CFO Studio – by Julie Barker
Anthony Conte, Chief Financial Officer of EPAM Systems, Inc., a Newtown, PA–based company of over 18,000 employees in 25 countries, believes that the CFO needs to bring a resource management perspective to the overall business, no matter what that business might be. Conte came to this realization through “a lot of blocking and tackling” in a period of high growth. At EPAM, a provider of product development and software engineering solutions, he was performing the 21st-century CFO role in hyper drive, integrating acquisitions and developing planning tools. “What this requires,” he says, “is a high degree of flexibility and innovation to continue to create a financial organization that supports the business.”
What EPAM engineers do, Conte explains, is to envision a more-productive, cost-efficient way for companies to deliver services and products, then align multiple technologies to make it happen. For example, the engineering team created the ability for viewers of a leading cable and satellite television channel to watch episodes of their favorite shows across various devices — laptops, tablets, smartphones, and TVs — by streaming the shows from the website. EPAM’s redesign for the site loads fast, even when fans click through to multiple pages; and it is always real-time, featuring whatever show is currently on the air. (Another key element: It lets users digitally engage with other viewers right on the site.)
Conte knows that to deliver on his role as CFO, he has to understand the technology that is driving both the financial and operating metrics of EPAM. He believes his success is “directly tied to my ability to interact with the head of our IT operation and the head of our delivery organization.”
Back when Conte was in high school, he had a teacher who spoke of accounting as “the backbone of the business world. He viewed it as the language of business,” says Conte, “and that resonated with me.” Conte remembers talking to his dad about this notion that accounting provided stability for companies, and not only that, a career path leading to continued employment and success.
Certainly that part of the vision his teacher created has been true for him. He received his degree in accounting from Northeastern University in Boston, started his career at Coopers & Lybrand, obtained his CPA, worked at John Hancock Financial, then at McGraw-Hill, and in that company worked his way up to divisional controller. He took a corporate controller job at EPAM in 2006.
But numbers alone don’t provide a financial executive with enough information. Business decisions are increasingly complex; numbers need context. Conte says that as his company seeks to grow from $1 billion to $2 billion in revenue, the organization has built various internal tools for such things as research planning and production systems. “Now we’re incorporating these things into our financial systems, creating data warehousing and business intelligence (BI) applications,” he says. “It creates a holistic picture that we use to plan for the future.” If, for example, the company needs Java programmers who are not working on other time-sensitive projects, finding them is easy through a global employee system, created by EPAM, that provides a real-time, detailed profile of every employee and project in the company. Also, by analyzing the data, the company might find an ideal location for opening a new development center or recruiting local talent. The system, which incorporates elements of social media “allows us to get some good metrics and analytics on where the people with the right skill set and background are currently sitting,” Conte says.
These challenges are not at all what he thought he’d be concerned with back when he took all those accounting classes; but now “those types of metrics help me drive forward resourcing, which is our No. 1 metric,” Conte says.
Conte’s company is on the front lines of digital integration, facing the enormous opportunities (and challenges) brought on by the current digital disruption facing every industry in the world. He has made it his mission to get out of his financial silo so that the decisions in which he participates are truly able to drive the business forward. “I can talk at a high level and give [potential clients] an elevator pitch,” he says. “But at the end of the day, the customer doesn’t want to see the CFO in a sales role. The customer needs to talk to the technical people.”
Acquisitions and Growth
In the past three years, even as EPAM has completed eight acquisitions, organic growth has been over 20 percent per year, landing the company in the eighth spot on the 2016 Forbes list of the 25 Fastest Growing Public Tech Companies. As Conte says, the company is in hyper-growth mode. “What this requires,” he says, “is a high degree of flexibility and innovation to continue to create a financial organization that supports the business.”
“Your forecasting is going to be impacted most. By the time you finish the forecast, odds are, something is going to have happened that changes that forecast.” He adds: “When I go back three years and look at the eight acquisitions, each one of them has turned us in a slightly different direction than what we would have previously thought.”
On a day-to-day basis, Conte must keep close ties with his senior-level peers. By staying tight with business leaders throughout the organization, including IT, he keeps himself aware of decisions and potential changes, and keeps all those contacts in the loop too, “making sure that everything we do is structured in a way to be flexible and move as the business moves.”
Conte continues to plan and forecast since decisions based on those plans will absolutely affect the future of the company and its employees. But after a decade here he knows no plan is set in stone. He might need to change it tomorrow.
3 Questions for Anthony Conte, CFO of EPAM
Q What’s the most exciting part about being a CFO?
Conte: Being a part of the growth of the business. I am very much part of a management team. The decisions that we’re making could drive us up or could have the opposite effect. It’s exciting to have that type of a say into an operation of this magnitude.
Q What’s the most challenging part about being a CFO?
Conte: All the stuff that I said was exciting, flip it around. It’s also challenging. I say that only half in jest. The biggest challenge is bridging all of the requirements that I have as CFO — to my external auditors, to the SEC, and compliance, and laws — and making sure that structure’s all in place and well-controlled, but at the same time my organization is flexible to respond to new opportunities and challenges.
Q How do forecasting and analytics create competitive advantages?
Conte: This hinges on the company’s ability to develop analytic tools, so you’re talking about data warehousing, you’re talking about business intelligence engines. The key for CFOs is to make sure they’re outside their particular silo. As CFOs, we need to make sure that the business intelligence and the engines that we are building are closely tied into the operations and that IT is closely ingrained in the process. Collaboration is critical.
Original publication is here.