In private equity, you always have to factor in the owners’ time horizon. If you’re looking at an acquisition, for example, it has to create value sooner rather than later. If [a deal won't] happen for three years, it may be beyond the horizon.
I think there’s more pressure on large public-company CFOs, who have to have accurate forecasts and have great public accountability and liability. But I think small-cap public companies are less pressured than private equity–backed ones, which are pursuing multiple options and strategies.
And if you don’t perform, you can get blackballed. It’s a pretty close group, and they share lists and names. I had other job offers that would have been less risky, but I’m an adrenaline junkie. I love the deal. I’ll tell you this: people talk about the hours in public accounting, and I worked a ton of them, particularly as a managing partner. But it’s not as many hours as I’m putting in here. It’s not unusual to have a conference call at 10:00 p.m. Not everyone can do that.
CFO: Maria Henry
Company: Culligan, a 4,000-employee water-treatment company
Start date: October 2005
PE owner: Clayton, Dubilier & Rice
I think of myself as having grown up at General Electric, where I spent my first eight years in business. GE gives you training beyond finance, a broad business perspective, and a sharp discipline in operating finance, financial planning and analysis, and metrics. That is a huge advantage, and a key component of how I got where I am.
Next came a series of jobs at private companies, including two in private equity, where I was a step away from the CFO. Then I was CFO of a public company, Vastera, for more than two years.
But there’s a good fit for me in private equity. At the time I landed my first job in the field, I had established a track record at GE of driving results, getting things done. And private-equity firms look for CFOs who can provide leadership for significant change.
In coming to Culligan, another advantage was that I had experience in smaller-company environments that didn’t have all the structure and process of a large company. You can learn the fundamentals and then apply them to a different type of environment. For a job like mine, private equity is not a training ground. You have to know what you’re doing when you come in, because there is a laser focus on delivering results. The first private-equity partner [I worked with] said to me, “It’s all chatter if I can’t see it in the financial statements.”
My job is very exciting. In the last year and a half we’ve gone through two business-model transformations. One was from being an equipment seller to a recurring-revenue-based model. Now we’re transitioning from having company-owned stores to a purely franchised model.