10 questions for Fiberlink CFO Mark Partin

Name: Mark Partin

Age: 44

Time with company: 7 years

Education: Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Tennessee; MBA from Harvard University

Company headquarters: Blue Bell, Pennsylvania

Countries of operation: Global operations

Number of employees total: About 275

Number of employees the CFO oversees: 18

Areas of responsibility: Finance and accounting, HR, recruiting

About the company: Fiberlink offers cloud-based software and services for secure enterprise mobile device and application management.

1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?

I started my career in public accounting at Arthur Andersen in Atlanta. I enjoyed the job very much. I was an adviser, a consultant and a confidante to my emerging-growth clients. I was there four years, then spent the next 20 years in finance and operating CFO roles at both public and private companies.

I took one of those companies public through a very successful IPO. At that point, I was hooked. My passion for the CFO role really became pre-IPO, hyper-growth companies that are ready to explode to the next level. That's what brought me to Fiberlink.

2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?

I've been fortunate over the years to work for very talented CEOs and boards of directors. I remember when I was 27, my first public-company CEO taught me the importance of believing in myself and having confidence in myself. At that age and time in my career, it was a very important lesson. If you don't believe in yourself it is hard to get others to do that.

My most memorable one was the CEO of the company I took public. His name was Bob Montgomery. He was truly a force of nature and he was the reason I took that job. He was very gifted, and I learned a lot from him. Probably the most important thing was to be an authentic leader. I've carried that with me as the most valuable leadership lesson.

Another was a board member who had become my mentor. He had been a very successful CFO and sat on our board. His big leadership lesson was that you have to be able to communicate effectively and you have to be able to build relationships, whether with employees or with people in the community. He really emphasized being an effective communicator. Imagine how hard that is for people who deal with numbers all day, to be effective communicators.

3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?

That's simple. The biggest challenge facing CFOs, or any executives today, is growth. CFOs need to be on the front line of finding opportunities for their companies to grow organically or inorganically. That can mean finding new products, technologies, customers, ecosystems, partners, or markets. Growth is an area that CFOs are challenged with in today's global business market.

I think one of the ways that a CFO can help the company grow is by creating the right business model for the right time and the right customer need. In our case, we were early pioneers when we developed our SaaS cloud-based mobile platform, that helped crack open a much larger market for us.

4. What is a good day at work like for you?

I love what I do. I love to watch my team and my colleagues achieve success. I love to watch them reach their individual goals and targets, by reaching their full potential or just learning something from me or others in the company. Those are great days!

I work with a great team. They're hard-working, dedicated and committed to the future of this company. I feed off of that. It makes for a great day for me when I feel like I've contributed to them and their individual successes, while at the same time growing the company.

5. How would you characterize your management style?

Frankly, I start with surrounding myself with talented, smart, ambitious leaders. I'm hiring leaders. Then, I create a goal-oriented, transparent environment.

There's an accountability-driven process, and I keep pressure on everyone to reflect the real sense of urgency that goes with being a technology company that has a disruptive technology in a big market. I keep the pressure on, but I balance that with the objective of everyone continuing to have a life and to enjoy that life, and I get out of the way.

6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?

When I sit down in an interview, I'm looking for character, individuality, intelligence, which I call processing power. Particularly in accounting, honesty and integrity are essential. I look for smart, creative problem solvers. I want ambitious people and I want constant learners.

There's this old, traditional convention that I look for in people. I want a goal-oriented person with drive and a work ethic. I believe in work ethic above many, many other things.

The combination of these makes a very powerful, passionate, motivated employee who will find common ground with the company and deliver.

7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?

I want to find out what has motivated that person in their life decisions. Sometimes you can apply that to their resume or why they came to this country or this industry. But I want to find out what motivates them. I want to know if they're competitive and if they're engaged in something important after work. Those things help you determine their decision-making process and what motivates them.

I want to know if the person stands or walks on an escalator. I want that person who walks on the left side. That's an interview question I often ask, but you're not sure what you're going to get for an answer.

I want someone who can engender trust and respect from employees, customers and business partners. They need to be confident in who they are and they need to be comfortable in their own skin. They need to know who they are. In order to do business with and engender respect, people need to have confidence in who they are and what they believe in. I spend the interview figuring those things out.

8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?

What sets this job apart is the rapid and disruptive innovation in our market and the incredible pace of change that makes demands on every single person who works in this company. I work next to some of the most talented people in the technology industry. We've created some of the best products in the world. I'm fortunate to be part of that team.

I also work for the most demanding, world-class, private-equity sponsors in the business, including Goldman Sachs, Technology Crossover Ventures and GE Equity, to name a few. Not everyone in a chief finance position is fortunate enough to have that slate of bosses, sponsors and supporters on their board.

9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?

There's no such thing for me. The more hectic and chaotic the day is, the better for me. I thrive on the energy and the demands that are required for rapid change. Multiple uncertain variables, crisis; you name it. I enjoy those sorts of situations. I've always been able to provide calm, thoughtful, balanced leadership in those times. I think that's required of most CFOs today.

And luckily for me, I have two kids and so they can amp it up for me when I get home.

10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?

I love this job. I love the CFO role. I love the impact that we can make on these types of companies. If I weren't doing this, how about CEO? I'd take that job. That's a role I would like.

Outside of the executive office, if I got a chance, I'd be a professional triathlete. I've done over 100 triathlons and two Ironmans. At the end of the day, in order to win, it's all about the numbers. I love winning and I love numbers, so it's the perfect sport for me.

Optimizing, managing, logistics while at the same time trying to get the most out of your body. And the great thing about triathlons is that the older you get, the better you can get.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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