Episode #12

CFO Leadership: Guiding CFOs Through the Era of Disruption 

What makes great finance leader in today’s climate? We sit down with Jack McCullough of the CFO Leadership Council to find out on the latest Mesh CFO Trends podcast. In this episode, we dive deep into the challenges and opportunities that CFOs face in today's rapidly changing business environment. A CFO to 26 organizations previously, Jack reveals the skills and characteristics that are essential for CFOs to succeed in the future.

"We're living in an age of disruption, and it's intimidating and yet exciting at the same time because like in any age of disruption, those who are aggressive and thoughtful and take the initiative are going to flourish, and those who kind of roll up into a fetal ball, not so much. So you've got to be bold. Fortune to the bold, as a wise person once said."

Please note that the transcript is AI-generated and may contain errors. Podcast is not intended as advice and is meant for informational and entertainment purposes only.

Chris Ortega (00:16):

Today we’re talking with Jack McCullough, who’s the founder of CFO Leadership Council, as he shares his thoughts on the CFO in the age of disruption, how to thrive and why it’s important for CFOs to change their skillset, mindset, technology acumen, and also increase the business collaboration and connection throughout their entire organization. Welcome, Jack McCullough.

Jack McCullough (00:40):

Hey, it’s great to be here. I was really excited when you asked me to join, and so this is going to be a fun conversation, for sure.

Chris Ortega (00:47):

Yeah, man. So the topic that we got today for all the listeners, all those accounting, finance, FP&A and CFO professionals, this is a really great topic. The topic’s going to be, The CFO in the age of disruption, how to thrive. I love that title because for me, when I look at the office of the CFO and just the different phases it’s gone through. You’ve seen the disruption happen in the sales and marketing side, you’ve seen it happen in operations, you’ve seen it happen in other functional areas inside the business, and I think right now is really that disruption for the office of the CFO. It’s that time to leveling up the skillset, leveling up the mindset, leveling up the value that CFOs are bringing to organizations. So really excited about that topic. First kickoff question Jack, that I have for you is, when you think about the future of the CFO’s value, what does that look like? What are the big areas that CFOs need to focus on?

Jack McCullough (01:44):

There’s so many of those, and you’re absolutely correct, we’re living in an age of disruption and it’s intimidating and yet exciting at the same time because in any age of disruption, those who are aggressive and thoughtful and take the initiative are going to flourish. And those who roll up into a fetal ball, not so much. So you’ve got to be bold, fortune to the bold, as a wise person once said. But to answer your question, I was thinking about this and there’s so many wonderful opportunities for CFOs to get better at their job, as intimidating as a few of them are. But the obvious one to me that jumped off the page is the use of artificial intelligence in decision-making because that’s going to make everything better for CFOs.


Obviously, the first one is your forecasting’s going to be more accurate. I’ve spoken to people, they were pretty good at forecasting. They’d get the revenue and they’d be within 5%, and that was good enough. GenAI has changed that 5% off is no longer good enough. They can do a lot better than that, which is a little crazy. But anyway, more accurate forecasting. And with that as well, risk management, which is an underrated part of the CFO role because it’s not glamorous and sexy and people don’t talk about it that much because it’s dull, but it’s still a critical thing. There aren’t a lot of companies where the VPs of sales and marketing are actively thinking about risk management. They’re just grow. Understandably, right? Not knocking them. But yeah, it makes sense. And then of course, a tool in strategic planning. Even the smartest of us cannot do strategic planning without cutting edge technologies anymore.


And then the other thing I thought of, which more bigger companies right now, but eventually it’ll go to medium and small, which is sustainability or ESG, if you prefer. Yeah, a big one. And it’s partly because being regulated by our governments, partly because our stockholders and customers expect to embrace it, and partly it’s just the right thing to do too. You try to be sensitive. And I recently spoke to Aradhana Sarin, she’s the CFO of AstraZeneca, which is a Fortune 40 company. By the way, she’s the first of 17 names I will drop in the next half hour or so.


But she told me their commitment, they measure everything. They know the environmental impact of every transaction they do, and they’re conscious about how much they’re allowed to travel. Like all big companies, they do have private planes, I believe, and nope, not a 100% sure if she told me that, but they need to, look, you cannot live on a plane. You’ve got to be smart at this, including the executive team. They’re living it. And a lot of companies are following that example.


And then the other one, it’s been going slowly, but more so than ever, is the cross-functional role. The idea of the CFO or accountants generally being back office, don’t come out of the room until the lunch break type of thing. It’s no longer the case. The best CFOs understand the overall business. They work with sales and marketing, they work with the CEO. A lot of them visit customers and whatnot. So it’s truly, other than probably the CEO herself or himself, it’s probably the most cross-functional job in the company. And I say that somewhat apologetically to my friends who work in human resources who might differ with me. But those are the big three cross-functional jobs.

Chris Ortega (05:08):

Yeah, man, I love it. And I want to dive deep into the first two that you talked about, man. The data analysis with AI and decision-making and the risk management side. I actually was leading a panel with some CFOs and we were talking about generative AI and we were talking about it from a risk perspective, and it was such a great conversation, Jack, because we were talking about it from who’s auditing the AI? You’re starting to see CFOs now take on in partnership with legal to set that generative AI framework, right?


I’ll give all the listeners an example. I was talking with a good friend of mine, he’s a CFO at a pharma company based out in California, and he was talking about how he was using Bard, which is a generative AI for Google, and he was talking about, “Hey man, one of the great things that we did was we looked at one of our competitors, one of our clients’ MSAs, and we dropped our MSA in there and it was able to find the differences between our MSA versus theirs.” And I was like, “You did what?” He was like, “What?” I was like, “No.” And then I was like, “Don’t ever say that out loud to anybody that you dropped in your own MSA in a generative AI bot to compare it.”


But what that story acknowledges is there’s so many fundamental risk gaps that people just don’t understand because think about it, how do you police generative AI throughout your entire organization, that risk management that you talked about? How do you build a strategy, processes, procedures, how do you know when data and things around that? So it’s creating the CFO to think about risk not only from a technology perspective, but how to leverage those technologies in the right way for the business. So when you talk about that data analysis with AI to increase that decision-making and risk, where do you see a CFOs fitting to help solve that for businesses?

Jack McCullough (06:55):

Yeah, you’re right. And it’s an unbelievable tool, right? Had you heard of AI a year ago, Chris? I mean generative AI, of course you’ve heard of AI.

Chris Ortega (07:02):

I remember talking about AI years ago because I was implementing in tactical operation, but generative AI, it has exploded.

Jack McCullough (07:11):

Yeah, and I’m not sure if you asked me in August of 2022 if I would’ve been able to define it. Actually, a little bit, you don’t know about me. I actually worked for the first ever profitable AI company in history, and I was a little company in Cambridge, Mass called Jensen. We had a reasonably successful IPO, we couldn’t sustain it, but we’re profitable eight years in a row, which no AI companies were profitable back then. But anyway, detour you didn’t want to take.


But you raised the issue. It’s a big thing. Even if CFOs are doing the right thing with data privacy and you want to use the tool, but you don’t want to expose things. Some have told me, geez, “All of a sudden in the last four months, my controller’s analysis has been a lot better.” And they don’t know it, but it’s did they suddenly happen to get better at their job and become, develop greater analytical minds? Did it just happen around the same time that chat GPT hit the mainstream or more likely, their controllers are using chat GPT and how do you feel about that, right?


Even if you trust certain people, ChatGPT is subject to hacks too and you put the data up there to say what’s going to happen to it? That’s one of the great risks. On the other hand, it’s tempting because they’re loving the analytical capabilities that it has. It’s one of those things they’re going to have to figure that sort of thing out. How do we use this without exposing privacy issues? Because that’s like such a big thing. And for some companies, it’s catastrophic. You expose employee data, you expose company data, depending on what data is that you’re exposing, you’re done. If, God forbid, if you’re an accounting firm and you store all your client’s financial statements. God, you get hacked, you’re done as an accounting firm, no one’s going to trust you going forward. Or if you’re a credit card company and 10 million of the credit card numbers are exposed and you don’t fix that problem immediately, you’ve lost a lot of credibility with a lot of people.


And this is when you go to ChatGPT and other tools, you’re almost exposing it intentionally. It’s a lot worse if you proactively take steps to make your data vulnerable. So they have so much to think about. There’s just so many things and it’s new, but it’s moving very quickly. And in fact, I know a fellow, I think you know him, do you know Ashok? I forget his last name.

Chris Ortega (09:33):

Yeah, Ashok, that’s my guy. He does so much. We do so much together on AI and finance. He’s awesome. He’s just awesome.

Jack McCullough (09:39):

Yeah, good guy, smart as a whip, but you probably know he’s trying to publish a book. The problem is when he sends it to Wiley, the publishing company, and by the time they go through their editing, too much of it has changed. It changes every week. So if I take a month to edit it, that’s all out of date, I’m going to look like a fool if I publish this now. Publishing information in [inaudible 00:10:03] 1972 or something that the pace of change that they’re dealing with.


But we’re going to figure it out. And we ask people my age and whatnot, this feels like the beginning of the internet and yeah, it’s that big of an impact. I remember going classes so people could explain what is this mysterious worldwide web that everyone’s talking about? Eventually it’s going to be secondhand and we’re going to do stuff without thinking about it. But right now, not so much.

Chris Ortega (10:30):

Most definitely, man. And I think for me, for all the listeners, it’s crazy to see because I see me and my team, Fresh FP&A, we work with generative AI. We work with it. I use it every day. I use it every day for a lot of context and just quick questions and just baseline level stuff. And it’s crazy to see how generative AI and other elements of the business, like sales and marketing for example, it’s exploded. And when you think about content creators and you think about marketing promotion, you think about all of that content from a marketing, sales perspective in a sales organization, all the different, you got a call script that you’re sending out. You got emails that you’re doing. You got so much of this manual process that you have people doing, that now, generative AI and the host of tools that go along with it. I think people just think generative AI is just Chat 4 and Bard, but there’s a host of all these other Chrome plugins and PDF plugins and this whole element of AI being like a comprehensive suite for productivity.


I just read an example of what Microsoft is doing with their copilot. They’re putting GPT 4 across their Outlook, across Teams, across Power BI, across Excel. And when you think about the scale and all the touch points that Outlook has inside of a business, all the touchpoint that Teams has, all the Power Automate, all these different great technologies, and now you have this copilot to be able to help you in those situations. To me, I get super excited about the value that it’s going to provide, but also look at the other side of it too. There’s a lot of concern. There’s a lot of conservative people that are like, “Man, this is crazy.” I don’t think we’re at the element where we’re going to be terminators and the bots are going to be blowing up the world or anything like that. But I think the way that you-

Jack McCullough (12:21):

Let’s hope.

Chris Ortega (12:22):

Yeah, let’s hope, right? The way that you can just leverage it in practical application, I think it come in waves. First it was like, “Hey, this is super cool.” Now, I think a lot of finance CFOs and finance professionals are saying, “Okay, I know that it’s cool. How can I apply it? What are some use cases that I can use?”


I think that dovetails right to your third point that you talked about, which is that strategic planning, which is to me, that upskill the CFO. Traditionally, the CFO in finance, I come from accounting, finance, FP&A, financial leadership over two decades in building high growth businesses. And I’ve always seen the office of the CFO and the business has seen the office of the CFO as that traditional scorekeeper, right? We keep score. We said we’re going to do 10 widgets, we did eight. But now moving to the strategic planning side with this technology, it now creates a whole nother value prop. Dive in a little bit deeper. When you look at that strategic planning and the tools that CFOs can leverage, where do you see the value that has?

Jack McCullough (13:20):

It’s almost immeasurable because it can, you probably wished it’s still going to be a while before these tools know our own businesses better than we do. That may happen, that may not. But the problem is, so you take your expertise on what products you’re capable of, who your competitors are, but you share that with a thinking tool basically and combine it with its understanding of all markets, global conditions, even things depending upon what your business is. It can think of risks of weather patterns or revolutions, things like that. It knows so much that we can’t possibly know. It’s okay, you’re interested in opening up offices and expanding to Eastern Europe. I know the other stuff from Wikipedia. I could read that for me to apply risks in a thoughtful way to Eastern European countries, for example, and it’s probably not the best example I could come up with.


I am limited in what I can do, but you tell them, these are my concerns. What do you think? And it’s based upon what you’ve told me, these are the markets that seem like a really good fit. Young demographic population, growing, high GDP, these are some that you should avoid. They have a revolution every 10 years, that sort of stuff. So it can take your knowledge of your business and put it in a global context and really make you a powerful strategic thinker.


And plus scenario planning too. I don’t know that we can practically build every single scenario that’s happened in the last few years into our business plans, but it can give you, I know people that they used to run 20 scenarios and it would take forever for them. And this can do it a lot more efficiently if you’re in one of those companies that wants to plan for every reasonable contingency. So you can see, okay, that what happens here, what happens if this happens? It can just give you more analysis.


The challenge though, Chris, is that fundamentally it’s still at this point, it’s still people making the decisions. And if there’s too much data in too much analysis, you probably heard the phrase analysis paralysis or whatnot. It’s a real thing. People really do suffer from that. If you’re looking at 50 scenarios, God, I can get 98% of this coverage from six, do I really need 50?” And some people say, yes, give me 50, give me a 100.” And some people say, “No, give me six. And if it’s outside these six dramatically, I’ll try to figure something out.” But yeah, it’s intimidating, but it’s amazing in a good way too.

Chris Ortega (15:52):

Yeah, I think that’s a great point, Jack, that you talked about. And for some of the listeners, I remember having this question that people would ask me, is AI going to take my job? And my response has always been, I don’t think AI, and I’m talking specifically for CFOs, finance professionals and accountants right now. It’s generative AI is never going to take your job. I think it’s meant to level us up. It’s meant to get us in the higher value activities that we need to provide to a business, which are collaboration, bringing clarity to the business, being a great communicator, being a great storyteller, building great relationships, knowing the business. That’s where we need to be spending our time. Not that low value stuff that you mentioned, but the data aggregation, the data mining, the Excel modeling and things around that, it’s meant to level us up.


But now for those people that, great example, I remember implementing an AI tool, this is five years ago. I was at working at a software company and we were having really bad collection issues. And we were a global company. We were in 27 different countries, and Americas had great collectibility, but across the world, we just so different ranges of collectibility and it was becoming a cashflow problem for us. And I remember working with a technology company based in Germany. They were called Collect AI. And basically what they did is they provided artificial intelligence and machine learning around your collections process. So one of the things that we implemented globally, it was like a AI bot. His name was Herman. He had his own email address and he would, yeah, Herman was his name. That’s what we decided to name. I was like, “Herman, sounds cool.” So we named him that.

Jack McCullough (17:29):

We don’t have any coworkers named that.

Chris Ortega (17:31):

Herman sounded like a great AI name. I was like, “O, that sounds like a great AI name.” But what it did is it helped a cadence, right? Because when you look at a collections process, if you break it down to its roots, okay, you’re five days within, I’ll send this email response, you’re 10 days out, I’ll send this follow up. You’re 30 days out. It’s a more aggressive follow up, maybe with a phone call. It’s a very routine process that you follow through as the account or receivable moves through different buckets.


So once we standardized the process and we had Collect AI kind of initiate a lot of these conversations, customers didn’t even know that they were communicating either via email or a phone call or text or chat with Herman, he was a collections person. He was doing the work. And ultimately what that helped us do, standardize our process. We got more clarity in our collections process, and we actually leveraged this across our entire organization. That use case now, it came down to, because we had dedicated collections, people that were doing the calling, the emailing in different regions, we had dedicated resources. And I remember talking with the CEO during that time, Jack, and he was like, “Chris, we’ve got eight headcount that are tied up in collections. We seen the impact that Collect AI has had on it. Do we really need to keep these people?” And I remember being faced with that decision where it was like, “Oh, man.”


And I remember sitting down with those eight collections people and I said, “What was it about your job that you love the most?” And they’re like, “Man, I love the routine. I love being able to contact customers. I love bringing value to the business, all these different things.” And I was like, “You know what you’d be great at? You’d be great in working on the sales side of the business, where we’re following up with customers, we’re looking at upsell opportunities.”


Ultimately what we were able to do is, we didn’t let any of those people go. We repurposed them. But there was a person on the team that was like, “Chris, I’ve been in collections for 40 years. I don’t want to do anything else. This is the only thing I want to do. I don’t want to do anything else.” And that was a difficult conversation because we got this technology, we’re moving forward. And that role, this is five years ago, that role was like, “Man, unless you want to go find something else, we don’t really have a need for that particular position.” So that was ultimately one, it was a nice conversation. We sunset well, but that’s the practical use case of it, where it could impact you. If you are in these technical tactical roles. That is an element where I think AI can be endangering your skillset.


And that’s what I’m talking about, connecting this all back, that levels people up. It’s supposed to level us up, get us out of that detail. And to me, I think that is really the true value of it. And when you harness it has superpowers for CFOs.

Jack McCullough (20:17):

It’s crazy. And it’s interesting because one of the things CFOs do talk about with AI is the ethical issues.

Chris Ortega (20:24):

Oh, yes. Facts.

Jack McCullough (20:25):

And you mentioned one like your former colleague who only wanted to do collections, and that is an issue. AI can replace a lot of human tasks. On the surface, that sounds great. You can say, “Hey, you can move on to sales. You can move on to more strategic, less routine, less automated things.” There is a reality that there are people who actually like routine automated things. And there’s some people, their aptitude is such as they flourish in that, and they’re not good at moving into different roles. They’re the ones, unfortunately, they’re going to be maybe left behind by this revolution.


Now, you mentioned this guy worked for 40 years. Collections is still a valuable skill. He could probably find employment. You take a person who does have a limited skillset, doesn’t have a high aptitude for adopting new technology, finds it intimidating. Those are not character flaws, right? There are things I’m really good at and other things I’m not and whatnot. But if they’re not good at that sort of thing, it creates an issue for the CFO because like, geez, we have to move forward. But what about these people who’ve worked and have been loyal to the company for decades? Do we just say, “Hey, I have a prettier girlfriend, so I’m going to say goodbye to you.”? Maybe you can delete that.

Chris Ortega (21:35):

Yeah, no, it’s fine. I remember being faced with that decision, and I remember sitting down with a person and we had a real great conversation about it when I said, “Look, this is where we’re going as a finance organization. We want to be lean, we want to be effective. We want to leverage technology. Let’s find that role and that opportunity that best fits what you want to do.” And it was an amenable, it wasn’t anything bad. We helped find a new, I had an extensive network, found him a great role where he stepped into more, not just in a tactical collections role, but he actually stepped up into the leadership of a collection place. And it was actually a great fit. And I remember going through that process and I was like, man, I think a lot of CFOs, a lot of finance leaders, a lot of business leaders are going to be faced with that decision where it’s, man.


But also look at it from a person perspective, from an individual. If you see, generative AI is not going anywhere for the office of the CFO, it’s not going to leave. This isn’t a fad. I remember Jack, and you probably remember this one, right? Remember when big data had its moment, remember big data, remember that was the buzz, and it had its moment? And that this isn’t a big data trend kind of thing. This is not going to go away. So I think when you can continue to find these tools to help compliment you and level you up, to help you move into higher value activities or higher value skillsets or higher value impact that you’re making across the organization, that’s really where you get ahead of the curve. And to those people, to those listeners, my quick step to get that comfort and clarity and confidence around it, you got to play around with it, man. You got to use it.


And a lot of times people use it and they get to that first point is, oh, ChatGPT didn’t get, it’s never going to be a 100% right. You mentioned this earlier, and I highlighted this, people, we are always going to be in that fact pattern before making the decision. I don’t think any CFO, any business leader, any person is going to be like, “Oh, I’ll have generative AI do it, and they’ll do everything.” It’s never going to get to that point. But if it gets us to 90% there and we can use our horsepower, our business collaboration, our connection, our strategic planning, our data analysis, some of the things you talked about, and now we can have that 10% inside of that conversation. That’s the ROI, man.

Jack McCullough (23:49):

Yeah, no, absolutely. And a couple of things with that too is I was in high school in the 1970s and I decided I was going to major in accounting. And a lot of smart people told me it was a mistake because computers would replace accountants within 10 years.

Chris Ortega (24:09):


Jack McCullough (24:09):

And they could not have been more wrong. In fact, the rise of information technology and the fact that now everybody has a computer on their desktop, it actually created a need for accountants. It didn’t replace them. There’s a need to move faster, better information, better data quality. I started my career with stone tablets and quill pens and that type of thing. Computers were a little scary to people in my parents’ generation. But the other thing is sometimes, every time with technology that there’s been a change, it’s created more jobs, not fewer. Now, unfortunately, it does eliminate some jobs, it would be great if we got to the point there could only be winners and bigger winners. But unfortunately, there are going to be some winners and losers along the way, and I hate to call them losers.

Chris Ortega (24:57):

Yeah, there’s going to be opportunities in both areas. And one other topic I want to talk about that you mentioned for those CFOs as we upskill, is ESG and sustainability. That’s such a big topic right now. With the global climate, you see a lot of businesses, I was down at SAP Sapphire conference and they rolled out how they’re leveraging what’s called the green books. So they have the regular books, the financial books, and the green books, which is basically the accounting and the transactional and everything around sustainability, ESG. So when you think about ESG and sustainability, how can CFOs position themselves? Because ESG and sustainability, it’s going to fall to the CFO, right? It’s not going to fall to sales or marketing or HR. It’s going to be one of those things that with a lot of companies starting to disclose, “Hey, here’s our carbon footprint, here’s diversity we have in our recruiting. Here’s governance things that we’re doing to help support our communities.” With a lot of public companies tying to that, and I’ve heard rumblings, I’ve heard rumblings in the SEC that they want to pass some more legislation around.


If you’re a public company and you disclose any ESG efforts in your financials, that needs to be audited. If you say you had X amount of carbon impact, you need to go audit that and make sure, and I know big four, all the big four accounting firm listening to this right now, they’re going to be like, yeah, chi-ching, that’s a whole nother [inaudible 00:26:19] for us, but that’s going to fall to the CFO. And for CFOs out there, finance leaders, thinking about ESG and sustainability, what’s your big takeaway that you have in terms of that topic?

Jack McCullough (26:33):

It’s interesting you mentioned the SEC and disclosures because their behavior can have an unproductive result because there’s certain disclosures, you can make a footnote disclosure, you think you’re giving more information than you need to, and hey, we’re proud of our footprint. You’re inviting the SEC, you’re giving them a reason to come in your front door. And once they say, “Hey, we want to audit that for veracity, it was in your financial statements,” you can’t say, “This isn’t really a good time for that sort of thing. Can you come back?”

Chris Ortega (27:05):

Yeah, you can’t say that.

Jack McCullough (27:06):

Once you open up the door to a disclosure, it better be right. They’re not evil people. Their job is to make sure that every disclosure you’re making, financial or otherwise when you’re a public company, is truthful. And it can be a nuisance to CFOs. And sometimes the [inaudible 00:27:22] approach is, we don’t have to disclose this, so I don’t want to invite the SEC in for a party. It does actually inhibit some voluntary disclosures. It is one thing to think of. But you’re right, CFOs will largely be leading the charge. Now, bigger companies actually have, there’s actually a relatively new thing called the chief sustainability officer.

Chris Ortega (27:43):

I haven’t heard of that role. I haven’t heard of that role so much.

Jack McCullough (27:45):

Yeah, only seen a few. Their focus is, as you might imagine, it’s focusing on sustainability. But for one thing, there are very few people with the skillset to credibly do that type of job. So there’s not that many to go around. So only super big companies can actually dedicate a person. And when it becomes a person, that person is going to want a team around them and other resources to do it. So it’s a wonderful investment to those who can make it. But the people I talk to on a daily basis can’t make that type of investment in their company and whatnot. So it is going to fall to the CFO and his or her team to do the right things, find ways to measure it. And it’s a cultural change too. We want people thinking about the environmental impact of everything we do.


For some companies, it’s not much. You take a $200 million SaaS company, their footprint’s not very big at all. But you take any company that builds something, a manufacturing company, distributor, own a fleet of trucks or planes or whatever it might be, or people who travel, they need to change how they think about things for the better. Again, it’s even absent the SEC, and they’re going to enforce things, but stockholders are going to insist upon this. Employees don’t want to come and work for companies that don’t take sustainability seriously, particularly I’m a boomer and it’s not that we don’t care about it, but we had different battles to fight. But you want to attract Gen Z if they’re going to ask you on the interviews, what’s your sustainability path? What are you doing about it? What commitment are you making right now? Because it’s important to them. Unfortunately, they’re going to have to live with the consequences of some actions of generations that came before them.

Chris Ortega (29:32):

And I love that point that you mentioned because ESG and a lot of those efforts are starting to become a great tactic to retain and keep talent, to get talented people. What used to be to get your talented people, “Oh, we have beer in the kitchen and we have snacks, and you can work from home once a week.” That used to be a great way to bring talented people. But now exactly what you just mentioned. They’re like, Hey, what’s your community involvement? What’s your stance around diversity? What’s your governance around the environment? These are questions. And when you stack two companies up, pay, title, bonus, all those other things are the same. And you got company A that is more heavily invested in ESG, they just don’t talk it. They live it. They dedicate budgets, they have commitments around it. They’re involved in the community. They’re on the path to be committed. And you got company B that’s not doing that, that could be a great way to leverage talent.


So I think when CFOs look at that, it’s not holistically just about the dollars and cents around ESG, but there’s also the qualitative factor from an employee perspective. And, “Hey, this can be a great competitive advantage for us that we allow people to have a mental health day, that we allow people to take one day off to go spend time to go work on a not-for-profit or community project. We allow people a stipend to go plant trees or work with Habitat for Humanity. We make these commitments and we provide our employees an opportunity for the time and energy and space and dollars for them to go participate in that.”


So I think to me, exactly what you said, I think CFOs, when we can not only just think about it from a bottom line perspective, but also think about it from a external, how we could differentiate ourselves to employees and other markets and talent, it can be a great competitive advantage for talent, man.

Jack McCullough (31:24):

Yeah, not only, but for customers too. If you look at a company’s website, and if you see they have 12 executives listed, and it’s 12 white men over the age of 50, and yet on a different page, they boast about their commitment to diversity.

Chris Ortega (31:41):

It’s making make sense, making make sense.

Jack McCullough (31:46):

I don’t know. Yeah, if you’re truly committed, and sometimes things work out strangely, but there are companies, it’s still 90% of the executives are white men, and yet 75% of the overall workforce is other than white men. And it’s like, how is that possible if you’re truly making this commitment? And I want to know before I give you my money as a customer investing in you, how are you helping historically underrepresented groups carve a career path within your company? How are you helping women face the challenges of being in a leadership position, but also they may have some more responsibilities at home than the guys do? That’s a reality that sometimes women have to balance that more than men. And I’m not saying that in every case, but on average, I believe it to be true. So what kind of culture are you taking to support them?


Because it’s an interesting thing when you study men and women, when you do a lot of surveys on work, they don’t agree on a whole bunch of things, but the one thing that they both agree on is that women make better leaders than men. And that’s a little interesting, right? That before I read some surveys, I would’ve said, okay, men will probably say that men make better leaders and women will probably be divided on it. And when you ask that question explicitly maybe you get a different result, when people say, “Who is your best boss?” Men are a lot more likely to identify a female is the best boss they’ve had in their career, who is the most impactful mentor? Or even when they described what traits they look for in a boss, a good listener, collaborative, empathetic, they’re describing what are typically associated with female traits. Now, I don’t mean that in offensive way because we’re talking to two men here who are both very empathetic.

Chris Ortega (33:37):

For sure, for sure. And allies, 100% allies. And I think I loved your point around that because it’s all about difference of viewpoints, right? And I’ve always welcomed, to me, the more diversity, the more viewpoints that you could bring in finance organizations or even in business. Another trend I’m starting to see just on the ESG side, you’re starting to see a lot of people that didn’t have that traditional account. I came from big four. I grew up in accounting, grew up in FP&A, grew up in leadership all the way to the top of finance organizations, and built them and scaled them and sold them off and did all that stuff. But I always looked at and said, one of the things you’re starting to see now is people that don’t even have that accounting finance, FP&A background coming into finance and making huge impacts.


I think the major point that you’re mentioning there, man, is welcome and being open to diversity, because I think I read a study and they said that the more diversity, the more difference of opinion and viewpoints that you have in the organization, the more profitable, the more successful your overall organization is going to be. I think that’s a great point. Hey, Jack, one last question I got for you, man. I ask every guest, and I’ve been burning to get this one out, man, what is your number one hot finance trend and why?

Jack McCullough (34:52):

Okay. I would say ChatGPT, and I suppose that’s the true answer, but I’m not going to go because we covered-

Chris Ortega (34:58):

Yeah, it’s like everybody’s said. Yeah.

Jack McCullough (35:00):

Yeah. Everybody has said that. In 2019, I made a prediction that didn’t come true. I said that more people from FP&A backgrounds would eventually become CFOs more so than the controller track. And because I thought at the time that FP&A would be a more valued skillset among CFOs, the job was becoming more strategic and forward-looking. Controller skills are wonderful, but they are a lot focused on compliance, financial reporting, cost containment. They’re not leading the company, they’re reporting what happened after and empowering the leaders.


So I thought that through, and I honestly believed that in 2019, and then Covid came around and the world changed. So my prediction was not true, but I still fundamentally believe within the world of CFOs that I’ve been using, the farm team presently for CFOs, the biggest farm team or farm system is controllers. And a lot of people can become CFOs, engineers, investment bankers, treasurers, but controllers still the farm team. I will say within a few years, FP&A, particularly, those who are highly technical in technology, not financial reporting technical, who embrace GNI and other tools, some I don’t even know exist yet, but whatever those tools are that come out, the people with the FP&A mindset, skillset who embrace technologies to affect change, those are your future CFOs.

Chris Ortega (36:26):

Let’s go. I love that.

Jack McCullough (36:28):

I think that the position will be younger. It used to be a gig, with a million exceptions. Don’t get me wrong, 40 seemed like a good time to get your first CFO role, 42, 43, something like that. And that’s fine. You get 15, 20 years to develop it. But pace of change, understanding of technology, that lends itself to younger people because Gen Z, what an impressive generation. They grew up with, it’s the most technologically advanced generation in history. I used to make fun of my parents because they couldn’t get the clock to stop flashing on the-

Chris Ortega (37:05):

Yeah, I remember that. I remember that.

Jack McCullough (37:08):

Oh, yeah. Right? And I’d laugh at them hysterically, and now I see young people around me are suppressing laughter around me when I ask questions. Was like, “How does he not know that because he is a bright guy?” So you’ve got Gen Z coming extraordinarily intuitive with technology because they grew up around it. They’re going to be running companies at a very young age, running the world at a very young age. By the way, I don’t know what comes after Z. Double A?

Chris Ortega (37:35):

Double A. Yeah, that’s a good one. Does it start back over? Does it go back to Gen A? Like we got through the alphabet? No.

Jack McCullough (37:41):

Someone, but yeah, they’ll be running and Gen A will also be doing, you’ll be seeing Mark Zuckerberg running global companies at 26. That’ll be a lot more common in Gen Z and the next generation.

Chris Ortega (37:52):

Yeah, most definitely, man. I love that prediction, man. And to me, you talked about on the FP&A side, right? And just that transition, and I think it’s one of the biggest takeaways, and I love that point, man, is the disruption at the office of the CFO and everything that we talked about here today. Great opportunities for all those listeners, whether you are aspiring to be a CFO, whether you’re a current CFO, whether you’re in FP&A, whether you’re in accounting, irregardless. I think, Jack, man, thank you so much for sharing all your insights. I was sitting here taking so many notes and I was like, man, this is such a great topic to talk about. I want to dive a little bit more. .


But hey, man, if people want to follow you, learn more about what you’re doing at the CFO Leadership Council. I know you’ve got an event coming up. Where can people follow you? Where can they learn more about your events? How can people support you?

Jack McCullough (38:39):

Yeah, I’m on LinkedIn. You’d think I’d know, but I believe my profile is Jack McCullough, CFO, but if you enter that in the search, it’ll certainly pop up. And yeah, you mentioned the conference and I’m hoping we will run into each other.

Chris Ortega (38:51):

I’ll be there.

Jack McCullough (38:52):

And I was going to ask you, you go to three conferences a week.

Chris Ortega (38:54):

I’m everywhere.

Jack McCullough (38:55):

Every time I see you, [inaudible 00:38:57] difference, but-

Chris Ortega (38:56):

I’m everywhere.

Jack McCullough (38:59):

Yeah. Our conference is October 2nd through 4th in Phoenix, Arizona. It is a new one for us, and we’ve always done the conferences on the east coast, but we wanted to go somewhere, somewhere cooler than Boston, my hometown. So we’re going to Phoenix. We’ve got some great speakers. Who would your audience like particularly, Shannon Nash, she’s the CFO of Wing, which is Google’s drone company. Great CFO, working for the most innovative company in the world. She’s got a fantastic story to tell. We’ve got a lot of other great speakers, but she’s one that I think your audience would particularly like Shannon, because unlike me, she’s young and cool.

Chris Ortega (39:35):

Yeah, I highly recommend, man. I follow you, Jack, and I click the notification bill on your profile, so anytime something comes up, it’s like first in my feed. I highly recommend all the listeners, make sure to follow Jack, supporting, if you haven’t already, go book your tickets at the CFO Leadership Council in Phoenix. Highly recommend to be there to network, collaborate, talk about a lot of the great topics that we talked about here today.


Jack, thank you so much for your time, man. I deeply enjoy. I can’t thank you enough man, for taking the time, energy, effort, and insights. Every time I speak with you, whether it’s on an email or a phone call, I’m always so passionate. You light my fire man. Jack, thank you so much, man, for your time at CFO Trends today, brother.

Jack McCullough (40:16):

Oh, hey, thanks for having me. And I’m launching a podcast of my own soon. And you’ll be, once I get an audience worthy of you right now, I have zero subscribers, I’m going to love to have you on my podcast. It’ll be a lot of fun.

Chris Ortega (40:28):

Definitely, Jack. Definitely, Jack.


Thank you so much for your time, Jack. Thank you.

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