Since CEO Bill Sandbrook joined U.S. Concrete six years ago, he’s had three chief financial officers, the latest one lasting only a year and a half. Now he’s looking for his fourth.
But it hasn’t been easy. The difficulty is not just because the U.S. job market is tight, either. As a small-cap, publicly held company in the ready-mixed concrete business, the CFO job at U.S. Concrete just might not be as glamorous as some candidates hope.
“We’re not GE,” Sandbrook explains of the $1.2 billion company he helms. “We operate with very low overhead and a small staff, so I need the CFO to be a ‘roll up their sleeves’ contributor and participant, not just a manager of other people.”
Sandbrook cites three main job duties for his next CFO:
- Investor relations. “We don’t have an IR department, so that person has to put on the IR hat,” he says.
- Controllership. The next CFO has to ensure that Sarbanes-Oxley is adhered to and Securities and Exchange Commission filings are “impeccable.” In 2015 and 2016, the company’s previous auditor, Grant Thornton, issued an “adverse opinion” regarding the company’s internal controls over financial reporting. Grant Thornton has since been replaced with EY.
- Capital markets skills. “We don’t have deep pockets, so we need to be very flexible in our approach to raising funds,” Sandbrook explains. The new CFO needs to “get us the best deal with the banks and be able to speak coherently and consistently with the rating agencies.”
While U.S. Concrete uses a nationally known search firm, Sandbrook has personally interviewed a large number of CFO candidates over the years, and, he says, “invariably they are looking at this job as a stepping stone” to a job with a big-cap company. He says they see often see the job of CFO of a small-cap company “as a placeholder until they can find a better one.”
But Sandbrook says he doesn’t want U.S. Concrete to be a way station for his next CFO. “I want a fairly long-term commitment, so that they are not always shopping or looking” for their next position, he says.
One of the issues Sandbrook sees is that a lot of CFO candidates don’t relish the controllership aspect of the job anymore. “They’ve done that earlier in their career and they don’t want to be engaged in it. They want to wash their hands of it.” Sandbrook says that it’s “amazing” how many candidates later in their careers “don’t want to get their hands dirty.”
A second point he makes about the candidates he sees is that a lot of them want to be the CEO’s “business partner”; that is, they want to have a very active role in setting strategy. But that’s not what Sandbrook needs. “We have a development team and a [chief operating officer], and the strategy is very consistent and not that complex. We’re not looking at product step-outs and adjacencies,” he says. “The people who want to come in and reinvent the wheel and be my strategy expert — I am not looking for that either.”
Finally, some of the candidates that have experience in the heavy materials industry just don’t have the experience U.S. Concrete needs. Most heavy materials companies in the United States, Sandbrook points out, are owned by multinationals, so that the U.S. divisional CFO is “a CFO in title only.” Even though these CFOs may have a large portfolio of products and operations underneath them, “they don’t do capital markets, they don’t do investor relations, and they have very little SEC experience.”
“It’s pretty clear what I want, but it’s amazing at how difficult it is finding that person,” Sandbrook says of his CFO search.
In the meantime, Sandbrook will continue to perform CFO fill-in duties, as he has done since April. He has a chief accounting officer who’s been with the company for years, but the lack of a CFO means taking an active part in drafting earnings releases and earnings-call scripts and, since U.S. Concrete is an acquisitive company, doing a more in-depth review of proposals and models that have to be presented to the company’s board of directors.
In early August, it looked like Sandbrook’s term as interim finance chief was coming to an end soon: the company’s CFO search had been whittled down to a short list of candidates. Stay tuned.