"You Take Risks and You Own Them."

CFOs at private equity–backed companies love the challenge, and the payoff. Interviews with New Breed CFO Rick Wimmer, Culligan CFO Maria Henry, Eemax CFO David Brault, and Opal Ferraro, CFO of PSA Healthcare.

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.

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