Jerry Straub’s passion for the sea was long in coming. Not until this year, his 28th with Viking Yacht Co., did he buy his first boat (christened SeaFO).
Indeed, Straub first interviewed at the yacht maker in response to a blind ad for a CFO. When he learned what Viking’s business was, he told the owners they had the wrong guy. But the owners, brothers Bill and Bob Healey, chose him — mainly because the other candidates “knew more about boating than they did about finance,” recalls Straub.
Over the next two decades, Straub says he played “the role of anchor” at the New Gretna, New Jersey–based company. In the process, he became “fairly astute about what makes a quality boat,” joining company tours and attending boat shows. That knowledge served him well when presenting the company’s case to bankers, dealers, and the board.
Finally, Straub purchased his own craft — a 24-foot Regulator FS. “I can’t afford a Viking,” he laments.
Balancing his new hobby with the demands of being CFO is easy, says Straub; one supports the other. It’s the same for other finance executives who are fortunate enough to combine their passions with their professions. Their enthusiasm for the product helps them understand customers, communicate with stakeholders, and conduct competitive analyses.
It’s All Downhill
That’s certainly the case for Betsy Cole. A skier since she was five, Cole is now CFO of Booth Creek Ski Holdings, a privately held ski-resort operator with revenues of $115 million. Headquartered on a mountainside in Vail, Colorado, Booth Creek encourages its employees to take advantage of the packed powder whenever possible. In winter, staffers often leave their desks in the middle of the day to ski for a couple of hours.
Cole usually isn’t so lucky. Right now, for instance, she’s immersed in an expansion project at the Northstar-at-Tahoe resort in Nevada. But she does hit the slopes about 25 days a year — and that’s not counting the times she’s on skis less than two hours. And since most of the time she uses a company facility, Cole manages to combine pleasure with business. “You just can’t get a sense of whether a resort has momentum and feels right until you are out there doing what a customer is doing,” she says. Skiing a Booth Creek slope, says Cole, gives her a much better idea of “where the money needs to be spent in terms of labor, expansion, and customer service.”
Mike Trueblood, on the other hand, doesn’t have to go anywhere near a golf course to take the pulse of his industry. The CFO of Phoenix-based Karsten Manufacturing Co., maker of the popular Ping golf clubs, routinely encounters golf enthusiasts on business trips. Still, by playing some 20 rounds a year, Trueblood (whose handicap is 18) can see what types of clubs players keep in their bags. Moreover, the sheer allure of the Ping name works in his favor when he plays with bankers and key vendors. “There’s nothing like a round of golf to set the tone,” he remarks.