Fradkin joined Northern Trust in 1985 as a legal, legislative, and regulatory affairs analyst. Subsequently he held positions in marketing, sales, and general management for Northern Trust’s international division before moving onto a finance role. The international experience was particularly useful in that it better equipped Fradkin to deal with clients and staff located outside the United States, where Northern Trust derives a large percentage of its income.
At video-game publisher Activision, much of Thomas Tippl’s job involves separating fantasy from reality, a skill set he picked up several years ago when he helped Procter & Gamble sort out potential acquisitions. “Video gaming is a hot industry and growing rapidly, and there’s a lot of substance, but there are also deals that are being pitched to you that are a lot of hype,” Tippl says. “I get calls everyday, for example, about games for mobile phones, which generate revenue but don’t make any money.”
From 1999 to 2001 Tippl served as associate director of mergers and acquisitions and co-founded P&G’s corporate venture-capital fund, a particularly educational time to be involved in that activity since the dot-com world was going from boom to bust. That experience, he says, taught him how to dig past the initial pitch and look for a well-defined, revenue-and-operating-income-generating business model.
No Longer the Go-To Guy
Although CFOs invariably say that their nonfinance jobs helped them develop in any number of ways, at the time they may not have welcomed those opportunities. Marc Pfefferle, a partner at Carl Marks Advisory Group, says the risk aversion that is innate to finance professionals may be partly to blame. He says that before ruling out such jobs, candidates should “think about it in terms of how it’s going to be perceived by someone who may want your services next.”
Of course, it may be more than unfamiliarity that’s at stake. When Kuehn was asked to head up investor relations at UPS as the company planned its IPO, he says one daunting aspect of the job was knowing that “all of my partners, who I had known for 25 years, were deeply invested in the company, and overnight I was responsible for their well-being.”
No doubt it’s difficult to “go from being the go-to guy and expert in your area to someone who has to learn the ropes,” Schilling says. “You have to feel your way. But it’s nothing that a little time and hard work won’t help you overcome.”
“The more experiences you have that give you the chance to manage,” says Pfefferle, “the more versatile you’re going to be and the more valuable you’ll be.”
Kate Plourd is a reporter at CFO.