The Secret to CFO Success Isn’t Math

Stephanie Harris Finance, Issue 10 - March/April 2014 Leave a Comment

It’s management, according to Marc Washington, CFO of Beachbody. He explains why the best finance executives act more like businesspeople than bankers.

By  Stephanie Harris

With a background in business, Marc Washington was not your traditional Chief Financial Officer (CFO). But his willingness to take on new opportunities in unfamiliar territories led Washington to his current role as President and Chief Operations Officer (COO) at Beachbody, the creator of popular fitness and weight loss solutions, including P90X, Insanity, T25 and the health shake Shakeology.

Washington accredits his success in his current role to his previous work as the CFO of Roll Global LLC, where he was responsible for the financial planning of a $3-billion international company—a privately held consumer products group that owns Fiji Water, POM Wonderful, Teleflora, Paramount Farms (Wonderful Brand pistachios and almonds), Paramount Citrus (Halos), Justin Vineyards & Winery and Landmark Vineyards.

“What made me successful in this position was less the specific finance skills and more the general management and business skills,” Washington said. “At the end of the day, our businesses are what generate the income for the company, so being close to the businesses—understanding how they operate, having exposure and experience across different functions—gives you such a broad perspective and appreciation for general management.”

Washington received his bachelor’s degree in Operations Research from Princeton University and his MBA from Harvard Business School. He went on to work as an Engagement Manager at McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm, where he led numerous strategic and operational consulting projects across a broad range of industries.

Washington enjoyed the breadth of issues consulting work provided, but after a few years he developed an appetite for more responsibility. “I wanted to prepare myself for general management—not just helping solve problems for a company then handing it over, but actually being a part of implementing the results and owning the results as well.”

Washington found an internal consulting position with Roll. He joined the firm as Director of Strategy for the Fiji Water Div., an opportunity that eventually led him down his desired path toward general management, which is where he finds himself today as the President and COO of Beachbody.


Exploring New Territories

When he joined Roll in 2005, the firm had just purchased Fiji Water, which afforded Washington the opportunity to perform post-merger integration work as well as a great deal of strategy development. But the core of his work was on the operations side: production planning, sourcing and supply chain optimization.

After a few years working in the Fiji Water Div., a general management position opened up, though in the business Washington knew the least about: Teleflora, the world’s leading flower delivery service.

He joined Teleflora as Vice President and General Manager of Consumer Programs, a twofold role. “I ran Teleflora’s e-commerce partnership business, which was Teleflora partnering with other Fortune 500 organizations to sell flowers to their customers or employees,” Washington said. “It was a business development/general manger, relationship management role, which was entirely new for me. But the President wanted me on the team and had confidence in me that I could get up to speed.”

marc_washington_sidebar2Another major responsibility fell into Washington’s operations wheelhouse, as he oversaw Telefora’s customer service function, including three call centers. After a few years in this role, Washington took over as CFO for the Teleflora Div.

“It was a brand new experience for me, but the President was looking for a more business-minded operating CFO rather than a traditional career finance CFO,” he said. “I enjoyed the experience. It was my first foray into the world of finance, so I had a lot to learn. But I approached it from a general management perspective, which helped me and worked out well for our President and Owner as well.”

After two years as CFO, Washington took over as the Executive Vice President and General Manager of the group’s Sales and Membership Services, which was less finance and more general management, he said. Washington served in this role until he was promoted to CFO at Roll Global, at the corporate level.

“Again, this was a different and unique experience relative to what I’ve done in the past,” he conveyed. “Even though I had been CFO of one of the operating companies, this was a different take in a position at the corporate level. There was oversight across all the divisions at Roll, as well as some functional responsibilities I hadn’t had before, such as tax and treasury. I was also responsible for HR.”

In November 2013, Washington transitioned his career again and joined Beachbody as the President and COO. “I made the move to Beachbody for a number of reasons,” he explained. “As a former athlete, I am passionate about health and fitness, and Beachbody is truly on the cutting edge of fitness and nutrition solutions.”

Washington, who always aspired to run an organization, has the opportunity to do so in his new role. “I am responsible for developing and implementing operating strategies and processes to drive Beachbody’s efficiency and future scalability,” he explained. “I manage the company’s operational infrastructure and support functions, including supply chain and logistics, manufacturing, sourcing and procurement, quality control, R&D, customer service, and HR.”


Blood, Sweat & Tears

When Washington reflects on his career, he attributes a significant amount of his success to his time spent playing football at Princeton.

“Playing competitive sports, or particularly team sports—the aspects you learn through this experience builds your character,” he said. “It’s hard to say there’s something today that it doesn’t have a positive influence on because it is such a fundamental part of building character and experiences. It impacts almost everything.”

Washington believes playing sports can have the most impact on one’s professional career later in life. And he gained invaluable leadership experience having served as team Co-Captain during his senior year.

“Blood, sweat and tears—you go through everything with this group,” he said. “We set high goals and worked really hard to prepare ourselves both individually and as a team to try to meet, if not exceed, those goals. It was formative to see that by setting lofty goals, through hard work and determination, how much you can achieve. And you can enjoy the process.”

But the biggest lesson Washington learned via the blood, sweat and tears: how to deal with defeat.

“During my year as Co-Captain, we didn’t achieve the level of success we had in the past. It was a challenge to deal with, especially as the leader of that group,” he said. “Dealing with the results of winning is easy—it’s all very positive. But how you deal and cope with defeat—and pick your head up and get off the ground and keep going and stay positive—that was a big lesson for me that I carry with myself today. You aspire to win if you work hard, but that doesn’t always mean you will be victorious in everything you do.”

Washington learned to cope with defeat, maintaining a positive attitude and demeanor. He and his teammates continued to work hard and enjoy the experience, which proved to be invaluable for future situations encountered off the field, including in the workplace.

Working Hard but Smart

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is of critical importance to Washington. “I don’t want to have a career and life that’s all about the end destination and I’m not enjoying the journey along the way,” he expressed. “A big part for me to stay motivated is to be happy and enjoy coming to work, and maintaining that balance with my personal life.”

Being able to effectively sustain that balance has a significantly positive influence on one’s professional career, Washington advises. “It allows you to keep your tank full and stay motivated and happy, and that’s the right perspective to bring into work.”

Consistently working long hours and late nights can have an adverse effect on a staff member’s attitude and the product he or she produces. Washington instills in his team the importance of having a life outside of the office, and he leads through example.

“I work hard and want my team to work hard, but that has to be offset by taking your foot off the accelerator and keeping things balanced. It’s a more sustainable solution,” he said. “I talk about this both here at work and at home with my wife and family. I want a hardworking team, but I want us to work smart. I’m very serious and dedicated to maintaining that balance.”

No matter how successful you get in your career, Washington insists you should always stay committed to maintaining that healthy balance and enjoying the journey. Because just as he has experienced throughout his career, you never know what opportunities may await just around the corner.

Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.


Stephanie Harris

Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.

Comments, thoughts, feedback?