CXO Conversation Podcast

Entrepreneurial Passion from Big 4 to business owner then CFO

Kathleen Neuheardt, CFO for Bonfire talks to her creativity and passion for embracing challenges as opportunities with an entrepreneurial spirit.

During the interview, Kathleen speaks to:

·         Being promoted from VP to CFO

·         Overlooked Roles and responsibility of being a CFO

·         How being a Big 4 consultant helped prepare her for the C Suite

Kathleen was a partner track consultant at KPMG when after 13 years,  she decided to become a small business owner. Then Kathleen joined Kalnin Ventures (now BKV) and took ownership of projects and firm needs that included ERP implementations, HR, M&A due diligence, accounting, and more. She was promoted from Controller, VP to CFO within four years.

Her next role was CFO at Quickbox Fulfillment and now CFO for Bonfire.

Thank you to ACG Denver for being a sponsor of CXO Conversations Podcast.  Association for Corporate Growth in its role as the hub of the middle market business community for quality networking, education and events. Connections are made, deals are formed and thought leadership is exchanged.

Michael Mitchel:

CXO Conversations talks with C-level executives on how they reach the C-suite and what advice would we give those who want to be one. Today, Kathleen Neuheardt joins us. Kathleen is a multi-time CFO, including with her current company Bonfire. She has served roles in different industries, including consulting, energy, logistics and she’s also a fellow entrepreneur. Please see the show notes for more on Kathleen’s career. Welcome to the conversation, Kathleen.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Thanks, it’s good to be here.

Michael Mitchel:

Yeah, it’s going to be fun I’m looking forward to this for a couple reasons. I’m going to dive right into things. You’ve been a consultant. You’re at …

Kathleen Neuheardt:

KPMG.

Michael Mitchel:

For quite a stint.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yes.

Michael Mitchel:

Then after that, you went straight from that to small business owner and a rising executive. So, let’s unpack there. I’ll start things off with was being a CFO a career goal, a slow boil, an accident?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

I’d almost say it was an accident because when I was with KPMG I was there for 13 years, loved it, really saw myself becoming a partner there and ended up leaving just before I was going to get the tap because of an opportunity my husband had here in Denver and I had little ones underfoot and I didn’t feel like it would be the right thing to do to come up here and try to get all reestablished and juggle small people and his career. So, I took the time to step out. I always figured I’d have my own business because I think that’s fun. And so, I took the opportunity stepping out of KPMG and ultimately doing a few things on my own. I thought that’s where it would probably end.

Michael Mitchel:

What was that shift like going from being a rising consultant partner track at KPMG to now it’s your shop and it’s you?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

So, for me it was a big shift because I was very accustomed to getting that, “Great job, this is awesome, you’re amazing.” And to shift from that to your kids don’t say that when they’re three and you’re managing that, so you step out of that. And then, when you’re running it yourself, I spent a lot of time going, “Why did I do this? What can I do better?” So, I got used to not having that but it was an adjustment for sure.

Michael Mitchel:

So, the becoming a CFO, walk me through that. I mean, is that something that once you stop being a small business owner, you’re back working for companies you’re like, “Okay, I was going to be partner over there, I want to be a CFO on this side.” I mean, I don’t mean to insert, I’m asking.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah. So, I off-roaded for a good chunk where I had my own businesses, I was doing artistic things on Etsy and other teaching, et cetera. So, really exploring things I’d always wanted to do. Then my youngest were at the age where there wasn’t as much for me to be doing at home necessarily or with I’d run the course with seeing how it was to run my own business and I’d realized I don’t know that I want to make the commitment that I think I need to be able to make this just an amazing company, I’d love to go in and build.

So, that was when I decided to move back into the more traditional workforce. And then, when I shifted over I will say I knew if I set my mind to it, I’m going to do a good job. And so, then that is when I shifted over to, “Let’s go back to the traditional workforce.” I also I am a somewhat competitive person, I enjoy really leading and following but I like to have that seat at the table. And so, if I was going to do this, I eventually felt that it would be satisfying to be able to get into the C-suite.

Michael Mitchel:

Okay. So, was it specifically CFO or would you have also looked at COO? Are you one day looking at CEO?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

Okay, there you go.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

That’s part of what I like about where I am now because I’m not a traditional CFO, I am also COO and CHRO so I have a good breadth of it, which I find incredibly fun.

Michael Mitchel:

So, we’re going, because I love when my guests tee up my segues for me, but before we do that, I want to ask one. So, you were brought on Bonfire as a CFO but it wasn’t your first time. So, I want to go back to that first day when you were a CFO, when you became a CFO. I think you were a different role, a VP and you got promoted to CFO, how did that happen?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

That is correct.

Michael Mitchel:

So, what was that like? I mean, what was that first day as the official CFO? What was that like for you?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

So, when I joined Kalnin Ventures, I was employee number six and we were in the Regis shared space. And I was the head of accounting and finance but we weren’t of the size where it needed a CFO. So, I did work from, and to me, title is not what’s driven me and I enjoy what I do and I do like recognition, but I haven’t ever made a shift because of a title. So, controller was totally fine with me. Controller reporting to the founder, managing directors, what he called himself at that time because we were more of an investment advisor and not a corporation.

And then over time, as we built out the company and then he promoted himself to CEO, and then about a year after that is when I got the CFO title. It was very satisfying because I felt like I had, and the feedback that I had gotten when it got announced from the broader company was so positive and it was nice to have the official recognition and title because I went from controller to VP and then to CFO. And it was really a wonderful chance to get that title. I really appreciated it and felt like I’d totally earned it.

Michael Mitchel:

You want to pull that mic a little closer you can also if you want to do this, if you want.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Okay.

Michael Mitchel:

Okay.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Is that better?

Michael Mitchel:

Yeah, but I don’t want you to feel like you’re leaning towards it bring it to you. It’s on a boom, bring it to you.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Oh.

Michael Mitchel:

Don’t lean to it.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Oh, okay.

Michael Mitchel:

Don’t go to it, yeah.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Okay.

Michael Mitchel:

Okay, cool. So that first day, I mean, did it feel different? I mean, buzz points announced. I want to understand what was that day like? You go in the morning and you’re in the same office, you didn’t move to a corner office.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

That’s correct.

Michael Mitchel:

But did it feel different? Did you do things anything differently?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

I really didn’t. I would say part of getting the title, part of, and I appreciate that he took this approach was, “You need to be functioning in that capacity already.” And so, there was a probably six months prior to when I got the title. I was like, “You know what? I know I’m the CFO,” and so I just started-

Michael Mitchel:

Acting like it.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Acting like it.

Michael Mitchel:

There you go.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

And that’s when he was like, “I’m giving you the promotion.” He was like, it was like a switch. And I thought that’s when I decided, “You know what? I know I’m the CFO,” and so I just acted that way.

Michael Mitchel:

So, that’s where I was trying to get to because the thing is at Bonfire now you’re responsible for F&A, HR ops, supply chain. You also did this at Ventures, right?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

Kalnin Ventures. So, my sense of you, so that’s where I was trying to get to ’cause at Bonfire, you’re responsible for F&A, HR, ops, supply chain and so my sense is when you’re at Kalin?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Kalnin Ventures.

Michael Mitchel:

Kalnin Ventures, you gained this diverse experience because you just own it.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

So, I did and one of the things that I also incredibly appreciate for that time there. So, it’s awesome to come in and this is why I like this space where it’s not a large long established, “Here’s the expectation for this position,” I like being able to go in and show what I can do and to be able to get to learn, to broaden my experience and then also be able to show the value that I can bring and have that recognized. So, at Kalnin Ventures I came in, was controller, built out accounting, finance, treasury. We had 500 million in capital to deploy so we did that over 18 months.

A couple of things that we did that I was given the opportunity and then I ran with it was first off, we were a registered investment advisor. I stepped into the chief compliance, which that made sense, I was used to that. I had clients when I was at KPMG who functioned that way so I understood relative to that. And I also, fiduciary responsibility and management is very important to me. And so, this allowed me to make sure that, and we were complying well before we took best practices while I was functioning in that manner as well so that was really nice. But then the other piece that I liked was I served very transactional clients at KPMG.

So, M&A I have a long history of it, really enjoyed it similar to equity offerings, debt, et cetera. That’s a space I think it’s really fun. So, when we were deploying the capital at Kalnin I was able to and was given the nod, “Hey, you go ahead and help oversee the integrations. Once we signed the PSA then it goes under your purview.” And so, that allowed me to learn a ton about things outside of just accounting and finance. It’s legal, it’s compliance, it’s operations, et cetera. So, I was able to take that opportunity to learn, and especially on some of the larger where we leveraged consultants, learn from them.

These are folks who do it like I did at KPMG. You see it’s not one close a year, it’s like 30 because you have all these different clients. So, I’m getting to learn the best practices that the consultants who helped us integrate some of our larger acquisitions as well. And so, I took that opportunity to really understand it. I love to learn and then it made sense to me and I could see the value we created. And it was so satisfying to be able to not only integrate thoughtfully, but to push forward and accelerate some of that return for our investor because they were investing a large amount of money with us.

And so, to be able to show them demonstrative returns on the front side and then a clean go forward horizon was incredibly satisfying and being thoughtful about it and really understanding not just saying, “Oh, here’s some consultant is doing it,” but owning that allowed me to understand it and I’ve been able to apply that at the places I’ve been since then.

Michael Mitchel:

When you were at KPMG on the client sites, who typically did you interact with? Were you interacting with the C-suite?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Oh yeah, absolutely, especially when … I was very fortunate. So, when you get to the size clients that I was on were in the middle market space, they were transactional. And so, from being a senior out leading in the field all the way up through a heavy senior manager, I interacted with all of their C-suite, I interacted with their legal counsel and then the investment bankers, et cetera. That was in the day when you would be at the printers literally overnight working on the offering document.

And so, the partner who I worked for, I worked for a very senior SCC partner, highly regarded. He taught me a bunch because he would come in to review and I learned about two review cycles in, as long as I could answer what he was asking and I supplied white jelly beans because that’s what he liked to eat while he was reviewing, it was a pretty painless review process. But what he was doing was making sure I understood it. And so, I figured out if I really know the stuff inside and out and I know how to respond thoughtfully and push back when I need to, then that made things go a lot smoother.

And then, the partner I worked directly for who’s a mentor of mine, and on the front side of my career was like, “You are doing a great job and you’re super humble so you need to speak up for yourself more.” And then, he really helped me learn how to dig into that technical accounting and that piece of it, but the other piece of advice he gave me, which I still tell folks who work with me today is he was like, “You are not a good auditor if you’re not out there with the operational folks 70% of the time. So, if I see you in the audit room and that’s where you’re spending your time or in the office, then I know you’re not doing a good job.”

And so, I took that to heart and really figured out how to learn the business and that’s I think part of why I’ve been able to surf across industries because I mentally think about it as like I’m parachuting in, you get a lay of the land, you figure out here’s a couple of key folks in different areas of the company that I know I can learn from, get a good relationship with them, a trusting one, understand it and then I can take that in and really bring value through when I function just as a financial person into the insights and the value that we can show and support others with.

Michael Mitchel:

So, what you’re describing is interesting because you’re describing a generalist, right?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

But I hear conversations with private equity operators more of a specialized conversation, right?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Mm-hmm.

Michael Mitchel:

I’m a generalist as well when it comes to search so I get that, I understand the value of that. And you’re very active middle market space. So, how do you reconcile being a generalist in the middle market private equity ecosystem?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah, so I would say two things. So, first off, you’re right, I would say I tend to be a generalist overarchingly. And when I was looking at the first opportunity that I ended up becoming a CFO at, the recruiter that I spoke with was like, “So, they want you to be mile wide with six inches deep, but the ability to go 20 feet deep when you need to.” And that’s what I’ve taken to pass. I also the PE firm that hired me at the logistics company, it was really interesting because they talked they were like, “Okay, we look at executives as athletes and you’re a strong athlete.” So, you don’t necessarily, I did not come from the logistics world so those are the rules of that game that you just need to learn.

And then with my background, yes, I understand how to do that because I had to do that every six to 12 weeks for 13 years. You parachute in, you understand the business, you figure it out, you understand where you need to look to get those initial groundings and then you can build from it. So, I figure, and when I come in as well, yes, it’s a generalist where I go, “Hey, I’m going to do all these things and I’ll put together my 90-day plan, get it signed off with the CEO or the board.” And then you also during that time, you’re figuring out where you need to drill in based on what you’ve learned at other places. So, it’s generalist, but ability to go deep.

Michael Mitchel:

What do you feel are some overlooked roles and responsibility of a CFO?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

So, I would say in my experience that the area that I’m going to answer it this way. When I think about, and I tell people that I work with, “Please do not approach it this way,” because I feel like there’s an assumption with the CFO where it’s the risk slapper. You can’t do it because of X, Y, Z, you can’t spend the money, you have to stay to budget, you can’t do it because there’s this compliance challenge. And instead looking at it as, “I’m good to spend money when it makes sense and there’s a return on it, absolutely.”

So, the fastest way to not be, I don’t know how to say it well, the fastest way to have it where I go, “What?” Is to say, “Oh, I know you won’t let me do it because it’s going to cost money.” Don’t say it that way. That’s not why I’m not going to let you do it. And you may be surprised, I want you to do it and spend more for it because there’s additional value there. So, to me, what gets overlooked in the CFO position is having that bias of, “Well, you’re not creative because you’re a numbers person,” and so it sometimes-

Michael Mitchel:

I’m going to jump in, that’s old school thinking with a CFO.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

It is. And I don’t like that when people, because you go, “No, it’s actually, CFO is very creative, a good CFO has a lot of creativity. There’s an art to it. It’s not that wrist slap rule checking.” And I think that’s where you have some biases relative to that. If you open it up for them to be able to speak to the broader strategic implications, et cetera, you’ve unlocked massive value.

Michael Mitchel:

The CFO, I think the CFO role that people think of when you hear CFO of like say 20 years ago is today’s controller.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

I agree.

Michael Mitchel:

The CFO. When you hear a company announce the CEO left for whatever reason, rather suddenly the CFO stepped in. And I think at first, I first heard that years ago I was like, “Oh, that must be some cashflow issues.” No, it’s because the CFO’s is in the middle of everything.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Well, and if you think about it, finance is the language of business. So, if you are really strong in the language, then that means going back to what I was told by my mentor and you understand the business, then it makes complete sense. That’s why I think it’s a fun spot to play in.

Michael Mitchel:

Yeah. And I mean, what department are you not interacting with in the company?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

There shouldn’t be one. If you’re doing a good job, you should be working across the organization. Absolutely.

Michael Mitchel:

Well, we’re going to step aside for a quick second from the conversation. I’d like to thank CXO Conversation sponsor ACG Denver for their support of this podcast. As a local program chair, I’m proud of the Association for Corporate Growth in its role as the hub of the middle market business community for quality networking education of events.

ACG connections are made, deals are formed and thought leadership is exchanged. And we have fun. In fact, that’s how Kathleen and I met. We met last year at a small ACG Denver CXO dinner and that’s how we got to know each other. Coming back, when we look at the role of the CFO, any experiences you wish you had more of? Any roles you did more of to help prepare you to be a CFO?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

So, I would say, and there’s a lot of writeup on this as well. So, the traditional ramp to CFO rested up through that public accounting or controller real financially heavy and there’s a growing number of CFOs who are operationally grounded. I would say I feel very fortunate that even with all of those years at KPMG, the way that the vast majority of my book was managed by the partners I worked for, I got a lot of exposure and was encouraged to have it across and outside of finance. I guess, my one thing also is relative to the integrations that I did, that also enabled me to see a lot of the operational side.

So, I would love to have had that a little bit sooner because I do love the operations piece a lot. And when I think about how I’m functioning as a CFO versus what I had imagined it would’ve been, it’s very different because where I am now, I am spend majority of my time on our operations and supply chain and actually our people, I’ve got a very good strong controller in place my reporting requirements because we’re private are not as extensive as a publicly traded company. But I actually thoroughly enjoy it and I thought that being a CFO would be much more in the weeds on the financial reporting, which I enjoy. But I’m happy that it’s not my main focus.

Michael Mitchel:

I’ll call you back next tax season, I’ll remember that.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

I’m not a tax person.

Michael Mitchel:

What’s your personal career attitude?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

That’s a great question. The way I look at my career has really been you have to approach your career with a work life blend. I don’t like the balance. I had one boss who was work life almost conflict. And I think no, my career needs to make sense relative to me, my season in life and what I want to do and then I’m enjoying it. You spend so much time doing work, I want to make sure that it’s something that I, where it’s not work, it’s a game, it’s fun. And so, that’s where I’ve really tried to look at it looking at my career.

Do I have grand plans for where I want to go next? No, I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I’d like to continue to do a lot of the same stuff I’ve done. And the other big driver, and it’s part of why I went to Bonfire and it’s part of why I went to QuickBox and why I went to Kalnin Ventures before that and the nonprofit is I like to learn. So, part of my career is just maintaining that sense of curiosity and learning. And I don’t want to go someplace where, “Hey, that’s the set place,” and I would be bored, I just couldn’t do it.

Michael Mitchel:

Okay. I’m going to step up for a second ’cause I’m trying to tee you up for the life is a Jenga adventure.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Okay.

Michael Mitchel:

That was a great answer, I don’t want redo it.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

How can I help?

Michael Mitchel:

No, no, no, no, no. Okay. I’m going to say something and that’s when you’re going to come back in. Life’s you like having fun, life’s an adventure, right?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

Okay. The one thing ever since I first met you Kathleen, is that you’re really outgoing and you seem like you’re really just enjoying what you do.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

I do. So, that was one thing, and I will say this, that’s one thing that I’ve learned over time because at the beginning of my career, I was very focused on, you had these set milestones and I wanted to make sure things were lined up the way that they needed to be. And then, as life unfolds, things don’t follow that set path for the vast majority of us. And so, I had to let go but it gave me really that opportunity to explore. And that is how I look at my life and a career is a big piece of my life is really that exploration or adventure. You see what’s coming down the pipe and you go with it and you figure out how to navigate it. And you get one life so it is very important to me to have that really positive outlook and sense of wonder.

Michael Mitchel:

Gotcha. Okay. So, with that ’cause I think this feeds directly into next, Bonfire is 100% remote and there’s a lot of discussion we’re not going to get too deep in the weeds on work from home because plenty of other people are talking about that. But I do have a question. How do you maintain connection with employees that you’ve never met in person? I mean, how do you keep the company together as an organization?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah. So, being fully remote, honestly that was probably the biggest hesitation I had relative to this opportunity. I liked the space that the CEO founder was wanting for me to fill here and to partner with him. But he’s based in Virginia, majority about half of our organization’s team is overseas so there are people I have never met. And that was one thing I was upfront with him when I said, “Okay, yes, I think this is going to be a great opportunity but it’s fully remote and we need to figure out how to navigate it because I don’t want to get sad and leave.”

And so, we’ve been really thoughtful about it. And then stepping into oversee HR six months ago as well that you have that whole cultural people and culture. So, the whole cultural piece of it as well, how do you manage that and maintain that very … Bonfire has a very positive kind culture historically and it still continues to. So, it’s really a case of trying to figure out, I’m going to have to stop. Oops.

Michael Mitchel:

You’re fine.

It’s okay. Right. So, Bonfire’s 100% remote, how do you maintain connection with the employees that I’m sure in some cases you never met, but also how do you keep the company together as an organization?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah, that’s a really great question. And that’s interesting because everybody, for the most part, at least for some season from COVID impact went remote. And we actually, we were not fully remote before then and then went fully remote and then have made in the last couple of years the concerted decision to stay fully remote. Being an extrovert and working with a team that’s thousands of miles away and half the case of our organization literally across the ocean, that’s something that we are dealing with quite a bit.

Trying to be very thoughtful about how we connect our folks and maintain that and continue the culture that existed within Bonfire before being fully remote. It is a very kind, very cohesive culture, we have a set gatherings. I actually have touchpoints with my various teams at the beginning of the week and at the end, they’re not super formal. I also have office hours.

Michael Mitchel:

Oh see, now I think this is really interesting because I’m married to an academic and so I hear office hours all the time. She has office hours for her students. And ever since 2020, she also holds virtual office hours. So, I was like, and it never occurred to me that that would be applied in corporate America. So, when you mentioned it I was like, “Of course, it seemed like a no-brainer.”

Kathleen Neuheardt:

I will say so I did not do it initially. So, I had the informal, “Hey, let’s have a 30-minute touchpoint go team for the week. Hey, how did it end up?” I have formal one-on-ones, et cetera. One of the things that I was finding that for me personally was my touchpoints with my boss was it’s a lot of it is, “Okay, what did you do this weekend? Okay, that’s great.” Tick, tick, tick, tick through these things that we need to do. So, couple of months ago, that’s when I was down at a leadership meeting in Virginia and was thinking about I’m missing for me and I’m missing for my team some of that personal, just the water cooler stop by the office, poke your head in for five minutes interaction.

And so, what I did because I functioned very much open door, walked around when we were in office at other places that I worked. So, I instituted weekly office hours with my respective teams and it’s been fantastic. Sometimes the office hours extend because we find as a team, we’re working like with my accounting folks, we’re doing an ERP implementation, “Hey, let’s walk through these things.” So, the controller and the accountant can be working on stuff and I’m doing something else but we’re all together. And then they can go, “Hey Kathleen, what’s the question on X, Y, Z?” So, it’s been really positively received.

And then I’ve also, which I was hoping would happen have had it where people have come on because I’ve said, “No pressure. If you don’t want to stop by my office, I will take no offense.” And I’ve had people come in and nobody else is on there and they say, “Hey, I need to talk to you. It’s not about work, it’s about something else.” And I think I would not get that in a formal one-on-one. So, it’s been really beneficial and I’ve gotten very positive feedback on it.

Michael Mitchel:

Well, there you go. I never thought of that seriously.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

No.

Michael Mitchel:

It seems so simple.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yes.

Michael Mitchel:

It’s like the author of World War Z, right? When you were like, “How come I didn’t think of that?”

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah. I would highly recommend it if you’re doing that, that feels more real than, “Hey, let’s have a beer at four o’clock via Zoom.”

Michael Mitchel:

Yeah.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

That doesn’t feel quite the same, at least for me.

Michael Mitchel:

A, as an executive, is there a strategic decision that exceeded your expectations and what made it so successful?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

There is, there’s a couple I can think of and I’m going to use a really, it’s going to be super base but it’s been a amazing in what’s happened with it. So, coming here to Bonfire, company’s been around for 12, 13 years so it’s not in its initial years, it’s operated very much from a startup standpoint. And I’m the first CFO that they’ve ever had. So, brought in to help bring structure partner with the CEO founder to get strategy more formalized. And so, we did make a strategic decision last year at the end of the year to formally implement strategy, which we had not done before.

So, that was where I was able to leverage what I had learned through the integration work and various other experiences that I’d had where we actually set up our set objectives, set roadmap, the functional roadmaps that support it, tied into compensation down to the individual where you can link it and I’ve got it. People who work with me will know, colored, so it’s organized that way. So, we’ve got five objectives, five colors and everything feeds into them all the way down to every single individual contributor.

The thing that was really wonderful about this strategic choice was it’s helped us really cut out some of the noise people were having challenges with because you can, “Hey, there’s a connection to this objective but the connection wasn’t always so direct.” And so, people were doing things where, “Hey yes, that could benefit it, but we’ve got other things that would take priority.” So, that was something that to see the folks all the way to every single individual contributor who can tie their individual goals and understand how what they’re doing connects to the organization’s formal objectives has been really empowering and has brought a lot of positive momentum.

The other thing that’s been great about it that I learned over time, both in the audits and then integrating, is setting us up for being able to see those small wins to help with the momentum. And so, then that goes to another strategic objective that’s been really great. So, we went being over operations and having a little bit of that supply chain logistics background that I got prior to joining Bonfire, we’ve gone in and really taken a look at where are there opportunities to move the lever for value? And we rallied, I like to name initiatives so they have fun names.

I’m working on project money bags right now, I won’t going to, but we had another one where it was relative just to shipping and looking at the opportunity there and you can see it play out every month in our results. It’s tangible, the value we’ve been able to bring while improving and being focused on our customer experience. And so, you can find those mutual wins of, “Hey, we’re able to save money, have a similar or better improved experience and our customers are benefiting from it as well.”

Michael Mitchel:

And so, you really draw it really on the totality of your experience? I mean …

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yes.

Michael Mitchel:

Okay. All right. That’s really good. What’s the color codes?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

So, what I’ve done is I have so we have five objectives. Okay, two are top line, one is financial strength, one is relative to scaling and compliance so it’s more that infrastructure. And then to me, people are so incredibly important so you have that people component as well for culture and investment in people. So, each of them has a separate color. There’s a blue, yellow, green, orange and purple. And it’s interesting if you talk to people in the organization, they’re like, “Well, that’s one of the blue ones.”

Michael Mitchel:

Oh, there you go.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah.

Michael Mitchel:

All right.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

And then, that’s actually how we set up and we ended up doing was we set up from that overarching roadmap, which is by color so you can see the various colors and then what feeds into it, down to when they goal set. And their goals have to be tagged to a color because that helped as well to have it where someone’s not going, “Oh well, this is important, how is it directly tying to this and I can visually see it?”

Michael Mitchel:

Like you say, keeps the noise.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah. And people know, “Oh, that’s green so … Oh, that’s financial strength,” or what have you.

Michael Mitchel:

Okay. We might talk more about that offline, I maybe use that for my nonprofit. What advice would you offer someone who wants to be a C-suite executive?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

I think the biggest piece of advice that I would have is there’s not a set road to get there.

Michael Mitchel:

Clearly.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yes. And that’s awesome because if there was, it would be so dull and you wouldn’t have the diversity of experience and mindset to bring the value because it would just be insert some other person into the square hole. To function to me, to bring value at that C level, you need to have that creativity. You need experience and ability to critically think and challenge with the status quo is, but you also you need to have, it’s going to sound funny but playfulness. Side note, I did a, Bonfire’s big on Hogan Assessment so I had one done when I joined.

Michael Mitchel:

Oh, did you?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

I did. And when I was getting the read-out by the consultant they were like, “You are not the traditional profile for a CFO,” but it doesn’t make it bad and it works for this organization and other ones that I’ve worked at. So, to me, you need to be true to yourself, leverage your strengths and draw on your experience because I think about when I was, I taught for a little bit to a middle school applied science program, ran a very Socratic classroom, I use what I learned there every day at work. There’s value in what you do, even if it’s not on the standard path.

Michael Mitchel:

Well, I mean, you talk about standard path because also you have on your LinkedIn bio a nice little gap, employment gap because that’s when your seven, seven children.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yes.

Michael Mitchel:

Yes. So, definitely non-traditional by many, many standards of measure.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

That is correct.

Michael Mitchel:

So, I ask everybody this.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yes?

Michael Mitchel:

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had and what takeaway do you still use today in a positive way?

Kathleen Neuheardt:

The worst job I had was my first job, it lasted for about two and a half weeks and then I found a better job because I knew I couldn’t continue to do this. I worked at a fast food fried chicken place in Houston and I didn’t like it from the standpoint. It’s funny, it wasn’t great to come home smelling like fried chicken and when you’re cleaning in the back and you’re closing the restaurant down and it’s just greasy in the back kitchen and you’re cleaning the floors and stuff, ick. The thing that really didn’t work for me there was having to memorize all of the different buckets of chicken. They had this thing that they called the keel, I don’t know what that is. Have you ever heard of a keel on a chicken? I don’t know what that is.

Michael Mitchel:

No. And I don’t think I want to.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

So, I would get that they were like, “You need to have this better memorized,” and I’m like, “Okay, the family six-pack is a keel,” and I’d look at it and go, “I know food but I don’t know what a keel is, I can’t remember,” it was just not interesting to me. So, that combination I was like, it’s not what I wanted to do. And so, I actually ended up getting a job at an Eckerd Drugs, which was much better for the high schooler.

Michael Mitchel:

There you go. Well Kathleen, I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you so much for joining the CXO Conversations podcast. Thank you for being a great guest.

Kathleen Neuheardt:

Yeah, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks.

Michael Mitchel:

Yeah, no and thank you to the listeners. Please hope you found this informative. Leave a five star review on iTunes so others can find it as well. It really does help. Also, you can find me personally on LinkedIn, Michael Mitchel with one L out of Denver, the one L is the test. Thank you Jalan Crossland for allowing me to use your amazing music on the show. You’re the best banjo player I’ve ever heard or seen. Until we meet again, thanks all.

Enjoy the show? Review us on iTunes– thanks!

Thank you Jalan Crossland for lending your award-winning banjo skills to CXO Conversations.

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