Coach & Mentor
Today Veldran leads a Finance Team of 300-plus team members across the globe. When asked about how he works with his staff, Veldran describes himself as not only a leader and mentor but also a coach. He often works hands-on with his team, and prefers to get as much face-to-face contact as possible. As a result, he frequently can be found up at the whiteboard, brainstorming solutions alongside the other Finance employees.
Veldran’s emphasis on real human contact is shown in his attitude, processes and even his technological choices. His favorite piece of his technology is his iPhone. Though he recognizes the convenience of email, Veldran more so appreciates that his cell phone allows him to connect with others in real time in more meaningful ways (e.g., calls, video conferencing). He is in contact with his team around the clock, allowing him to coach and collaborate even when he is not physically present.
While Veldran often works to solve problems alongside his team members, he also understands the importance of empowerment. He encourages his staff to set their own bars high—to fly on their own and take risks, with the knowledge that he has their backs if they run into issues.
Wisdom to Impart
Veldran’s career has given him extensive hands-on life experience and has afforded him some wisdom to pass on to younger employees. First and foremost, he advises all newcomers to avoid over-planning their careers. “Focus entirely on doing a great job, helping the company win,” he advised, “and the career will take care of itself.”
Veldran also emphasizes the importance of staying true to oneself. “Be who you are,” he stressed. “Don’t ever adopt a different persona because someone says you should.” He explains that one should not adjust personal beliefs and traits based on what people consider or label the “norm,” but rather bring one’s best to the table while staying true to individual style and values.
Finally, Veldran stresses the importance of continually seeking out new experiences and challenging oneself. Noting that the advice may be “pretty simple in essence,” he said, “these things are what matter most to me.”
Heather Weaver is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, California.