Purchasing Power CFO Scott Rosenberg describes his 360-degree approach to corporate finance, and why it could pay off for you too.
By Charlene Oldham
In his career as a financial executive, Scott Rosenberg has worked for well-established multinational companies selling everything from diet dinners to decadent confections. He also has handled the numbers for some of the fastest-growing e-commerce startups in the country—all while keeping one foot firmly on the operational side of the businesses whose books he balances.
“Going across industries gave me a great perspective of different business challenges a company may face,” Rosenberg said. “That’s allowed me to not only move back and forth between industries, but also to see how companies of different sizes encounter and address issues.”
His current role as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Purchasing Power, where he oversees merchandising as well, is no exception. Despite the challenges that come with juggling dual roles at the Atlanta-based specialty online retailer, Rosenberg would not have it any other way.
“I think having merchandising under me on a day-to-day basis keeps me focused operationally and on bringing that [operational experience] back in view when looking at things from a financial perspective,” Rosenberg said. “But, with or without it, I think that 360-degree approach to business diagnostics and solutioning is just part of who I am based on my formative years. I’ve brought all that to the financial office so that it’s not just a financial diagnostic or a financial decision-making process, but more of a 360-degree perspective of any and all business issues.”
Recently, Rosenberg honed that 360-degree outlook as CFO at GSI Commerce, an e-commerce and interactive marketing services provider that is now part of industry giant eBay Inc. His current company has been named one of the country’s 5,000 fastest-growing private firms by Inc. magazine for six years running, so Rosenberg is well versed in managing the finances at blossoming tech firms. But it can be difficult to concurrently expand rapidly and avoid debilitating growing pains.
“I think one of the biggest challenges for fast-growth or hyper-growth organizations is really balancing the throttle of investment relative to the business expectation from a growth perspective because you always have to make sure you’re not too far out in front from an investment standpoint,” Rosenberg said. “But a lot of times you have to be investing out in front of the growth to ultimately attain that growth.”
From Scorekeepers to Players
Predicting the future is difficult, particularly because financial results are always tallied at the end of the quarter or year. Since joining Purchasing Power in 2012, though, Rosenberg has encouraged his team to transform themselves from end-of-the game scorekeepers into everyday advisors.
“One of the challenges financial organizations have in general is that financial metrics are usually if not always lagging indicators,” he said. “So really shifting the drivers from the financial performance to the operational results, which are the leading indicators of business performance, is a mind shift we’ve started and an evolutionary process in a lot of organizations.”
That shift began with cutting the financial close process—the time it took to complete all project-related financial transactions and finalize financial accounts for projects—from 15 days to seven. Amping up the speed, integrity and quality of his department’s work put fresh financial information in the hands of people who needed it to make business decisions. And it is helping elevate finance folks at Purchasing Power from tally-keepers to trusted advisors.
Letting Them Know, Go & Grow
Evolution does not happen overnight, however, so one of Rosenberg’s tasks as a leader is balancing management and mentoring. The Long Island native, who earned his MBA in Finance from American University in Washington, D.C., describes one of his leadership approaches as, “let them know and let them go.”
“For example, when you have seasoned leaders of organizations, they respond very well to that approach because what they want and what they are looking for is a degree of autonomy and room to stand on their own two feet without being micromanaged,” he said.
Others may not be comfortable with new processes that set an expectation for them to work more quickly and be more analytical in their approach to accounting. Rosenberg emphasizes thinking critically about the business reasons behind financial results. He has implemented frequent planning meetings and checkpoints, both with his own staff and colleagues in other departments, that allow him to both monitor and mentor. It is a strategy that could be described as let them know and let them grow.
“So if you’re seeing that people need more guidance, you come in and reel back the rope a little bit and help them plot the course without trying to do their job,” Rosenberg said. “Because if I were to do their job, they wouldn’t grow and I wouldn’t be able to handle more of the technical, operational things that need to happen or get on to the strategic planning for the business.”
While he makes time for mentoring, he manages merchandising and still knows his way around an end-of-the-year report. Rosenberg tries to spend as much time as he can on strategic planning and encourages other number-crunchers to adapt the same forward-thinking, analytical approach.
“It’s getting behind the numbers that’s important, particularly for financial professionals, because the finances themselves are yesterday’s news,” he said. “The whys are tomorrow’s news. So really getting behind the whys allows people to think more widely and deeply about the business.”
Charlene Oldham is a freelance writer based in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Scott's Key Partners:Decosimo (Audit & Assurance) | Goldman Sachs (Lender) | Blue Ridge Partners (Management Consulting Firm) | Bank of America (Depository and Treasury Management)
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