10 questions for kCura CFO Steve Robertson

Name: Steve Robertson, CFO and COO

Age: 59

Time with company: Almost three years

Education: University of Missouri at Rolla, bachelor's of science in engineering; Xavier University, Cincinnati, MBA with a concentration in finance

Company headquarters: Chicago

Countries in which it operates: U.S., Canada, China, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, U.K.

Number of employees total: 127

Number CFO oversees: 127

About the company: kCura develops and supports Relativity, which is Web-based e-discovery software for the analysis, review and production stages of the EDRM (electronic discovery reference model). Its legal hold management system, Method, manages legal hold and risk assessment processes. kCura clients include corporations, law firms, service providers and third-party software developers. Its website is http://kcura.com.

1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?

I actually got an undergraduate degree in engineering and joined for my first job the old Bell system, Southwestern Bell, in a management development program. It didn't take me too long to figure out that I didn't have a proper understanding of general accounting and finance and business language, so I went back [to school] to get my master's in business administration. I chose finance for my area of specialization. After having gotten my master's degree and then having success in my career, I got to do a number of different C-level jobs and it was that responsibility for the plans and accounting and organization, and for the profit and loss of the organization, and also dealing with the outside auditors, those various responsibilities and experiences are what helped me shape my finance and accounting knowledge.

2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?

After Southwestern Bell, I moved to Cincinnati Bell, which was smaller but part of the [Bell] system. The CEO of that company provided critical leadership, which was continue to be learning about your job and the adjacent areas of your job every day if you really want to continue with your career. The person who was really the best model of a CFO was the guy who was the CFO of Convergys Corp., which was where I was before I came to kCura. His name is Earl Shanks. It was a case where I got to see a CFO at a big company show what good really looks like.

3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?

You know, it certainly varies depending on the type of business, depending on the size and industry sector. But I think one thing that carries across all sectors today is how to invest prudently and take advantage of the opportunities of a recovering marketplace. Knowing when and how to invest, so that you don't get out ahead of yourself; on the other hand, investing in time so that you can take advantage of opportunities that come along. More than ever today, I think that's an important challenge.

4. What is a good day at work like for you?

With kCura essentially just coming out of a startup company phase -- the product is 4 years old -- it's growing very fast, we have a number of initiatives to take the company to the next level of growth. We're always looking out 12 to 18 months to see the kind of employees and progress we need to have in place. A good day at work is focusing on one or more of the initiatives that help us to sustain our growth.

5. How would you characterize your management style?

I think people view me as pretty friendly and I do have a collaborative management style, of being very supportive, but at the same time I set very high expectations for performance. While I can be very friendly and approachable, that only sustains itself as long as people are doing great work. I want the organization to be a model for the rest of the industry. So, I'm collaborative but demanding.

6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?

I really try to assess how effective someone is at working within a team. Are they a team player? Are they willing to subjugate their ego for the benefit of the larger organization? I have seen so many cases where their ego gets in the way of being able to work effectively with a team, and that just slows everything down. In some cases, that can make you go backwards.

7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?

Interviewing is something where I have been a continuous learner throughout my career because it's so important and it's so hard to do well. I recently had a book recommended to me that has been so helpful, it's called "Who." ["Who: The A Method for Hiring," Geoff Smart and Randy Street.] It really crystalized for me how an interview should be conducted. First, is to be specific about the requirements of the job being interviewed for, at a very detailed level, and then to focus on how it was a person accomplished what they have. You also have to assess cultural fit. But you start with the experiences of the candidates as a direct match for the job and that's not just reading a resume, that's digging into specifics of how the person actually did their work.

A red flag for me would be when a person has headed up an area of an organization, they've had some responsibility, and every answer is "I did" or "I accomplished" -- no one person leads an organization and does all the work. A little too much of "I did" or "I accomplished" is a red flag.

8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?

It is a small company in a very high-growth phase. The problems that I face every day are much different than I have faced or seen at CFO-facing companies where I worked prior to this. It's almost night and day. The way I would crystallize it is here we are creating the processes every day to make the company grow and make it successful, where at most other CFO jobs the processes are in place. They might need some refinement, they might need some review, but here it's more a process of creation. It's just something that is totally energizing.

9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?

What I always like to do is either go out for a run or do something to get my blood moving, stay in shape. I think it helps me be better at all aspects of my life if I'm able to do that. Along with that, I like to settle in with a book, [or] watch a Cardinals [baseball] game and along with that maybe sample an excellent microbrew of some sort.

10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?

I would probably be doing more on nonprofit boards, particularly organizations with a charter of helping children. And along with that, traveling and reading more.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.