FP&A Today Episode 10: Carl Seidman: FP&A as the Great Anticipator

Carl Seidman is an FP&A Leader who works with Fortune 500 companies providing advice and strategy on best practices and scaling FP&A. In this interview Carl discusses

  • His background in turnaround and restructuring in businesses
  • His “first retirement” from business at 32, which launched a TedX Talk (519,000 views and counting)
  • Setting up his own business focused on FP&A advice to leaders
  • Why successful FP&A always means anticipating
  • Why Fortune 500 companies do not always have the best FP&A
  • Public speaking skills as a game changer
  • The evolution of software

Paul Barnhurst

Hello, everyone. Welcome to FP&A Today. I am your host, Paul Barnhurst aka the FP&Guy, and you are listening to FP&A Today. FP&A Today is brought to you by Datarails, the financial planning and analysis platform for Excel users. Every week, we welcome a leader from the world of financial planning and analysis and discuss some of the biggest stories and challenges in the world of FP&A and a we’ll provide you with actionable advice about financial planning and analysis. This is going to be your go-to resource for everything FP&A. Today, we are going to have Carl Seidman on the show. A little bit about Carl. I’ve known Carl for a couple years. We had connected on LinkedIn and commented on each other’s posts, and then in November of 2020, he reached out to me and said, Hey, I’m trying to actually meet some of these people I talked to online.

Paul Barnhurst

Would you be open to doing a virtual connection? And I said, sure. You know, I’d love that. And we met and we’ve chatted a few times since, and, you know, I was super excited when Carl agreed to be on the show. He’s one of my favorite people on LinkedIn. One of the people I follow, and he is a great FP&A professional. So a little bit about Carl’s background. He did his bachelor’s degree in finance and economics. A master’s in accounting, and then started his career with PwC. And from there he did some consulting, took a brief retirement year at the age of 32, came back and started his own practice. He does FP&A advisory services and training for companies of all sizes. He’s also part of the national speaker association. So Carl, welcome to the show.

Carl Seidman

Thanks so much for having me, Paul.

Paul Barnhurst

We’re super excited to have you, I mean, you know, I’ve been looking forward to this for a while to have you on the show. So can you start by maybe just telling us a little bit about yourself and walk us through a little bit of your career?

Carl Seidman

Sure. So, over the last seven or so years, I’ve been the founder principal of Seidman Financial. Everything that this business focuses on is related to FP&A and business growth, revitalization and turnaround. So as you had mentioned, I work with companies of all sizes, from small startups, some even Shark Tank funded companies to middle market organizations, and then also many of the fortune 500 and some fortune 100 companies. A lot of the work that I do is on FP&A advisory. So making sure that the FP&A function is working as intended, that it is structured as desired.

 I help with some technology solutions, making sure that people are upskilled in the way that they need and, and want to be, and otherwise just take a very holistic and well-rounded look at the FP&A capabilities that an organization has. Prior to starting my own firm as you had mentioned, I took about a year-long hiatus traveling around the world to build this business. And then prior to that, I had a somewhat typical background in management consulting, largely focused on turnaround, restructuring revitalization, and also intellectual property matters.

Paul Barnhurst

Okay, got it. Well, thank you for sharing a little bit of the background. Sounds like you’ve had some exciting companies. I think you mentioned everything from Shark Tank to Fortune 500 in there. So probably everything in between. So, you know, you started your career with PwC working in business analytics and strategy. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and how that helped prepare you for a career in FP&A?

Carl Seidman

Right at PwC, so I’ll take you back even a little bit further. So my education was in finance and economics and I had come to the realization that I needed and wanted a deeper background in accounting. Because I recognize that finance is oftentimes dependent on accounting to be more effective. And I felt I didn’t have that education. So I got my master’s degree and then a CPA. I had done an internship in audit at PWC, and then also at Ernst & Young . I had got offers from both of those firms in audit, but I went back to them. I said, I don’t wanna be an auditor. What else do you have? And so I had great relationships at PwC. I had done an internship in Detroit, but I said, look, I want to move to Chicago. And they had set me up with interviews for many practices within the advisory practice at PwC in Chicago.

So I’d interviewed in due diligence and valuation, a group called dispute analysis and investigations among others. But I was really turned on to what was going to be done in dispute analysis and investigations. I got paired with the national partner of intellectual asset management for all of PwC. And I got a lot of experience valuing patents and trademarks and copyrights and trade secrets and trade dress. And it was very analytical, obviously, a lot with financial and business modeling and valuation, but also with writing legal writing and looking at business assets, and problems in a very unique way. That partner, who I was directly tied to, was also partnered with the head of business analytics and strategy at PwC, which in many ways was a third party advisory group to fortune 500 companies. These companies were embarking upon certain initiatives or ventures of their own. And they would say, you know what? We want to have these external experts, these CPAs at PwC vet our business model, vet these ventures and tell us what we need to know, or maybe what we’re not even considering. So very early in my career, I was able to take on some really, really unique projects that I wouldn’t have encountered anywhere else. It gave me the skills, the background and exposure that I don’t know that I would’ve encountered anywhere else.

Paul Barnhurst

Now, it sounds like a great experience. I could see where you wouldn’t get that in, but definitely wouldn’t have got it in audit. And I would say it was a wise decision as I don’t, you know, audit has never been an area I wanted to be in, so I can appreciate wanting to do something a little different.

Carl Seidman

Sure.

Paul Barnhurst

So, you know, you talk about making that, you know, PWC and having some great experience there. What made you decide to leave and start your own practice? Like how did that come about, you know, to start an advisory service firm in FP&A.

Carl Seidman

Yeah, well, there was actually an intermediate step there in between PwC and starting my own practice. And around the time of the recession in 2007, 2008, I started just seeing the writing on the wall, that business was drying up a bi that the economy was contracting. At the same time, the partner who I had just mentioned who I was directly tied into was reaching a mandatory retirement age. And so while business was contracting, he also in many ways, turned off the spigot. I started to look around the firm for other opportunities, but eventually just decided it would be best for me to look elsewhere. I had joined up with a middle market boutique turnaround and restructuring firm because I thought to myself, well, what’s gonna be busy during a recession. Certainly distressed business consulting is one of them.

So I had joined that firm and literally on day number two, I got paired up with the CEO and co-founder of the whole firm and got put on an extremely high profile engagement, turning around a very visible organization in, in a major metropolitan city. And when I was there obviously this was very intense, lots of hours, some really impactful work that I was doing, but towards the tail end of that experience, I had clients coming to me and saying, Carl, why don’t you just go out on your own? You don’t need to be doing this with a firm. You’ve got the skills, you’ve got the experience, you’ve got the network, you’ve got the maturity to be able to do this on your own. Why don’t you go do that? And I remember coming back to those individuals, to those clients and saying, I don’t know, I don’t know that I have the skills.

I don’t know if I have the experience. I don’t know that I have the network. And several of them said, if you need clients, if you need connections, you come to me and I’ll connect you. And so ultimately I said, look, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to leave. I’m gonna start my own business. ‘m going to travel the world at the same time. And so I had taken a few months after leaving that firm, to go to South America, to go to Southeast Asia, spend time, obviously in Chicago as well. And by the time I had circled back to end what I had called my first retirement I had around eight clients lined up and ready to go. So I had returned back to my base of Chicago, kickstarted the business, and it was hitting the ground running with eight clients.

Paul Barnhurst

That’s great. I mean, to have eight clients to start off with, I know a lot of people starting a business where that is the biggest challenge, right? Getting the clients and kind of building it. And so that’s great. Can you talk a little bit about something I’ve always found intriguing. I’ve watched your TedX talk. On your first retirement. Maybe just take a minute and just talk a little bit about that.

Carl Seidman

Yeah. So this was, you know, nothing that I thought all that intentionally about, in terms of how I coined it the first retirement. But I always asked myself in consulting, why is it that we had to go from project to project, to project, oftentimes projects overlapping with each other, but really not a whole lot of time just sitting on the bench. And the reality is if you are a salaried employee and you’re just sitting on the bench in many ways, you’re, you’re costing your employer money by doing that. And so I just thought to myself, well, rather than go from project to project, to project or job, to job, to job, why not take some time off to refresh, revitalize, retool, and reposition for what’s next? And so I had left my prior employer without anything else lined up.

I had taken a one way trip to Santiago, Chile, with no clients and no employment lined up. But with the intention of enjoying my travels, refreshing, but repositioning for what my future was going to be. Staying In touch with people, reaching out to those who I hadn’t talked to in months or years and saying, this is what I’m doing right now, but this is where I’m going in the future. And just from a philosophical point of view, seeing it as an alternative to the ultimate retirement is a lot of people say, well, I’m gonna work really, really hard all throughout my life. And then I’ll get to my golden years of 65 and 70 and above, and then I’m gonna get to do the things I really, really wanna enjoy. And there’s nothing wrong with working your tail off during your most prosperous years.

But I thought, well, why not take a little bit of time here and there for myself to do the things that I really want to do. But at the same time, sharpen the saw for what I’m going to be next, what I’m going to be doing next. I often found that the challenge of, you know, learning and studying and connecting while employed would require me to do that in the evenings after a very long day, potentially on the road. And I just didn’t feel that I had the capacity nor even the focus to be able to do that. So the first retirement was able to combine all of those elements of taking time off to, you know, revitalize myself to retool and reskill, to reposition for what’s next and really be able to live my ultimate retirement sprinkled throughout my earlier life.

Paul Barnhurst

No, I love that ultimate retirement vs first retirement. I noticed how you said sharpen, the saw sounds like a Stephen Covey reference there. I’m a big fan of his seven habits. I know that’s one of them, but I really like that idea. I mean, it’s something I wish I had done when I was younger. You know, it’s kind of that idea when I was able to, you know, my first retirement, because there’s something valuable about stepping away, but like you mentioned, you stayed in contact with people. You didn’t just drop off the face of the earth for a year and pop up one day and say, here I am, hire me. You had a plan within all of it.

Carl Seidman

Yes, absolutely. And, and it wasn’t anything that was so definitive and so scripted. There were objectives that I had. There was an idea that I wanted to pursue, albeit loosely. But what people sometimes get concerned about is if I take time off or if I have a gap in my resume, I’m not gonna be employable. But what was most striking to me when I returned and, having done that TEDx talk was we’re in the era of the internet where people are going to Google you, they’re gonna go on LinkedIn and they’re gonna find out who you are. And I would get prospects, or I would get referrals to new clients or new training opportunities. And I would get on a call or I would get in person. And, clearly I’ve got experience, I’ve got expertise and people would say, you know what? You’ve got the expertise you’ve got, but I really want to hear what you did on this first retirement? What was that all about? And similar to what you just said, Paul, as many of them, I would say even most of them would say, I wish I had done that when I had the chance. And I’m gonna encourage my kids to watch your TEDx talk.

Paul Barnhurst

Yeah, no, I, I think it’s a great talk and I would encourage anyone in our audience to listen to it. I know I watched it a while back when I learned about it and really enjoyed it. There are a lot of great things there.

So kind of shifting gears here a little bit. So recently, I think it was in the last week or so you posted on LinkedIn, you said the top skills, somebody in FP&A or corporate finance needs is the ability to anticipate. And I think you laid out a couple different examples around that. Can you talk a little bit about why you think that’s the most important skill for somebody in FP&A?

Carl Seidman

I think a lot of people who are in finance or accounting or a technical field such as ours would say, you know, you need to understand the foundations of finance and accounting and valuation and financial modeling and all of these technical types of skills. And then you also have a school of people who would say, you need to have all these softer skills or all of these more non-technical skills like presentation skills or communication skills or team building and teamwork skills, which obviously all of these are vitally important, but when it comes to being successful in FP&A advisory work, or even just as a corporate FP&A professional, a lot of what we’re doing is trying to anticipate and plan for what is going to happen. Whether we’re taking a look at forecasting, which is a view of the future and planning resource deployment for what the future may bring, or whether it’s putting together projections of what might happen, what could happen that we’re maybe not thinking about both of those mindsets, which are core to FP&A is all about anticipation.

Doesn’t matter whether you’re good at Excel or accounting or finance or valuation. What’s vital for effective forecasting and projecting is thinking about what could happen based upon the information that you have, the assumptions that you are going to be adopting, what the history of relationships in the business or in the sector may present to you and combine them all together for a much more complete picture. At  the same time, the A in FP and A being analysis is saying, there are relationships that exist here. What is the synthesis actually telling us? What can we form as a conjecture about all of these observations? So to me, anticipation is saying, what might we expect? What might we expect to happen based upon all of the information and all the intelligence that we have and how can we position ourselves as a team, as a person, as a company for that anticipation?

And just to take one small step aside, if you even think about human nature, the ability to anticipate is how we can make sure that we’re fed? That we have shelter? That if there is something that’s going to happen in the economy that we’re secure? Or at least that we’re prepared for it, if there is some kind of a catastrophe that happened in our town, how can we plan effectively for that? May we anticipate it happening again? So again, even though the technical is vitally important and the non-technically is vitally important, I actually would put over all of them, the ability to think ahead, to anticipate and think critically,

Paul Barnhurst

You know, when I first saw your post, I know we went back and forth a little bit. I had to really think about that, because I’ve never heard it phrased that way. And so it caused me to pause and kind of think, and the more, you know, I’ve heard you explain that and think about it. It makes sense. I can see that kind of overarching idea of being able to anticipate, right? It is why we do scenario planning, understanding and anticipating what your partners are thinking, what will happen if you do certain things allows you to be much more strategic and much more of a value creator.

Carl Seidman

Absolutely. I mean, as you just said, with scenario planning, I was just speaking with a group this morning. And I said, very, very rarely will I marry myself to one set of assumptions, one forecast, one set of figures, because that means I’m not anticipating those assumptions changing. I’m not anticipating the future being different from that one single reality that we’ve arrived at. And so in FP&A the value of anticipating is saying, well, what if all of these realities in the future change. What do we need to do to position? And how can we begin targeting that today?

Paul Barnhurst

That’s great. And I like that, you know, being able to anticipate the different scenarios. And we had Jack Alexander on a little while ago, we just released his podcast and he made a comment of, well, people say, I can’t anticipate a black Swan. It’s like, well, you can anticipate a black Swan event. You may not know what it is, but they happen every six, seven years. The pandemic, you know, the housing crisis, whatever it might be, companies can anticipate that at some point that’s going to happen. So if that happens, what’s our contingency plan? What are we gonna do? And what, what are the triggers that are gonna tell us, it’s time to implement that. Right? And that’s part of that anticipation. If you don’t know what the triggers are, then what good is the scenario plan, because you never implement it.

Carl Seidman

You bet. And, in terms of any kind of drivers or influences in business, you don’t have to say pandemic, you could say disruption. You know, is there a pandemic? Is there a recession? Is there a war? Is there a hike to interest rates? All of these various disruptions, you can get tangible and say, well directly what’s the impact to the business. But otherwise you could just say, look, what happens if there’s a contraction in our sales? What happens if one of our critical suppliers or a critical vendor, they themselves end up getting themselves into distress. So you can’t necessarily, or you don’t necessarily need to come up with something so tangible, but you can come up with pressures or disruptors or some kind of bottleneck that you can start planning for today. And it’s not just on the negative side. It’s also on the positive side, opportunistic.

Paul Barnhurst

No, I totally agree. It’s, you know, it’s a balance of both looking at, okay, what happens if sales are way better than we expected? And we, you know, you might have supply chain issues or sales. How do we staff up to take advantage of, you know, that opportunity.

Carl Seidman

Absolutely.

Paul Barnhurst

Right. All, all those sort of things. So that’s great. So moving on here, I just wanna ask a little bit, I know you’ve been very active in several speaking organizations. I believe the Toastmaster, National Speaking Association. I know you’ve done some improv in the past, comedy improv. How has that made you a better FP&A professional?

Carl Seidman

So I actually tell people, um, who come to me and say, Carl, if I were to go do one thing to further myself, if I were to invest in myself, what should I learn how to do? And naturally, a lot of FP&A people will, will say, should I learn? You know, Excel, should I learn an EPM? Should I learn Power BI? And I say, look, all of those things are going to help you. You’re never going to fall behind, or you’re never gonna get hurt by learning more in teaching yourself. But I believe that the biggest and best investment you can make in yourself is becoming a better communicator. And that could be through writing. But I think even more so it’s through speaking and the speaking that I’ve done through Toastmasters, which is a public club that anyone in the entire world can join.

Carl Seidman

There are probably thousands of clubs all over the world where you can practice skills of being able to get in front of people and speak with confidence, articulation, and intentionality. In terms of the way that you’re taking a speech. When you’re going to get in front of an audience in a FP&A a meeting or in a, you know, a board meeting or a board presentation. It’s one thing to have confidence in the numbers that you have and the intelligence that you’re providing. But as much, if not more of that, is your body language and your presence and your physical confidence, your way of articulating or your ability to articulate what other people need to know, not just the analytical work that you’ve conducted. And so, while I had joined Toastmasters many, many years ago, probably about 15 years ago, I say to anybody who says, oh, Carl, you know, you’re so polished as a professional speaker.

Carl Seidman

I say, look, if you were to turn the clocks back, 15 plus years ago, I had joined Toastmasters at PWC. And the very first speech that you give is something called an icebreaker where all you do is you stand up and you talk about yourself. And I remember I went up to the front of the group. I had note cards. I literally had note cards. To talk about myself. And I remember I got hung up and I started stumbling over my words and it was a complete failure. And so when people say, you know, Carl, you’ve been doing this for so long and you’re so polished in terms of your speaking, they say, but you have to start somewhere. And you come from a place of being somewhat of an amateur and being nervous and not knowing how to write and not knowing how to speak.

Carl Seidman

But you put in the reps, you get the practice, you learn a whole lot more about yourself and the art and the craft of public speaking. And you can start to command credibility, attention and authority. I remember in one of the Toastmasters groups I was in, I got a piece of feedback from one of the senior members. And he said, Carl, the way that I would describe you is he said, when Carl speaks people listen. And I attribute that largely to putting in the reps, through Toastmasters on the national speakers association front, that’s more of the business of speaking. And so a lot of my business today comes through speaking keynote, professional development and training. And I attribute a lot of that focus and a lot of that success to getting experience writing and presenting from a financial perspective.

Paul Barnhurst

Oh, thank you for sharing that. I love that answer. And you know, what I really appreciate is reminding people you have to put in the reps, speaking just doesn’t, you don’t wake up one day and go, I’m gonna be a great speaker. And it happens. Speaking takes a lot of practice. I’ve done Toastmasters. I was involved in it for a couple years, and I know when I need to present something, I will try to practice. And when I don’t, I notice the difference. I notice I don’t put in the reps and prepare what I’m gonna say and have a good idea of what I’m gonna present body language, how to think about things, how to impact things. It doesn’t go nearly as well as it does when I really put in the time. So I really appreciate that advice. And I also love the point that you talked about. Hey, you can work on technical skills, you can learn power BI, you can learn Excel, and those are all good and they’ll help you. But being able to command a room, being able to present in a way that you can tell the story and you can influence what is going on is so valuable, especially in FP&A Today with us being viewed as value creators, right? It’s no longer what I used to call FP&R where you did a little bit of planning. You did a little bit of budging and you did a bunch of reporting and you handed this huge deck to somebody. And if you were lucky, they read a page of it.

Carl Seidman

Mm-hmm

Paul Barnhurst

you know, it’s, it’s changed.

Carl Seidman

Yeah. It definitely has. And to take that a step further, Paul is, you know, from the earlier stages of a person’s career and work in FP&A, I believe that the ticket to entry is having a background in finance or accounting or something similar. And then as you start to progress, it’s, you know, understanding Excel or Google sheets or some of these other technical abilities. But If you’re gonna launch from being a doer or having that R the reporting aspect of FP and R. But if you’re gonna launch from being a doer or being a soldier, to being a general and being a leader and being an influencer, you’re gonna have to be able to take those skills somewhere else. And, and this may sound a little bit strange for this audience, but I actually don’t do nearly as much technical work today as I did earlier in my career. It’s not that I’m not a master of that. I would say I am a master of many of those technical skills. But Because I have launched more in terms of leadership and communication and influence and industry expertise, a lot of that comes from being able to get in front of a room, command the room, be an authority. And a lot of that comes through practice and exercise of communication skills.

Paul Barnhurst

No, you make a great point there about, you know, you’ve put in the time you’ve done the work, you can do the technical and you can speak the technical, which is important. People understand that you have the technical proficiency to do whatever’s needed. But more valuable I imagine, especially running your own business and being an advisor, training people and helping them in turnaround situations or other distressed situations where they’re looking to you for advice, that ability to speak clearly to get across a message and to influence decisions is invaluable. Right? We talk about, you know, FP&A, you know, everybody who’s in FP&A that’s worth their weight in salt can do an analysis, right? That’s kind of bread and butter. But can you take that analysis and do the value creation and make the recommendations and help influence the business? And if you can’t, you’re missing that opportunity to really advance and to truly make the difference that CFOs CEOs and the business wants from their FP&A professionals. They want that advice. They want you to help guide them.

Carl Seidman

Right. I totally agree with everything that you’re saying. I think, you know, I had gotten a question a couple of weeks ago from a virtual program I had done. And they said, the question was, you know, if you’re gonna be a CFO and you don’t come from an FP&A background, how can you supervise and advise those who are the doers? And I said to this individual, I said, look, you’re not gonna be expected to know how to do everything. And the expectation is not that you are going to have to be a master of all of these technical skills to elevate to FP&A manager, director, and CFO, but you have to be able to speak the language on the technical side, but you’re gonna have to develop those leadership capabilities. And exactly, as you said, Paul, of getting yourself into some really sticky situations and being able to alleviate the stress and anxiety that people in that room may have. To be able to bridge the gap between what might be going in, in a portfolio company and what the private equity firm on the other side may be interested in.

Carl Seidman

If there’s a default in a business, be able to mediate between what’s happening in the business and what the lenders are most concerned with. So again, it’s vital to understand what’s going on on the technical side, but you have to be able to blend that technical with the non-technical and the soft skills, but, but really be able to master the communication element that is so often not taught in school nor developed in the doing that is corporate America.

Paul Barnhurst

No, I agree. It’s an area that is often a gap that we have to figure out on our own that we have to put in the time, right? Learning, finance, learning, accounting, learning analytics. You’re gonna learn that in school, you’re gonna do all kinds of assignments to give you that basic knowledge and prepare you for the job. And then the first job they’re gonna hand you some assignment that has something to do with that. But rarely ever do, they sit down and hey, let’s start you right away in Toastmasters. Let’s help you with your speaking. Let’s focus on these things. You know, some managers do and they recognize it and they’ll spend that time with you, but it’s not ingrained in corporate America to the extent of, Hey, let’s get you the Excel training. Let’s talk to so and so let’s make sure you’re technically proficient. We might spend 80% of the time there, but so much value comes from spending more time on, you know, the speaking and these other skills that allow us to influence.

Carl Seidman

Absolutely.

Paul Barnhurst

So I really appreciate that answer. So, you know, as you look at FP and a, and you’ve, you know, you’ve been in the field for a while now, and obviously the last few years have brought a ton of change. What do you see as maybe the biggest challenge for FP&A going forward and the biggest opportunity?

Carl Seidman

That’s a good question. In terms of the biggest changes that are bringing about challenges, I think a lot of it has to do well, one of them has to do with technology and software. There are a lot of wonderful economical solutions that are out there. However, a lot of organizations get themselves into trouble by saying this, the technology and the software is the solution. And I say, no, it’s not the solution. It is a solution that when you combine it with established good processes and trained, developed people, the software can take you to the next chapter in the life of your business, or can help you scale or save tremendous lost time and improve efficiency. The challenge I think exists is there’s a huge decentralization of the software. And I often talk about, you know, if you take a look 10 to 15 years ago, there were ERPs and there was Excel and you take the outputs from the ERPs, you put it into Excel and every company around the world was doing that.

Carl Seidman

But then over the last say, five to 10 years there’s become new types of software and new capabilities that at the time were very expensive and were focused more on the fortune 500 than mid-market and smaller companies. And so those organizations that had the ability to invest were able to do so, and there were a small handful of providers that were very successful. Now what’s happening is it’s going downstream into the middle market and into smaller companies. And there are even more platforms that have come out And so it becomes a decentralization, which I actually don’t think is necessarily a bad thing. It just muddies the waters and makes it a little bit more challenging to navigate. As you have a company that says, we know what we know, but we have no idea what we don’t know, what are other companies out there doing?

Carl Seidman

And as I had just mentioned, I did a program this morning with a very large organization that brought me in for that very purpose. They said, we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know what other organizations like us are doing. We don’t know whether our choice of software is the right one. Can you tell us? And I said, look, there are lots of great software providers out there. But the challenge is, being able to navigate what is the right solution for the industry or for the sector or for the size, or for the maturity of that business. And can the platform scale with what that business needs and can the business also navigate without having to bring in an implementation specialist every single time something needs to be tweaked. So I think that that is one of the largest challenges.

Carl Seidman

Another one would probably be around universal consistency across the FP&A team. Oftentimes when I get brought in to do professional development or advisory work, it is a “Carl, we’ve got a great team here, but everyone is disconnected”. Everyone’s doing things their own way. This group over here is not talking to this group. This group over here is not giving the information back to that group that they need. There’s all this misalignment. And so what I sometimes say to try to alleviate these concerns is clients just so you’re aware, we are at the point in humanity, in history where our companies are the largest they have ever been. They are more complicated than they have ever been. And what makes FP&A, a really neat place to be in right now, where to address your question of what’s, the opportunity, is we’re at the forefront, we’re at the cusp of a profession and of a field that is changing in real time.

Carl Seidman

A lot of these organizations say, oh, we’re so far behind. We have to play catch up. And I would say, no, you’re right in the middle of it right now. While you might feel like you’re behind some of your competition, or you could be doing a better job. This field is changing literally in real time. So it’s a tremendous time and opportunity to be in FP&A to be able to say, how can we improve our processes right now? How can we hire and develop our people right now? What are the platforms that we can start growing into right now? And how do we build a culture that encompasses all of that to build the FP&A team that we want, rather than seeing finance and FP&A as a support function or a reactive function, almost every organization I’ve talked to in recent times says, no, we want FP&A to be driving growth. We want them to be driving process improvement. We want them to be proactive. We want them to be partners to non-financial people. And so the investment and the desire is there. How can we take advantage and execute on it?

Paul Barnhurst

No, I think that’s great. And it sounds like to a certain extent, both the opportunity and the challenge overlap a little bit. With all this change in technology, right, it’s exploding. I mean, the number of planning tools out there it feels like every day somebody’s launched a planning tool. Cause you know, the valuations, the money that’s being thrown at this problem is pretty incredible. And you know, we had a digital transformation specialist on an earlier episode, and I really like the way she kind of talked about that opportunity. And I think it goes along with what you were saying, look, you’re not necessarily behind and a software isn’t gonna fix your problem. So often we think, well, once I get the billing system in place, everything will be better and I’ll be able to do the analysis I want, or once we get this new planning tool or we get the new R P integrated across the whole company, and really, you know, it’s about acting strategically is how she put it.

Paul Barnhurst

The London school of economics did a study and there were two key things they found. Act strategically for transformations and change management. And then she added a third element to that, that I really liked. If you  get your house in order make sure your data is in such a way and your processes that you can implement this. Right. And if you do those things and you’ve been thoughtful in what tool you’ve selected, you’ll be fine. Because there are many tools that any company can use. Right. Right. I mean, I think I was looking the other day and I came up with 85 planning tools out there. Who knows how many ERPs beyond that. Right? Sure. You can find something for everything. So it’s really more like, because you talked about it’s that opportunity and making sure you’re thinking about things strategically and you’re putting the things in place to make your team successful and thinking about how am I gonna scale in five years? What am I gonna look like in seven years? Is this the right tool for that? Or do I recognize that in three years, I’m gonna probably have to upgrade again. And what does that mean for processes in the team as a whole.

Carl Seidman

Right. And this goes back to, you know, the value of anticipation of being able to say, what do we think the next 12 months need to look like? What do we think our three year strategic plan is going to be? How do we think the world may change and be able to position for that? You know, I sometimes talk about, you know, four stages of maturity, of a level 1, 2, 3, and four. I’m not gonna get so deep into it here, but I had surveyed a group of people about a year ago and I said, where are you on this maturity curve? And what’s astounding is, you know, I work with a handful of fortune 100 companies and they say, look out a level out of four levels or probably a level two and a half. And you would take a look at a fortune 100 company, you know, you as a consumer.

Carl Seidman

And you would say, I can’t believe that that company would only say they’re at two and a half. I engage with them. I would think that if I lifted up the hood on the vehicle, I would see, you know, a glistening machine on the inside. But the reality, whether it’s with a giant corporation or a small entrepreneurial company, you never get to the finish line. Just because you do this implementation, you say, now this is gonna solve all our problems. Well it’s gonna open up a whole new set of other problems. And then the world’s gonna change with, you know, around you. The floor’s gonna get pulled up from underneath your feet and you’re gonna have to figure out some other problems that you need to address. And so it’s constantly moving, constantly anticipating, but being familiar with what’s out there and what can solve your problems.

Paul Barnhurst

Now, I love being familiar with what’s out there and understanding what can solve your problems. So that was a great answer about both, you know, kind of the opportunity and challenge. So as you’ve looked over your career, this is a question we like to ask everybody. If you had to look back at your, your career, what achievement are you most proud of something you would share in an interview, you

Carl Seidman

What I am most proud of and you know, it’s, it’s interesting looking back in earlier parts of my career and, and not really realizing it at the time of this is one of those moments that I’m never going to forget is working with clients who, you know, are in the thick of it and they’re stressed out. They’re anxious about where they are. They’re concerned about, you know, possibly running out of money or going out of business. And they come to me and they say, we need help, but we’re not really sure what we need to do. Can you help us? And a former colleague of mine used to commonly use analogies to the medical profession and saying, look, I’m an internist I’m coming in and I’m going to do an overview of the body to see where is the pain , but it’s not just where is the pain, what’s the root cause of, you know, this chronic illness and then serving as a surgeon who can make the tangible changes to the ill patient and hopefully have that patient come out in a better circumstance on the other side, and be able to live a life and be happy with what you did for them.

Carl Seidman

And while that may sound a little bit self centered of, you know, thinking about what I did for them, it goes beyond that and thinking about the jobs that they’ve been able to create, the legacy that they’ve been able to build for their community and for their children and for the people who have worked with them for 20 years. And the two companies that I can think of. One was a long time ago. There was a very, very stressful situation. The company was literally on the verge of blowing up. And I came in with a small team and we rescued this company and this gentleman who owned the business. I remember years later after, you know, we turned this business around. I went and I came to visit him, brought me into his office. He sat me down.

He called in the CFO. He called in the COO. And I was literally sitting in this chair with the CEO across from me, the CFO on one side, the COO on the other. And he said, Carl, I just want to tell you the revenue that we’re making right now. And they had more than quintupled the business, since I was working with them. The profitability was extraordinary and he said, Carl, anytime you need anything, you let me know what I can do for you. And then a second company who I still keep in touch with. I mean, I keep in touch with both of them, but another company I had worked with when they were a startup and they have increased the size of their business, probably over 40 fold. And when I talked to this business owner, he came back and he said, Carl, we never, ever, would’ve gotten to this place without you having been by our side. And to me, half of what I do is business and FP&A. And Half of what I do is being a support, a piece of support, a counselor, in some ways a therapist, but somebody who people can count on who they can trust when times get really difficult and see them through to the other side.

Paul Barnhurst

Now thank you for sharing and that what a great example, where you made a difference for those companies, you think of all the jobs that created. All the people’s jobs that saved, right? That’s, you know, that’s real impact in the world. And I like how you mentioned, you know, with those situations and an FP&A sometimes you’re being a little bit of the therapist you’re being that, you know, person that they just need to listen to and help them work through things. Sometimes it’s not about the analysis you’ve done. It’s about listening and helping them figure out what they need to

Carl Seidman

And you know what Paul is sometimes, you know, even though I’m coming in as an outside FP&A advisor and I’ve walked the walk. I’ve been doing this for a really long time. Usually those who are in the business, know the business a whole lot better than I do. And while I can come in and do analysis, they understand their business inside and out. So I need to be there to help facilitate and help augment what they are currently doing so that they can be better at what they’re currently doing. It’s not me coming in to replace them, it’s me coming in to help lift them up and enable them to do what I know that they’re capable of.

Paul Barnhurst

No, and that makes a lot of sense. So, uh, moving on here, we have just a couple questions left. One is a little more kind of on the personal fun side. What’s something that not many people would know about you, something they wouldn’t find online, something unique.

Carl Seidman

Well you know, one thing that I think if people did enough digging, they could probably find out that I have, uh, five year old twin boys. That was a surprise at the time. It’s a surprise every day since. But they’re a lot of fun. They’re a lot of trouble. But they challenge us every single day. So I think that that certainly one, um, and a lot of people sometimes don’t realize, they say, you know, how is it that you’re, you’re doing what you’re doing on the professional front, but then you’re clearly a busy guy on the, on the back end with family. And a lot of what it comes down to is just prioritizing what’s important to you. But I would say maybe another piece of information that people wouldn’t know about me is that many years ago I had taken a trip to Japan and I had for a very long time, always had a deep admiration of Mount Fuji.

Carl Seidman

and I had just loved the pictures and I said, I really wanna go see it up front. And I remember going to Mount Fuji and it was covered in clouds. And a couple weeks later, I said, I’m gonna go back because the first time it was covered in clouds and the second time it was still covered in clouds. And because I was disappointed, I decided that I was going to get up close and personal to Mount Fuji. And I actually ended up climbing it almost all the way to the top during non climbing season, during the wintertime, by myself, with no other people on the mountain. And I have the pictures to prove myself being above the clouds, seeing the summit, but ultimately getting to a point where the summit was just covered in snow. And rather than saying, I’m gonna get to the top. I turned around and I went home,

Paul Barnhurst

Probably a hard decision, but I will say it was a smart decision having done some mountaineering and climbing. And I took a mountaineering class when I was in California. I’ve hiked, you know, Whitney. So I haven’t gone as, you know, some of the mountains in other places, but I can definitely say there’s a time when, especially when you’re alone like that winter people probably didn’t know where exactly you were at. Right. There’s a time when it makes sense just to turn around and, you know, kind of lick the wounds and say that’s for another day.

Carl Seidman

Right. And, uh, you know, it wasn’t my, my smartest decision in my life to get on that mountain, but it probably was one of the smarter decisions in my life to, you know, suck up my pride and, and turn around and do the right thing. Yeah. And it’s become, it’s become a story

Paul Barnhurst

Well, and that’s just, it makes for a great story and, you know, one day you’ll get up there and get to that top. Hopefully. So know, our show here, we’re, uh, sponsored by data rails. You know, they’re one of the planning tools we talked a little bit about earlier, and they’re one of those planning tools, specifically keeps users in Excel. They build all their functionality around Excel. And so one of the questions we like to ask everybody, since everyone in finance uses Excel, it’s the tool of choice for most finance professionals. What’s your favorite Excel function and why?

Carl Seidman

I have to just pick one.

Paul Barnhurst

You, you can tell two if you want but actually hold you, what’s the number one. You gotta do one.

Carl Seidman

All right. So if I had to pick one, I would probably say it is OFFSET . And the reason why I like OFFSET is that there are two functionalities built within the function. It is what I call it and I don’t even know what Microsoft would call it. But I call it locational OFFSET . And then the other, I call dynamic OFFSET and it allows movement to navigation throughout the field of Excel in really interesting ways that no other function can accomplish. And then if you’re gonna allow me to pick a second one, I would probably pick INDIRECT . And even though some of the Excel gurus out there would say, INDIRECT is one of the worst functions out there. I would completely disagree and say that in FP&A an INDIRECT allows you to accomplish certain tasks that nothing else can. And when you use it intelligently and sparingly only when you actually need to use it, when you combine it with offset and lots of other functions, it is truly magical.

Paul Barnhurst

No, I’ve used both those in many models where you’re trying to do, you know, multiple cost center type spreadsheets where you’re referencing the same thing and INDIRECT can be very valuable. You know, OFFSET can be another valuable one. I was hoping you might say merge and center like Jordan Goldmeir, we had on here earlier, you know, be total contrarian out there.

Carl Seidman

No, I was, I was listening to that one. When he said that, I was like, you know what? I’m actually in his camp, there are lots of people out there that say, that’s the absolute worst thing you can do. And I will admit I am in his camp and I will use that as well. I don’t have a problem with it. You just have to know how to navigate.

Paul Barnhurst

Yeah. I’m, I’m more of, I’ve gone toward the center cross selection, but I agree with the logic, right? As long as you know how to use it and use it properly, there’s nothing wrong with that formula. It’s the way we use it. It’s the problem. And I get why everybody hates it, because we all inherit that file from somebody who’s used it everywhere and it takes you an hour to get your data in any structure you can do anything with. So I totally get kind of both sides of that, but I had a laugh when he gave that answer, because I’ve always kind of been on that other camp and he was holding to it. So yeah.

Carl Seidman

Yeah. Well, that’s fine. Everybody’s got their own opinions of, of the rules that they are happy breaking

Paul Barnhurst

Well, and that’s exactly it. As long as we get the job done, that’s what matters.

Carl Seidman

Right

Paul Barnhurst

So the last question I have for you here is what advice would you offer our audience if they asked you, what should they do today to become a better FP&A professional? And I think I have an idea where you’re gonna go with that based on some of our conversation, but you know, what’s that one thing you would tell them to focus on?

Carl Seidman

Yeah. I, I think you probably too, too, I would say become a better communicator. I would say, you know, learn some of those technical skills that are very, very important. That’s not gonna hurt you to learn, but to be better at what you do to get noticed, to become an influencer and get, you know, spotlighted as somebody who’s gonna move up to management and directorship and leadership it’s become a better public speaker, go take Toastmasters or go join a Toastmasters club, go analyze other people’s speeches and understand what it is that you like about it. Identify other speakers that you don’t like and what do you not like about them, but start developing your confidence in the spoken and written word and see how magical it is to your FP&A career.

Paul Barnhurst

Thank you, Carl. And you know, on that note, we’ll go ahead and close and we really enjoyed having you on the show. Lots of great advice and can’t, can’t wait for this to come out in a few weeks and for the audience to get a chance to listen to all your great advice. So thank you for being on the show today.

Carl Seidman

I really appreciate you having me, Paul. Thanks so much.

Paul Barnhurst

Thanks Carl.