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Fairfield County CFOs of the Year tell what keeps them up at night

CFO winnersThe question posed by the Business Journal, “What keeps you up at night?” was answered by the winners at the 2017 Fairfield CFO of the Year Awards, which was held Oct. 17 at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich. Westfair Communications, the publisher of the Fairfield County Business Journal, co-presented the awards with RSM, a Westport-headquartered provider of audit, tax and consulting services.

The first CFO to receive an award was Alexandra Cooley, who is also the co-founder of Greenworks Lending LLC, a Darien-headquartered provider for energy-saving upgrades to commercial properties. When asking herself about what keeps her up at night, Cooley recalled the inventory of major and minor considerations that could either make or break a company or have no impact whatsoever.

“Of course, we all think through big strategic issues every now and then,” she said. “But it is making a lot of small decisions every day and learning from them as we go that allows us to look back in every quarter and, hopefully every year, and think that we can improve on this.”

The Bruce Museum’s Bill Ference, in accepting his award, acknowledged sleepless nights when considering the wealth of the institution’s collection. “At any moment of time, this museum has $50 million in art hanging on the wall and it changes every three to four months,” he said. “Luckily, I don’t have to worry about hanging it. I have to worry about insuring it, paying for the shippers, paying for the loans, paying for the light and power. These are very expensive pieces of art, so I have to worry about the alarm system and the heat.”

Ronald Holbert, who has been part of the corporate team at Stamford-headquartered First County Bank for 39 years, admitted that his sleeplessness could be blamed on regulatory overkill. “The things that keep us up at night are regulations, regulations, regulations,” he said. “We’re an over-regulated industry. We have changing interest rates all of the time, changes in accounting standards and it’s very difficult to keep up.”

Another CFO at a Stamford-based company, Todd Jordan of Hedgeye Risk Management, explained that his firm provides equity research to institutional investors, hedge funds and mutual funds, which could be a good cause for insomnia in view of regulatory oversight, especially with the threat of insider trading.

“We have to be very, very careful,” he said. “And the good news is why I get a little bit of sleep every night is because we’ve been on this since we started the firm in 2008. When we started, we had a little bit of an anti-Wall Street angle. We are not a traditional company on Wall Street, we are open and transparent and completely unconflicted with our research. Right from the start, we put into place some very, very strong compliance infrastructure and we have an in-house compliance team. They read our research and read every single email, both internal and external. We have to do this.”

Michael Kinney of Fairfield’s Sacred Heart University noted his sleepless nights were tied to the institution’s $450 million investment in new facilities, which he said was accomplished with very conservative accounting.

“We worked everything on margins,” he said, adding that took responsibility for the university’s most prominent real estate transaction. “You are looking at the character who convinced the board to purchase the General Electric headquarters. And what were we going to do with that? We were going to turn that into one of the finest business, engineering and technology centers in the Northeast.”

Kinney earned one of the evening’s biggest laughs by jokingly inviting the awards ceremony audience to lend a hand and a few dollars on behalf of the university. “As you walk out, there are pledge cards out there,” he beamed. “Any amount will do, we
are not proud.”

A more somber consideration was offered by another educational institution CFO, Elio Longo of Westport Public School. “I am concerned, as a public-sector financial officer, that we operate under a new paradigm of uncertain economic times,” he said. “We do not produce widgets. I cannot assist in creating a new market share or increasing the size of the market. We are in the business of preparing children for the 21st century and beyond. The decision as a public sector finance officer rests on this, as well as economizing the very limited amount of funds available at a local level and at a state level.”

Richard K. Trowbridge Jr. from the Stamford nonprofit Americares identified his sleepless situation as being fueled by generous donations that cannot be equally spread across the organization’s relief programs.

“The money that is donated for hurricanes is restricted or nonflexible, so it has to go for that purpose,” he said. “It is incredibly appreciated, but it gives us little flexibility with respect for our very important needs elsewhere. So much of our work concerns emergencies in a number of places or life-changing programs in remote places that never makes the headlines, which makes it harder to fundraise.”

Trowbridge added that he hoped to inform “donors on the importance of unrestricted funds, because our programs would not be able to work without them.”

Stephen Turner of Talalay Global pointed to the Shelton company’s product line of latex mattresses and scored a laugh by bragging, “I am fortunate that nothing really keeps me up at night.” He admitted that one of his concerns involved the company’s sales across the nation, where tax issues vary from state to state.

“Within the states, there are hundreds of different counties with their own taxes, and everyone wants money,” he said.

John Vuono of Stratford’s Ashcroft Inc. blamed the fear of the unknown for contributing to being kept up at night. “Managing uncertainty is a fancy business term for avoiding disaster,” he said. “Being in this position is not unlike a father: being in a position where you are not just responsible for yourself, but for other people.”

The Fairfield County CFO of the Year Awards were presented with Bronze Sponsors , including Val’s Putnam Wines & Liquors, the Bruce Museum, Rakow Commercial Realty Group, APS Payroll, Martin LLP Counselors at Law and Talalay Global, with Supporters including Gilda Bonnanno LLC, Audi Danbury and Robert Half.


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