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Our CFO, Max Farahani, sat down with the South Florida Business Journal & other CFOs in our area to

| May 24, 2018
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"Drive innovation for your teams while mitigating risks is essential in a CFOs role today - Max Farahani

REad the full article here: https://www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/news/2018/05/18/roundtable-series-south-florida-cfos-master-more.html

Roundtable Series: South Florida CFOs master more than just numbers 


Companies increasingly depend on chief financial officers to take on responsibilities outside of their traditional comfort zones, and the results have been rewarding, some of the region’s leading CFOs said.

For example, the CFO doesn’t have to be an expert in coding and software design, but the executive needs to know how to have a meaningful conversation with executives in the IT department – as well as other areas.

That’s all in a day’s work for the C-Suite member tasked with driving innovation, creating growth opportunities and mitigating increasing risks to protect the company’s bottom line.

Ten CFOs from South Florida companies addressed these issues during a CFO Roundtable held May 4 at Randstad Professionals in Fort Lauderdale. Moderated by Editor-in-Chief Mel Meléndez, it is part of the Business Journal’s ongoing Roundtable Series, where CEOs, CFOs and HR directors shed light on salient topics of interest to our readers. The roundtable was sponsored by Randstad Professionals and MBAF.

Money touches just about every part of a business or organization. And whether a company is for-profit or not, strategies have to make financial sense and risks that could cripple the organization must be mitigated. People in operations might be so focused on delivering services that they overlook certain efficiencies. That’s where the CFO comes in.

“Most of us come from public accounting or consulting,” said Hena M. Aguirre, CFO of Coral Gables-based EWM Realty International. “As we begin to learn everything about the organization, we are more equipped to provide the data and know how everything works.”

Building solid relationships across departments, especially IT, is key, as big data has changed the way he interacts with people, said Steve L. Pattison, CFO and VP of Miami-based Restaurant Services Inc., the exclusive supply chain manager for Burger King in the U.S. and several international markets.

It’s his job to deliver fresh food and toys to the restaurants in a timely, financially efficient manner in an industry where $1 goes a long way.

“Technology is the biggest game-changer,” Pattison said. “We have more data than we know what to do with. Every operator of a restaurant gets data from us daily on the performance of their restaurant yesterday.”

That data helps Restaurant Services forecast demand when placing orders, which is crucial when dealing with food that has a short shelf life because spoiled inventory means lost money. The CFO must make sure the pace of sales and purchase orders are aligned.

Another top priority for CFOs is compliance with regulations.

Laurie Levine, VP of business and finance for Lynn University, said when an organization relies on federal dollars, it better follow the rules – or it could face serious financial trouble. With her encouragement, the Boca Raton-based school, which has about 3,000 students, hired a full-time chief compliance officer.

Biana Murnane, executive VP and CFO at Sunrise-based BrightStar Credit Union, said she works with the IT team so they better understand how the systems they design impact customers.

“I love our technology folks, but [sometimes] we seem to speak a different language,” Murnane said.

Learning new skills is a definite plus for CFOs, The Learning Experience CFO Sandy Levine said. She’s become well-versed in construction as the Deerfield Beach-based owner and franchisor of day care centers has grown to 211 locations and is about to expand to the U.K. With about 40 locations opening every year, she must keep close tabs on the timelines of each project and make sure they are performing as expected.

“Communication is essential,” Levine said. “Sometimes we [CFOs] operate in silos, so all departments have to interact.”

Edward Maszak, senior VP and CFO of Sunrise-based Community Care Plan, reiterated the importance of learning as much as possible about a company’s products or services.

For him, this means learning the ins and outs of what it takes to provide quality health care services. The companyprovides health plans through Medicaid, Children’s Medical Services Network and self-insured companies.

A key element of his business is providing quality outcomes with limited, and often declining, financial resources, Maszak said. So he must be familiar with the best methods of disease prevention, what drugs can be cost-effective, and how to encourage health care members to participate in wellness activities.

While CFOs are still thought of as bean counters by some, their knowledge base goes beyond finances, said Alex Zaldivar, CFO of Fort Lauderdale-based cybersecurity firm Cybraics.


Finance executives must prepare their companies for challenges

Customer preferences change faster than the cloud cover in South Florida, so CFOs must make sure their companies quickly adapt to avoid getting soaked.

Forward thinking is crucial, even as immediate demands can make it challenging to step back from the daily grind and think long term. But this is critical for any CFO to master, if their company is to succeed.

For the fast-food industry, the last major innovation was the advent of the drive-thru, but there’s a big shift occurring, said Steve L. Pattison, CFO and VP of Miami-based Restaurant Services Inc. With the advent of digital menus and third-party deliveries, some restaurants have decided to scrap expensive retail locations and operate out of warehouses with a focus on deliveries, he added.

“Before, the consumer made choices based on convenience of the location,” Pattison said. “Now it will be where do we fall on the digital menu for Grubhub or Uber Eats.”

The trend isn’t unique to restaurants.

Few banking customers want to enter a branch as they shift to mobile banking, said Biana Murnane, executive VP and CFO at Sunrise-based BrightStar Credit Union. Her company has focused more on digital banking, and she anticipates mobile-to-mobile payments will become more frequent.

“We’ve got to be convenient and available if a customer wants to borrow money at 11 at night, sitting there on their phone,” Murnane said. “The very expensive branches are going away.”

As some physical locations go, companies must train their employees to help them “upskill,” so they’re prepared for the new job requirements, said Lisa Wulf, executive VP and CFO of the Florida/Caribbean region for Right Management, a career and talent management firm that’s a subsidiary of ManpowerGroup (NYSE: MAN).

Commercial real estate brokerage Avison Young opened its first Florida office in Fort Lauderdale in 2012, and wanted to make a big splash in a market with many well-established names. It acquired four Florida brokerages in three years, which helped introduce it to new parts of the state, said Brian Mark, principal and financial manager for Avison Young.

“We went physically to those locations, and they were branded Avison Young,” Mark said. “Some companies don’t change the branding right away [after M&As], and that leads to a lot of problems and HR issues down the line.”

The biggest risks and threats for companies also evolve over time. For example, malware and data breaches are issues that companies routinely deal with today that were barely on CFOs’ radar a decade ago.

Some companies now engage in the digital-age version of fire drills. Edward Maszak, senior VP and CFO of Sunrise-based Community Care Plan, said its IT department sends out fake phishing emails to train employees on those risks.

Avison Young has a property management servicing line that runs about 200 bank accounts, so even top executives sometimes get emails where someone “posing” as the CEO is instructing them to wire $100,000, Mark said.

“It helps educate our employees, but we also created a system where there is a [required] phone call confirmation,” he added.

That’s because, no matter how much a company spends on cybersecurity, even the best defenses can be overcome by the careless actions of workers. Alex Zaldivar, CFO of Fort Lauderdale-based cybersecurity firm Cybraics, said employees must understand that security compliance isn’t a “necessary evil, it’s a necessity.”

The CEO-CFO relationship is a delicate one.

A CFO can be the CEO’s best friend at a company, as well as a trusted adviser. The key is balancing that relationship so the CEO views the CFO as a valuable partner who looks beyond the numbers.

The executives must complement each other, with the CEO laying out the vision and the CFO executing that vision across multiple departments, said Max Farahani, CFO of Plantation-based Coastal Wealth.

He recommends the book “Rocket Fuel,” by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters, as a helpful resource for executives looking for a balance between vision and integration.

Steve L. Pattison, CFO and VP of Miami-based Restaurant Services Inc., said he continually strives to understand the role of his CEO – to the point that he sometimes finds himself finishing the CEO’s sentences.

A CEO should think of the finance executive as someone who solves problems, not as the person that says “no” to costly ideas, Pattison said.

“At the end of the day, I will do what he decides to do, but he will welcome my input,” he said.

As with all relationships, communication is key.

Lynn University VP of Business and Finance Laurie Levine said the Boca Raton-based university’s president is great at seeing the big picture and the long-term view. While she’s internally focused, he’s externally focused and comes up with innovative ideas.

“He always says, ‘Let the experts be experts,’” Levine said. “He’s good at taking advice. And it’s not always about the bottom line. Sometimes you do things that cost money because they are right for the community.”

It’s crucial that the CFO communicates the vision of the CEO to employees, customers and investors, said Hena M. Aguirre, CFO of Coral Gables-based EWM Realty International. She spends more time writing and working to spread the company’s message than drafting financial statements.

“It should be a collaborative and respectful relationship where your ideas are respected,” Aguirre said.


Q&A

What’s the biggest misconception about CFOs?

“That we are really numbers focused or introverted and we aren’t looking at the overarching business.” – Lisa Wulf, Right Management

“That [their role] is strictly with finance and the balance sheet, but it’s not. It’s about the vision for the company and getting people moving toward that vision.” – Max Farahani, Coastal Wealth

“They don’t realize we have a sense of humor. That we are creative, and we can have visions, as well.” – Sandy Levine, The Learning Experience

“We aren’t viewed sometimes as problem solvers, but maybe a blocker. If we are doing our job, we can fix things and help solve problems.” – Steve L. Pattison, Restaurant Services Inc.

“That we don’t want to talk to people. The opposite is true. We want to talk to people and learn about them.” – Hena M. Aguirre, EWM Realty International

What aspect of your job is the most stressful?

“We are in the fourth year of an early-stage company, so we need to keep up with the burn rate, and it’s my job to raise capital day in and day out.” – Alex Zaldivar, Cybraics

“Recruiting and finding the best people, and retaining those people.” – Brian Mark, Avison Young

“I have 3,000 students and 1,500 live on campus, so lots can go wrong. We lost six people in the Haiti earthquake.” – Laurie Levine, Lynn University

Is being part of the C-Suite what you expected it to be?

“Better. We are able to make strategic, quick decisions and make changes that impact the bottom line.” – Brian Mark, Avison Young

“It has exceeded expectations. I can go home every day and feel proud that I made a difference in someone’s life.” – Edward Maszak, Community Care Plan

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