In the Spotlight with Bill Dering, Chief Financial Officer at MHS Global
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Charles Aris (the InterSearch member firm in the USA) Executive Search CEO Chad Oakley recently spoke with Bill Dering, CFO at MHS Global.
As the CFO at MHS Global, Dering’s responsible for finance, accounting, strategy, M&A and partnering with the senior team on a range of operating issues. Previously, he held similar roles at leading Fortune 500 companies – including Kellogg Company, Whitewave Foods ($4B sales) and BNSF Logistics (a Berkshire Hathaway company). Earlier in his career, he was a partner at a mid-market investment bank and spent time at The Boston Consulting Group after getting his MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. He’s been married for nearly 20 years and has four children. He loves golf, tennis, skiing and cheering on the University of Louisville Cardinals basketball teams.
What are the top three areas that occupy your time as CFO of MHS Global?
As the CFO, I’m responsible for partnering with the CEO, Board and Management team to grow the business and manage better financial outcomes. This encompasses a diverse set of topics month-to-month, working with a talented group of people across our company and is enormously fun and interesting. Lately, I’ve spent time on three big areas:
- Developing a best-in-class finance function: Numbers are the lens through which we view and shine light on what is happening in the business. Upgrading our talent, processes, approach, KPIs and most importantly, engaging with the business in the right forums on the right issues with the right insights for the right decisions. The progress we’re making is very exciting.
- Strategy: We are a business undergoing extraordinary growth and transformation while pursuing several high-impact, strategic initiatives. For example, developing a scalable operating model for our largest division (and resulting gross profit benefits); developing strategic plans for our key divisions (this is the first time our company has done a strategy process); developing change management muscle; and improving major technology-enabled business process (MRP rollout, etc.) to name a few.
- Operational execution: Working with the teams to manage through changing business conditions – including supply availability challenges, customer opportunities, product development and people issues. We’ve been fortunate to manage through many of these while significantly growing the business.
For people who are interested in a similar career path to yours, what are the skills and competencies that are most important for success?
- Perseverance and adaptability: Dr. Seuss once wrote, “I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.” Not everything will go right; it’s okay to fail. What’s important is how you respond and never giving up. Seek feedback on how to do better and learn to adapt accordingly as the world changes around you. I had a moment when some folks thought I didn’t have enough operational finance to be a head CFO, so I spent two years gaining that experience.
- Strategic problem solving: This is the ability to identify key issues, perform analysis, develop options and get a group of people aligned on the best decision and path forward. It doesn’t matter the size of the issue, but the approach is similar and can be applied to almost any situation and industry – it’s the fundamental skill set developed at leading strategy consulting firms.
- Leadership and influencing: The ability to inspire; set a vision; and develop trusting relationships and influence peers, subordinates and managers is enormous. It starts with empathy and listening. Chris Voss wrote a great book called “Never Split the Difference” on this topic. I’d encourage you to read it sometime.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Many people are caught up in titles, money and status relative to other people. It’s an illusion to happiness. Find and pursue a career that you’re passionate about. As Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Develop a career in which you feel you have truly given.
Tactically, I’d say find and work with incredibly talented people from which you can learn a lot. Think about where you’ll keep expanding your skills and knowledge, and you’ll grow more valuable; have more fun; and have more options. Also, recognize careers are not always linear and that setbacks are inevitable. For me, I went from investment banking to strategy consulting to the corporate world – taking on different roles and working in different industries, geographies and cultures along the way. It didn’t always go perfectly but I continued to persevere.
What’s impacted you the most that has driven success in your career?
I was a competitive tennis player as a kid. I met Chuck Saacke, my coach and legend in the South, when I was eight years old. He constantly pushed me to my limits – challenging me until I finally beat him when I was 18. He taught me the value of believing in myself, hard work and never giving up. He sadly passed away a few years ago, but the lessons he taught me have stayed with me throughout my career.
What do you miss the most from your time at BCG?
I got the opportunity to do some big pro bono cases with government clients addressing public safety and economic challenges. It was a rewarding opportunity to have a big impact and help society.
How do you survive in a 24-hour work world?
Set boundaries, have fun and keep a balance! I have certainly pulled a few 100-plus hour workweeks, but when things are slow, I’m not afraid to sneak out to the golf course. I also strive to work with people who understand and share these values while trying to influence my teams to do the same!
What’s the one app you can’t live without?
The iPhone camera app. My wife and kids are taking pictures of each other all day every day, and as it automatically gets uploaded to our family iCloud, I get to see how my four children are doing. As I get older, the things that are truly important become clearer.
About MHS Global
Backed by Thomas H. Lee Partners, MHS is a leading global provider of automated material handling solutions to parcel, e-commerce, retail and other major companies. Its offering includes a full suite of turnkey project engineering; systems integration; proprietary products; and aftermarket parts and services. Examples include conveyors, automated sortation systems, robotics, software control systems, etc. The company participates in an exciting, large and high-growth industry that is driven by two mega-trends: e-commerce and automation. Today, MHS is undergoing significant growth and transformation as it evolves into a multibillion-dollar and multinational company. Headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, MHS Global employs over 2,300 people and is global in scope with operations in North America, Europe and Asia.