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CFO Awards winners prove their value to their companies

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If people inside or outside the business community didn’t understand the importance of chief financial officers before the accounting scandals of the 2000s or the financial meltdown of 2008-09, they certainly do now.

In many respects, CFOs serve as a corporate SOB Squad, as in save our bacon, because the really good ones not only know how to peer into the future, they are also adept at keeping business organizations, especially ones operating in heavily regulated industries, away from trouble.

Indeed, the smarter companies give their CFOs a place at the table and make them an integral part of the management team. “If you are going to be an effective CFO, you should be the strategic right-hand advisor to the CEO,” says John Hecht, president of WPS Bank in Madison, who served as a judge in this year’s awards program. “It’s so vital that any truly leading organization needs to have their top financial executive sitting at that table, with a voice. It’s important to the success of any company.”

Surprisingly, not every business organization feels this way, and so IB launched its CFO Awards program in 2013 to recognize the contributions of the men and women whose fiduciary judgment can make or break a business. Inside these pages, you’ll not only meet our 2014 award winners, you’ll also learn why they are so important to the success of their respective organizations.

This year’s winners include CFO of the Year Tim Stadelman, J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.; Bruce Berndt, Berndt CPA LLC; Marla Frank, Frank Productions; Joyce Behrend, Independent Living Inc.; and Steve Hetzel of the University of Wisconsin Extension’s Continuing Education, Outreach, and E-Learning Division.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t extend special thanks to our panel of judges. In addition to Hecht, they include Michael Carr, CFO of Naviant Inc., and Shauna Gnorski, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of First Business Financial Services.

CFO of the Year & Large Business CFO

Tim Stadelman • CFO, J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.

For brilliantly managing both the finances and risks of J.H. Findorff & Son, a longstanding company operating in an industry that is inherently cyclical, Tim Stadelman
is IB’s 2014 CFO of the Year.

In construction, risk is inherent in everything from soliciting bids to negotiating contracts to managing projects. For that reason, fiduciary matters are not just the financial department’s responsibility, but also a concern of the entire operation. That reality sunk in following the Enron and other accounting scandals of the early 2000s. It was reinforced during the financial meltdown of 2008-09, and for Findorff, it was cemented during the company’s ensuing rebound.

“Certainly, the CFO is integral to that, ensuring that everything is in bounds,” Stadelman said of the growing importance of his role. “The accounting side of the business sometimes is blocking and tackling because it’s the structure that ensures everything else can happen. But you’ve got to have in place the [internal] controls to manage the dollars so you can go about your business. It’s about having checks and balances.”

Identified by President Dave Beck-Engel as a critical member of the Findorff executive team, Stadelman has been with the company for 25 years, including five eventful years as CFO. They have been eventful because of Stadelman’s contributions in this economically challenging period, which presented existential threats to some commercial builders. Indeed, it was Stadelman’s work during this difficult period that most impressed our CFO Award judges. “Findorff, in general, has a lot going on in the Madison community, and I can only imagine what that means for making everything work behind the scenes in the CFO capacity,” noted one judge.

“It really took somebody with a lot of conviction and foresight to first understand how to survive, but then going beyond that, how to thrive afterwards,” remarked another judge.

For starters, Stadelman was aggressive in reducing overhead by more than 13% when construction markets, and revenues, declined in 2009 and 2010, but it wasn’t all about the budget axe. He was instrumental in the company’s decision to continue investing in technology and staff. As a result, Findorff hired new employees when other builders were downsizing and conducted training when the staff’s workload was light. And by taking advantage of the slower times to update processes and technology tools, Findorff became better and more efficient when opportunities resurfaced.

What struck judges about Findorff was that it was conservative enough to remain fiscally viable but also continued to invest money in the right places. Those places included an enterprise resource planning system that is reducing duplication and driving greater efficiency, and a spinoff technology business, the already profitable TURIS Systems, which provides opportunities for Findorff to continue serving companies it has erected buildings for. TURIS is not only continuing to develop business information modeling software, or BIM, it also has a number of business systems under development, including facilities management software that should produce a strong revenue stream.

By spinning the technology function off into a separate company, TURIS was given the autonomy to be creative, and Findorff, an employee-owned company with $404.5 million in annual revenue, was able to protect its assets.

For one judge, TURIS is an innovative example of how CFOs can monetize different assets. “What Tim was doing was living that out and making sure that they had the right people for what they correctly saw as opportunities that were going to arise when the dust settled,” he said.

Twenty-five years ago, Stadelman left accounting to take on a decision-making role, and he’s never looked back. “Good organizations look at the CFO as one of the important pieces to making good leadership decisions, good long-term decisions, for the company,” Stadelman said. “Every organization views the finance part of the operation in different ways. I’ve been fortunate that Findorff has always looked at the CFO role as integral to its long-term success.”


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