CFO of the YEAR

Devin Felix, Heather Stewart, Sarah Ryther Francom

June 6, 2013

The CFOs we’re honoring this year work in a wide range of industries: auto sales, credit unions, online education, commercial real estate and technology. The products and services these industries offer may differ widely, but they have at least one thing in common—the need for competent, confident financial management and leadership. Fortunately for their companies, these five CFOs are as competent as they come. Their guidance and strength have helped their organizations weather a recession and have positioned them to continue to thrive as the economy recovers. Join us as we applaud the intrepid leadership of these remarkable financial officers.

Rex Rollo

EVP and CFO, America First Credit Union

America First Credit Union saw its second-best year for net earnings in 2012, at $54.2 million. And after three straight years of negative loan growth, total loans finally rebounded by 5.5 percent, adding $193 million to the portfolio. The credit union’s membership grew by 6.33 percent in 2012, compared to an industry average of 2.16 percent.

CFO Rex Rollo attributes the robust growth in 2012 to proactive measures taken in previous years.

“When the financial crisis hit we made decisions that helped our members to weather the financial storm,” he says. “We adjusted loan payments, worked out unconventional repayment plans, and helped to preserve the financial assets that our members have accumulated over a lifetime. These activities did not produce the best financial results at the time for America First, but have proven to be one of the best decisions for our long-term success.”

As chair of the credit union’s asset and liability management committee, Rollo oversees the introduction of new products and services. His leadership in an ultra-competitive market has kept America First at the forefront of the industry. For example, the credit union was able to complete four strategic mergers since 2009, opening up new markets and adding the potential of more than 2 million new members to the organization.

Rollo says CFOs have three major roles, serving as a strategist who formulates business goals, a steward who ensures that results are being achieved, and a catalyst who propels change. “The catalyst part is unique; because of the broad view afforded this position, there are many opportunities to see other ways of achieving the business goals from inside or outside the organization,” he says.

America First is by far Utah’s largest credit union, with $5.52 billion in assets and nearly 600,000 members. Keeping such a large institution on course can be a difficult challenge, and the CFO is critical to that effort.

“I have heard it said in business that it is not about the numbers. To me that would be like telling a captain of the ship it’s not about the compass. … You may choose to sail a course different than the way the compass points, but to sail without looking at the compass is stupid,” says Rollo. “The biggest change I have seen over the last few years is more people are looking at the CFO as a trusted advisor who has a lot of experience with the compass.” 

Philip Johnson

CFO, Ken Garff Automotive Group

Dynamic, visionary, innovative—these are not words typically associated with accounting and finance. But, notes Philip Johnson, “the field of accounting has undergone fundamental changes due to a variety of factors, including ever-changing tax laws and increased governmental regulations, computer and technological advances, continual downsizing and restructuring of business and corporations, and the expansion of business on a global market.”

Because of all these changes, “‘Accountant’ is no longer synonymous with the nameless, faceless bean counter, but instead conjures up a well-educated, well-trained financial or management professional, adept at creating and maintaining success,” he says.

Johnson himself has been adept at driving success at Ken Garff Automotive Group. He joined the company as controller and was appointed as CFO in November 2011. Previously, he served as a finance manager for the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Organizing Committee and as a senior accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Ken Garff was ranked as the 11th largest dealership group in the country in 2012 by Automotive News. The group has more than 40 dealerships in six states and employs 2,800 people. In 2012, the company’s revenue grew 25 percent from $1.5 billion to $1.9 billion, with profits growing an astonishing 59 percent. Additionally, Ken Garff added four dealerships last year.

This growth is directly attributable to Johnson’s hands-on approach, says Kate Christensen, spokesperson for Ken Garff. “He is constantly monitoring the profitability of all business units and is the first to point out areas of weakness, then offer suggestions and encouragement to turn those weaknesses into strengths. No one is better at critiquing performance while making you feel good about it!” she says.

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