Ten years ago, Tim Zue might have been viewed as a C-suite party crasher—the type of senior executive known to have defied the conventional career path. However, when Zue landed the CFO office of the Boston Red Sox, nary an eyebrow was raised—especially among the latest class of CFOs, a group redefining the finance chief role and expanding the cross-functional reach of their teams.
“I’ve always been a numbers guy, and I’ve always tried to provide people with information that allows them to do their job better in a concise way that they can understand,” explains Zue, who today oversees the major league team’s finance, business analytics, and information technology functions.
Jamie Cohen, who earlier this year was named CFO of ANGI Homeservices, echoes Zue’s commitment to better serving the different business functions across the organization.
“My job is to help the business to achieve its objectives and figure out how to collaborate with different parts of the business and make what we’re trying to do possible,” says Cohen, who —unlike Zue— entered the C-suite from a more traditional finance tour of duty inside the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) function. Nevertheless, the two finance chiefs have issued an almost identical mandate for their teams to support and collaborate with as many different departments within the organization as possible.
Valerie Burman, CFO of communications software company GuideSpark, says that a cross-functional mind-set is entirely different from that of the CFOs whom she first encountered as an investment banker some 20 years ago.
“From what I have seen in working with public-company CFOs from 20 years ago up until today, it’s the evolution of the role that has attracted me,” says Burman, who ascended into the ranks of CFOs in 2017, after serving a decade in senior corporate development roles after an 8-year stint with the M&A practice at Lehman Brothers.
That evolution allows finance executives rising through the ranks “to really think about not only their finance skills, but also how they’re going to contribute to the company in an impactful, business-focused way,” adds Burman who studied psychology as an undergrad and later earned a Stanford law degree.
Meanwhile, making an impact is what has helped Tim Zue to acquire different functional responsibilities inside the Red Sox organization, beginning with oversight of the analytics department, which led to a finance chief appointment in 2015 and the addition of oversight of IT in 2018.
“This means that all of the various people who run our different lines of business know that they can come to our department and get the information that they want in a format that serves them best,” explains Zue, who earned an engineering degree from MIT before immersing himself in various data-related projects as a Bain & Company consultant.
Besides exposing the strategic role that data can play in the major league team’s future, Zue’s tour of duty inside the Red Sox analytics realm allowed him to acquire the skills and experience needed to work cross-functionally—an experience that Cohen, Burman, and Zue agree must now be a prerequisite for future CFOs.
“My goal is to collaborate with each of the different business units, and I am a big proponent of leading with ‘Yes,’” Cohen says. “It’s easy to resist change, and the status quo is comfortable,” adds Cohen, who began her career in the corporate strategy department, where she acquired a taste for having a wide lens on the business in general. She then jumped into FP&A.
“We’re definitely trying to give more tools to the business. People are constantly wanting to monitor metrics and, whether that’s in a self-serve platform or building out customer reporting for different departments, we are always pushing out more information,” Cohen says.
Not unlike with Zue and Burman, oversight of the accounting function was perhaps the last box that Cohen checked before entering the CFO office.