The Elbert Files: Training CPAs to become CEOs
Friday, April 05, 2013 7:00 AM
The Des Moines business community can point to several accountants who have risen to become successful chief executive officers, including Meredith Corp. CEO Steve Lacy, Bankers Trust Co. chief Suku Radia and Jerry Chicoine, the former top dog at DuPont Pioneer.
Craig Damos, a certified public accountant who led The Weitz Co. from 2006 until 2010, believes there’s something about the accounting experience that makes many CPAs a good fit for corner offices.
“Traditionally, CEOs have come up through operations, or if it’s a sales organization, through sales,” Damos said. “What’s happening today is that people are beginning to say: ‘Wait a minute! What we need is a business person.’
“Business today is pretty risky, so you need to have a good strong financial and business background” to be successful in the top job, Damos said.
He uses his own career as an example.
Damos was a CPA at RSM McGladrey for 20 years before joining Weitz, Iowa’s largest construction company, as chief financial officer in 2000. In 2004, he took over management of new acquisitions, and in 2006, Damos was named CEO.
During his interview for the top job at Weitz, Damos told his future bosses they needed to ask him: Why should they hire someone with a financial and accounting background to lead one of the largest construction companies in the country?
Damos’ response was: “Your job is to build the buildings. My job is to build the business.”
It was working just fine, until two years into his tenure as CEO when the economy went sour and Weitz, along with every other construction company, had to cut back, eventually eliminating nearly half its workforce.
When Damos left Weitz in 2010, neither side would give specifics, except to say there were “philosophical differences … on how best to position the company for future opportunities.”
Damos says today that after making $70 million in cuts, “I didn’t want to cut the company back any further.”
After leaving Weitz, Damos, who is 58, considered a number of options, including offers to lead two businesses located outside Iowa. But he didn’t want to leave Des Moines.
Also, he strongly believed there is need for smart finance guys in top-level jobs. He preached that mantra everywhere he went, to friends, to associates and to the corporate boards he served on.
He preached it so much that he decided to do something.
Fifteen months ago, he created The Damos Co., a teaching, mentoring and consulting business that targets chief financial officers and employers with 75 to 3,000 employees.
His goal is to help businesses achieve sustainable, profitable growth.
He provides two services. One is coaching chief financial officers with seminars that teach them how to “quit counting money and make money,” and through individual mentoring.
The other service involves working with CEOs and their management teams “to define the direction of the company and how we are going to get there” using three or four key strategies.
“It’s about where to place your bets,” he said.
“We don’t spend a lot of time on lofty visioning. I have a belief that the CEO and the management have a pretty good directional focus,” Damos said.
The Damos system is more about accountability. Individuals are assigned to each key strategy. Measurements are created. A reporting system is developed. “We even change the way the management team meets” to make sure decisions are made in a timely, effective manner, Damos said.
“The key is the management team, that you have something to work with,” he said.
“It’s actually a pretty slick process.”
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