672: Finance From the Top Down | Tom Berquist, CFO, TIBCO Software


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When an inquisitive software analyst takes a seat across the table from TIBCO Software CFO Tom Berquist, the inquisitor may not know that TIBCO’s finance leader once sat on their side of the table and in certain ways still prefers it.

From 1996 to 2006, Berquist added a distinguished equity research chapter to his career when he became a marquee analyst inside the software realm for a string of Wall Street investment houses—namely, Piper Jaffray, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup.

Seated across the table from the likes of Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Bill Gates (at the time, Microsoft’s CEO), and many others, Berquist asked probing questions and listened to the carefully crafted narratives designed to achieve “buy-in” on the company’s strategy from discerning analysts.

“You would get pieces of information from each of the different companies, which gives you this incredibly powerful view of the market,” recalls Berquist, who even today seems to envy the analyst he once was.

“The CEOs and CFOs would read your research and then come back and complain and try and explain why you are wrong by supplying you with even more data points—which is helpful because you can then create an even bigger mosaic,” continues Berquist, who ultimately exited software research when he was offered a CFO role at a newly minted company formed from a group of technologies spun out from CA Technologies that was then known as Computer Associates.

“We had to build the finance function from scratch,” remembers Berquist, who quickly set about building processes and hiring finance professionals to lead the company’s different functional groups.

As the finance function grew up around him, Berquist says, he observed firsthand how finance acquires its “bottom up” view of the business organizationally, whereby data is first captured and then finance projects trends according to what’s already happened.

“I’ve found this in every finance function that I’ve encountered since that time, so I view it as a universal truth,” states Berquist, who set out to remedy finance’s traditional “bottom up” approach by applying some “top down” macroeconomic insights.

“I put in processes to run a “top down” model after actually building it myself. I compared and contrasted it to the traditional finance model and we reached common ground, allowing us to get in front of the trends,” says Berquist, who, even today after serving in multiple CFO and CEO roles, can’t help but linger on the other side of the table. –Jack Sweeney

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