Harbor Group International CFO instrumental in $1.8B acquisition
Large Business | Carla Stoner, CFO
Harbor Group International LLC, Norfolk
Carla Stoner doesn’t come from a typical CFO background of working strictly as an accountant or CPA, but she had the chops to grow Norfolk-based real estate investment and management firm Harbor Group International LLC (HGI) from $3.8 billion in assets under management to approximately $13 billion today.
When Stoner came to HGI in 2012, she had more than 20 years of experience serving in financial leadership roles with real estate companies. Since then, she’s expanded HGI’s accounting and finance divisions, which were much smaller when she joined the company.
“I’ve always viewed myself as a real estate person who happens to have a degree in accounting — not [as] an accountant who happens to work in real estate,” she says.
Stoner’s responsibilities at HGI included evaluating the company’s technology platform and adding to its finance team, which at the time employed only 15 people — none of whom were CPAs. Today, the team has 45 members, including 11 CPAs. She considers the team’s expansion to be her greatest accomplishment as HGI’s CFO because it has allowed investors to get better financial reporting.
“I really think spending those first years focused on professionalizing the finance team laid the groundwork for some of the growth in the company,” Stoner says. “Reporting to outside investors is extremely important and even if you’re providing good returns, if you’re failing on investor reporting, you’re running the risk of losing investors.”
The additions to her team also allowed Stoner more time to lead HGI’s $1.8 billion acquisition of a portfolio of 13,000 apartments across the country from Los Angeles-based Aragon Holdings earlier this year. With only 90 days to close the transaction and 300 new employees to bring on board, Stoner was also tasked with ensuring the company’s profitability during the acquisition, says HGI Chairman and CEO Jordan Slone.
“She was responsible for the business plan to make sure that it was going to be profitable from an operations standpoint for the company,” Slone says. “She did it with really flying colors.”
After fully negotiating the contract and guaranteeing that financing was in place, Stoner worked with HGI’s property management and human resources teams to onboard the new employees.
“When we do one of those acquisitions, our company can double or grow by a third on one single day,” Stoner says. “We have to be prepared to hire and train the people.”
From that transaction, Stoner stresses the importance of managing liquidity — especially during uncertain times such as the pandemic.
“This is the time to make sure there are plenty of cash reserves,” Stoner says. “I believe that this is something that could be going on for the long haul. Liquidity planning is a critical defensive component that the CFO really needs to focus on right now.”
In addition to her traditional CFO duties, Stoner is also responsible for the company’s legal and information technology departments, human resources, asset management and compliance, Slone says.
“She cares about people, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty,” he says. “There’s a lot of people that can talk the talk, but they can’t walk the walk. If she notices a problem, she goes to the source.”
Apart from her responsibilities to the company, outside of work Stoner can be found cheering on the Hokies at Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium, playing golf at Princess Anne Country Club or caring for her rescue pets: two 17-year-old Maine-coon-mixed-breed cats (brother and sister Duke and Daisy) and 6-year-old mixed-breed dog Vixey, who loves to wear her Virginia Tech bandanna on game days.