ONLY 90 DAYS into the job and Nicole Anasenes looks like she’s been at Infor for years, already comfortably reeling out the jargon associated with familiarity of a brand.
No wonder. Anasenes’ career was forged at IBM and includes 17 years working in the technology sector, so she feels comfortable around Infor, an enterprise software provider.
It’s not that she’s a deep “technologist” Anasenes points out – it’s just that “I’ve been in the technology business for a very long time so I understand it at probably a level deeper than someone who may be in finance role who comes at it from just a purely financial standpoint,” she says.
IBM yard sale
She started her career a year out of college in a mergers and acquisition role at IBM in 1993, which coincided with the appointment of Lou Gerstner, the CEO largely credited with turning the business around. Gerstner refocused the business from a computer manufacturer to more of a software developer, and took notice of the internet when many competitors underestimated it.
Anasenes, in a team of 20, were charged with selling off the elements that did not form part of Gerstner’s plan, conducting what she describes as a kind of ‘IBM yard sale’, which proved invaluable to her career in finance.
“I actually learned about finance in a very operational way: carving out a business and recreating the P&L and balance sheet to prepare it for sale,” she says. “You have to think about all of the operational aspects of the business because you are creating a ledger for something that doesn’t exist as a standalone business.”
This business-focused way of thinking is something she still maintains. “I don’t think about a financial, about a budget or a projection or a forecast in the mathematical sense. I need to understand the fundamental business drivers behind it,” she explains.
From that point on she switched back and forth between finance and more business-orientated roles. Indeed, it wasn’t until just six or seven years ago that she “kind of fully accepted myself as a financial person”, following a two-year hiatus from IBM in which she studied for an MA at a business school, hoping to become a consultant and later a CEO.
Connect the dots
So how did this happen? Following spells in market development and business management, she ended up as executive assistant to the Mark Loughridge, IBM’s CFO who stepped down from the role at the end of last year.
“I happened to be there during the financial crisis, which is an incredible time to witness not only the genius of how you think about funding and supporting your business and ferrying through very challenging financial times,” she said.
Working under Loughridge’s leadership to ensure no one panicked, everyone threw their weight behind keeping the company going – which changed her view of the role of finance.
“I didn’t get rid of my business thinking and I started to connect the two pieces and accepted myself as a financial leader – and brought to bear my own view as to what that really meant,” she says.
The ‘aha’ moment
Her spell with Loughridge was followed by stints as IBM’s cloud CFO and later as CFO of the IBM Middleware Group, which looks after various IBM’s various online service offerings. Calling on her M&A experience, Anasenes built up that division through acquisitions and bringing together other elements of the portfolio.
Ever restless, it was not long before she was on the move again. And, when Infor came knocking, Anasenes had something of an epiphany about where she wanted to go.
“When I saw what Infor was doing, it was the ‘aha’ moment for me – Infor really gets it and they really understand what it means to transform work,” she says. Anasenes is, of course, talking about the internet revolution for business. “It was really hard to convince me not to come to Infor after that,” she says.
At Infor she has her “sanity check questions” at the ready. The business is private equity-backed, with publicly traded debts, leveraged in a way that’s not traditional for a technology company. It also reduced its subsidiaries from about 400 globally about four years ago, to below 100 now.
Current total liabilities for the business stand at $6.9m (£4.1m) for the year ended 30 November 2013, according to SEC-filed unaudited results, while long-term debt is estimated as $5.3m. Total software licence fees and subscriptions earned $134.1m in the 12 months ended 30 November, with support fees pulling in $367.4m; $501.5m from software revenues and a total of $698.5m. Its net income after tax is $63m.
“Certainly, at IBM I was familiar with complexity and the challenge that where your money is will not always be where you need it to be. Infor has managed this well and that allowed me to focus on taking it to the next level,” she explains.
The secret weapon
The next level could be the launch of Infor’s recently released DEPM (Dynamic Enterprise Performance Management) software, which pools together information from across a business’ various systems to show a more accurate, all-encompassing picture for the finance function. It should allow the CFO to become more strategic, explains Anasenes, because it will offer a more holistic view of the business. However, FDs shouldn’t lose touch with their primary goal.
“The role of the CFO has evolved a lot over my career – there’s still the fiduciary responsibility of the CFO and that will never go away. The CFO is the control function,” she says.
“We are responsible for the integrity of what we report to our shareholders and constituents and our stakeholders, and so that responsibility does not go away. Just because a system can do some of this doesn’t eliminate the need to have those instincts to understand the regulatory, accounting and funding environment and the markets that affect our businesses. Those are still very primary functions.”
The fundamental responsibility of the CFO is resource allocation. “You have a certain amount of constrained dollars to spend and you need to get the best return out of every dollar you invest,” she says.
A global CFO must understand there are limits to what one person can achieve. The secret weapon is to have a compliance accountant in every major territory, explains Anasenes. However, a compliance accountant does not relieve global CFOs of their responsibilities.
“I don’t have to learn it but I do inspect and ensure that I don’t let things go on without me understanding the underpinnings,” she says. “I am certainly not lax about inspecting it at a great level because it’s something that I take very seriously. But I am blessed to not have to – my brain is just never going to be big enough to know that.”
Everyone has their place and role in keeping the cogs in the machine going. Anasenes says that it is important to her that every individual, at every level, understands their connection to the business.
CV: Nicole Anasenes
2013 – present: Infor, CFO
2011-2013: IBM Software Middleware, vice-president and CFO
2009-2011: IBM Enterprise Initiatives, vice-president and CFO
2007-2009: IBM, executive assistant to CFO
2007-2007: IBM maintenance and technical support, director business management & service planning
2004-2006: IBM, director, market development emerging countries
2002-2004: IBM, treasury executive