Trust Both Ways Is Critical: An Interview with CFO Kevin Boen
Kevin Boen is the consummate example of a CFO who understands every aspect of their organization. From spending time working in an audit, tax and advisory firm, to being the business unit controller for a food manufacturer, he realizes that it’s just as important to have a 30,000-foot perspective of an organization as it is to know what’s happening on the ground.
Boen is the CFO of IMMI, an industry leader in the design, testing, and manufacturing of advanced safety systems based in Westfield, Indiana. In this interview with Vantage, he talks about why CFOs should get to know many business areas, invest time in their team and the importance of getting to know your CEO.
1. What was your path to the CFO chair at IMMI?
After graduating from Ball State University with a BS in Accounting and a minor in Computer Science I began my career with KPMG, the audit, tax and advisory services firm, in the Indianapolis office.
The three-and-a-half years I spent auditing at KPMG allowed me to learn a variety of industries (manufacturing, banking, insurance, utility company, for example). I realized I enjoyed manufacturing the most. This could have something to do with my father working in the accounting department for a manufacturing company and spending two summers working for this company.
I then spent 7 years primarily as a business unit controller with a food manufacturer. This gave me some M&A experience as well as controller and financial analysis experience. The most important experience was working with Maxon Corporation as VP & Controller. This was a mid-size global company. I got significant experience in many aspects of the company and worked closely with the Europe and Shanghai subsidiaries. The teamwork and communication within the executive team was a great learning opportunity. Maxon was sold to private equity and then sold to Honeywell during my tenure. I feel spending time in many business areas (accounting, finance, IT, legal, operations, etc) is the best way to prepare for the CFO chair.
2. What about IMMI attracted you to the position?
After having spent several years working in a huge company (Honeywell) I really wanted to get back to a mid-size company where I could work closely with a strong executive team. IMMI is the right size, has a strong executive team, good products and reputation, and has global operations (Mexico and China).
IMMI designs and manufactures seat belts for commercial trucks, buckles and harnesses for child car seats, air bag systems for commercial trucks and many other products that save people’s lives. All of these aspects were enough to make me very interested. However, the item that convinced me I really wanted to work with IMMI was the culture. IMMI’s core values are:
The mission statement reads as follows: “By God’s grace maintain a dynamic, growing business with a Christian impact…by developing and marketing quality products and providing services which enrich and protect the lives of those who use them throughout the world.”
Working with a global company whose mission includes having a Christian impact and making products that protect lives is very rewarding.
3. How have you noticed your role change in recent years?
I have only been a CFO for 9 months, but even in those 9 months my role has changed. I directed our HR department for a month or so while we replaced our HR Director. Shortly I will be much more involved in pricing.
Being a CFO of a mid-size privately held company requires you to be involved in many areas. I currently oversee accounting, finance, business intelligence, information technology, our aviation department, legal, risk management and am involved in M&A. You have to wear a lot of hats to be a successful CFO.
4. What’s your best “life hack” for managing your day as a busy CFO?
One of my biggest challenge is to stay focused on my top priorities. That includes my life priorities as well as my work priorities. With iPhones and easy computer access from home it is easy to spend 12 or more hours working each day. I have to continue to remind myself that work is not my first priority. Just like IMMI’s No. 1 core value is to Honor God, my faith is my No. 1 priority followed closely by family. It is too easy to spend too much time working and not enough time with the things that matter the most.
When it comes to priorities at work, I try to make sure I spend time with my team as much as necessary. Getting and keeping good people is critical for a company to grow profitably. Time spent with the team helps them to continue to grow and develop. Fortunately at IMMI I have a real strong team working with me.
5. How can CFOs do a better job of “managing up” with their CEO?
I think the most important thing is to get to know your CEO. Most of the CEO’s I have worked with have been engineers by training. Some of them have a strong interest in finance and others have not had much interest. Once you determine how the CEO thinks and what issues matter most to him/her, you can determine the best way to work with him.
Trust both ways is critical. As such I try to make sure I am completely open with the CEO and not dance around issues. If the CEO and I disagree on something, the disagreement stays between the two of us. Once I walk out of the office, I show complete support for the decision, which helps to develop that trust between us.