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Ian Charles is a strategic CFO with broad financial experience and a passion for building businesses.

Having amassed 15 years of experience in senior finance roles, Ian was the CEO of IMC Capital Partners, where he led many successful software investments and advised technology startups in strategic development and financial analysis. Ian was CFO at RMG Networks, a digital media firm backed by Kleiner Perkins that grew rapidly and executed multiple acquisitions to establish a leadership position in digital out-of-home media.

Ian was a founder and CFO at Rex & Co, SVP of corporate development for UNX, and vice president and equity research analyst for SG Cowen. He started his career as director of corporate development for AOL Time Warner, leading new acquisitions and strategic partnerships.

We asked Ian a few questions about his experiences as a CFO:

Q: You spent many years on the investment and corporate development side of things. What made you want to become a CFO?

A: Good question. When you spend as many years as I did in corporate development and as an analyst in banking, you learn many things about a business and what drives it. You learn and understand the nuts and bolts of the business – R&D investment, customer growth and retention, revenue, employees, costs, cash flow, and how the key metrics illustrate strengths and weaknesses. So it was a natural step into the CFO’s seat. As CFO, one has purview and influence over the entire organization from a numbers point of view and my background of Corporate Development and as an Equity Analyst created a natural transition. After all, who is better positioned to oversee and drive the financial management of a business than someone who understands how finances effect a business, and how outside investors view the business.

Q: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your various CFO roles?

A:  I think the biggest challenges have been gaining alignment with the CEOs and the boards I’ve worked with. The CFO role can be a complex position, you need to balance the needs of different constituencies – employees, management, the CEO, the board and investors. Getting those 100% aligned is not always possible – but gaining consensus is a huge part of the job.  When a CFO is in opposition or not aligned to the CEO or the board that can be tough – dysfunctional relationships create big challenges all around.

Q: As a CFO at a company for which CFOs are one target audience, what role have you played in product positioning/feature development?

A: That’s one of the fun parts of my job. Since we are marketing and selling to CFOs and Finance executives, our Marketing team often tests positioning and messaging with me. And they also enlist me to speak at conferences and events – so I can have a CFO to CFO dialog with our target buyers. I also play a significant role in our sales cycles, often speaking with existing and prospective customers. As a current user of Host Analytics, and a prior user of other solutions, I can share my experiences and help educate buyers on the advantages of our approach.

On the product development side, we have an open culture here and we use Host Analytics internally, so my team does get the opportunity to give feedback to product management and development, just like other customers. We run the same processes and have the same challenges as our customers, so our feedback is always valued.

Q: What’s the most important thing a CFO can do to distinguish him or herself as a corporate leader?

A: The most important thing to being a leader as a CFO is to be forward-looking vs. just backward looking and reporting the historical numbers. You need to provide guidance on future direction, you can’t lead from the rear. Gather and provide actionable information and advice to the CEO, the board and senior management that helps them make strategic decisions. Information is power, and that’s one of the key benefits of the Host Analytics cloud-based EPM platform. It provides finance and operating executives with visibility into the past, present and future, with the ability to understand the impact of key decisions on financial results.

Q: When Host Analytics launched back in 2008, the cloud was still a kind of novelty. Do people still have the same kind of reservations about financial systems in the cloud has they did back then?

A:  There has clearly been a big change in the past few years in terms of Finance embracing cloud-based applications. Sales, marketing and HR leaders jumped on board quickly and finance was a bit slower to adopt cloud-based applications, mainly due to concerns about security, performance and control. The concerns about security are still there, but the track record and ability of cloud-based providers to address these concerns are better than ever. The ability for the technology to meet and exceed their expectations is making finance executives more comfortable putting their corporate information in the cloud. And the advantages the cloud offers are helping to drive increased adoption rates in finance – including speed of deployment, autonomy from IT, faster innovation, and lower costs.

 

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