CFO says role is more than getting figures right
Peter Whitfield believes one of the most important duties of a CFO is to put people in position to succeed.
“My role is not just about getting the numbers right, it is more about ensuring that everyone who needs to understand the numbers gets that education,” says the New York native. “It is also about helping leverage finance to help produce revenue. If we can structure a lease transaction to allow the customer to afford a solution their budget may not allow in a straight purchase deal, for example, then we should get involved to make it happen.”
Whitfield says the members of his finance team are not “supposed to be just scorekeepers.” He focused on bringing value to the organization.
“Too often, entities chase the top line. If there is top line growth with little to no increase in profit, then all we achieved was working harder to get to the same place,” he says.
Whitfield joined American Systems, a government IT and engineering solutions provider, in 2015. It is one of the 100 largest employee-owned companies in the U.S. with about 1,200 employees nationwide.
Whitfield says that his greatest accomplishment to date has been helping to improve value of shares in the company’s employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).
“As an ESOP company, we submit to a valuation process each year. A large part of the process is the development of a five-year outlook,” he says. “By providing our valuators an achievable outlook, we have gained increased credibility. That credibility factor has lowered our risk profile and contributed to the increased valuation.”
Company CEO Peter Smith sees Whitfield’s biggest strength as his concern for fellow employees, the company, its clients and the community. “He manages to balance the needs and concerns of those many constituents well, creating win-win outcomes across the board,” Smith says.
Whitfield’s financial discipline combined with a long-term strategy has “enabled us to achieve record profit and positions us well for the future,” the CEO says.
Helping others means a great deal to Whitfield. A cancer survivor, he volunteers with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night campaign and last year joined the National Capital Area Chapter’s Executive Committee. The committee is charged with growing the number of companies involved with funding a cure for cancer.
“Cancer is a stealth killer, and it is indiscriminate about who it attacks. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has funded the research that has yielded so many of today’s treatments beyond blood cancers,” he says. “If I can help raise the next dollar that will help find a cure or make someone’s fight a bit easier, then I am all in.”
Just two months after joining American Systems, Whitfield led the company’s acquisition of EM Business Holdings, a 160-person Arlington-based provider of engineering, IT and professional services.
“He not only ensured that all financial aspects of the transaction were seamless, his no-nonsense approach and easy-going demeanor helped facilitate a smooth and successful cultural integration, as well,” says Smith. “Under his financial leadership, the debt incurred from the acquisition was paid off in less than five months, resulting in increased earnings in 2016.”
Whitfield understands the market, its evolution and “its trend,” says Mark Frantz, co-founder of Blue Delta Capital Partners. “He’s a diligent tactician who ensures the numbers are locked in. He is also the consummate team player. You want him in the room when big decisions are being discussed.”
His ability to see and communicate the big picture has been instrumental in fostering a “great deal of change in a short period of time,” says Chris Carson, audit partner at Assurance Services, BDO.