07 Apr 2015
CFO one-on-one with Evelyn Henry Miller
Subscribe to our newsletter. Enter your details below.
Phil McCann speaks candidly with the CFO of Agencies of Change
Evelyn Henry Miller was 2012 US CFO of the Year for mid-size public companies (CEO Magazine). Evelyn has enjoyed a successful, fulfilling and diverse career as CFO across a number of public and privately held US and international organisations. Currently CFO of Agencies of Change, a family of progressive marketing companies dedicated to the strongest, most sustainable and most mutually profitable customer relationships, Evelyn is a strong advocate for sustainability and social justice.
Evelyn is on the Board of Dallas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a non-profit organization providing the voices for abused children in court, the Board of Young Women’s Preparatory Network and Evelyn was also on the Board of the Dallas area Habitat for Humanity.
Can you tell me about Agencies of Change?
Agencies of Change is a digital, strategic and creative mid-market marketing agency founded by Conscious Capitalism Chairman Doug Levy. Doug has a drive to ensure the business has a higher purpose. The company’s goal is to build sustainable and authentic relationships with their clients and other stakeholders that drive profitability. Many companies founded in the ‘consumer era’ have a sole focus on profitability. Agencies of Change develop win-win relationships with their clients. I am not just a CFO but also a key adviser to the senior leadership team. We focus on the kinds of things that are really important to our business model, why we exist as a company and our purpose.
What are the challenges for the modern CFO?
The CFO is no longer regarded as the ‘bean counter’. I can count beans but I am in no way a bean counter. The CFO must be a business strategist and a trusted advisor. There is truly a marriage between me and the CEOs with whom I have partnered. I have built relationships where the CEO has complete confidence in my advice. I believe this is paramount for a CFO’s success. Also, I am forthright and frank, qualities I believe you need to effectively communicate and influence. With regards to sustainability, the challenge for the CFO is about securing funding for sustainable initiatives and being able to reallocate funds effectively. The issue in the US is that public company CFO’s find it challenging to move ‘out from the pack’. Making long term beneficial decisions which have short term negative impacts is difficult if you have an obligation to report quarterly (That is one of the benefits of working with a privately held company).
Changing this mindset will take strong leadership and must come from the top with the CEO and Board but the CFO must play a part. Change is happening and sustainability is starting to influence investment decisions being made. Also, it appears universities are now looking at including sustainability into CFO programs. It is exciting being part of that change.
What will the future CFO look like?
The CFO of the future will be, and is now, more of a Chief Strategy Officer than a financial manager. The Financial Controller can manage the figures. CFO’s are about influencing the ‘C’ suite and Board to set the company direction.
What sets yourself apart from other CFOs?
I have a knack at quickly understanding business models. My focus is on building strong relationships with the ‘C’ suite, based on trust and authenticity. I have managed to do this very effectively in each one of my roles. Another thing I am very good at is attracting and developing talent. You cannot underestimate the importance of building a highly functioning ‘A team’ around you.
Surrounding yourself with competent and committed people allows you to get things done and be successful. I also mentor and coach others and I am proud to say many of those have gone on to achieve great things.
What is your Career Highlight?
The first that comes to mind is the role I played in spinning off the aviation businesses from the parent company, Ryder System. This was challenging but very satisfying. It required a lot hard work to get it done in a timely manner. Also, I developed, managed and executed the overall strategic planning process and was instrumental in the acquisition of PSA assets from USAir.
Also, during my tenure in my role as CFO at The Dallas Morning News, we managed the cost base down by over $50M. Although this was difficult and impacted many lives, it was necessary to provide runway for a business that was undergoing major secular change in its business model. In general, I am most proud of the investment and time afforded to my protégés who are now doing amazing things around the world. I believe my impact here has been exponential.
What keeps you awake at night?
Not much at all. I give my absolute best each day, whether for my family, the community via not-for-profit work or for my company. I believe there is no more that I can do, so I gain satisfaction from that. Of course, there are many things going on in the wider world that give cause for concern but I always come back to doing the best I can within my sphere of influence in the immediate world around me. Generally I sleep pretty well.
Are CFO skills transferable across industries?
Very much so. I have worked across many industries such as publishing and media, telecommunications, real estate, aviation and others. You need to enjoy learning about the new businesses. The on-boarding process is critical. Besides doing your usual due diligence before you start, I like to talk to people within the new business and start to get to know them. Listening and learning is the key. Some CFO’s jump headfirst into looking just at the data, but I want to know what makes the company tick – the drivers of the business model and the soul of the culture. You can only do that by developing those relationships early.