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10 questions for Lancope CFO and COO David Cocchiara
- — 04 June, 2012 14:56
Name: David Cocchiara
Time with company: 10.5 years
Education: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an emphasis in Accounting from California State University, Chico.
Company headquarters: Alpharetta, Georgia
Countries of operation: U.S., U.K., Dubai
Number of employees total: 95
Number of employees the CFO/COO oversees: 25
Areas of responsibility: Financial, legal, operations, customer care, services, production, IT and administrative functions as well as overseeing the company's corporate development activities, including strategic alliances and partnerships.
About the company: Lancope provides flow-based security and network monitoring software for enterprises across a range of industries.
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I started, like many CFOs, in public accounting. I was an audit manager with KPMG in Sacramento, California. The interesting thing about working in public accounting is that it affords you the opportunity to see a lot of different companies in a short amount of time and experience many different management styles. I was fortunate to work with many different types of companies from Fortune 500 companies with public reporting requirements to a small startup cattle company in Hawaii to Sun-Maid Raisins (eventually becoming an expert raisin auditor) to the usual array of manufacturing, retail banks, real-estate, construction, agricultural and technology companies.
In 2000, the founder of a startup technology company, who lived next door to one of my clients, asked my client if she knew anyone who could be the controller for a small technology company that was just getting off the ground. She recommended me and that's what led me into technology. It seemed like a good move, as I saw a lot of people leaving public accounting in the Bay Area and becoming rich overnight, however, shortly after the company started, the Internet bubble burst and we had to build a real company.
So, I began working with a handful of pure technology guys. We were able to raise money from some good investors and ultimately grew the organization to 90 folks. There, I learned a lot about running a business as I worked on all of the business planning and business strategy, in addition to all of the other financial and operational aspects of the business.
From there, I went to work for one of the venture capital investors with the intention of being an interim CFO for small companies in which they were invested. The plan was to drop in and help a company for a little while, make sure the company's foundation got built properly (i.e., financially and the management team), then ultimately hire a replacement and move on to the next one. It seemed like a good idea and I liked the prospect of being involved in different companies again. The first company I went to work for in January 2002 was Lancope. I moved from California to Georgia then and I'm still here today.
In the fall of 2002, I was asked by Lancope's CEO to become the full-time CFO and decided to pursue that path as I felt it may have more long-term benefits compared to working with the venture capital group. This was absolutely the right decision.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
I have had the pleasure of working with two very influential bosses. I learned a lot from Harland LaVigne, who was the CEO at Lancope in 2002 when I made the decision to work for Lancope instead of continuing on the venture path. He's a very experienced CEO who had worked with a number of startups. We were a very small company, still just 20 people or so, and we built the company from there through the good and challenging times to becoming profitable in '08 and have maintained profitability since.
One thing Harland enabled me to do was to take a lot of ownership in areas outside of finance and accounting. One reason I think I'm not a typical CFO is because I've been afforded the opportunity to get involved in marketing strategy, product direction, sales and customer care.
Lancope's current CEO, Mike Potts, joined the company in 2010 and allowed me to continue in my expanded role. Mike has also been successful in a lot of different startup companies and has brought that experience to the Lancope team. His approach is very collaborative and he allows the team to get involved in high-level objectives, but also knows that at some point someone has to be responsible for making decisions. With a company like Lancope with tenured employees, his approach is much appreciated and has helped shape the way I approach managing my team.
As a company, Lancope is going through some pretty active growth -- 50 percent year over year last year while maintaining profitability and generating some great cash flow. Everyone in the company is in the boat and rowing in the same direction. I think a lot of that has to do with Mike's approach to transparency and being a motivator and getting everyone involved. Personally, I have continued to expand my areas of responsibility and was recently promoted to COO and CFO.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
My perspective might be a little different than others given that we made some tough decisions in 2008 that allowed us to get to and maintain profitability while traversing the rough economic climate in 2009-2010. A few years ago, I would have said access to capital, but I think capital is freeing up again.
I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to stay involved in so many aspects of the business and spend time with customers. I am able to do so because I have a great team behind me, and especially a great controller. The ability to expand one's horizons and grow professionally is contingent upon having a great staff.
Another challenge is determining when to pull the trigger on growth, when to bring in more people and when to invest in sales and marketing. For us now it's not a lack of ideas on how to grow, it's having the bodies to execute on those ideas and deciding when to spend and what to spend on while trying to avoid placing ourselves at too much risk. One thing that is always a challenge is finding the right people.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
For me, a good day at work is marked by two things. One is if I have a list of things to do and I can get half of it marked off, then it's really a good day. Like most people, I drive into work thinking, OK, this is what I have to accomplish today. But in reality, you're lucky sometimes if you can get one or two things off the list. A good day is when you can look at it and say, "Wow I really did get these done and I didn't have too many distractions."
But more than that is feeling that I can help people -- whether on my team or in other departments -- showing them how to achieve a goal, seeing that "ah-ha" moment where it clicks for them and knowing they will continue to be valuable contributors to the company.
Or, the days when I'm working with the sales team and we close a big deal, which doesn't necessarily mean a deal worth a lot of money (although that always helps!), but more so where we structure a deal from a pricing perspective or we navigate through a particularly difficult negotiation process. Each day is surprisingly unique and there are many different reasons to call it a good day.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
I would say fairly flexible. I'm not worried about where they work or how they approach their work, as long as they work hard, have fun and feel valued because they are adding value to the organization.
I take a vested interest in my team and what they're doing; listening to the challenges they are facing and working with them on the possible solutions they've discovered. In addition, my role allows me to work with others throughout the organization and I try to apply the same approach to them.
Overall, I want the members of my team to feel respected and appreciated by me and others throughout the organization. As my team is largely comprised of "back office" functions, it's important to me that they are not perceived as a hurdle or an albatross, but rather one that people feel they can go to for help and advice. I want my team to have that same attitude and approach with the rest of the organization.
6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?
First and foremost, candidates must be self-motivated. My flexible management style encourages my team to do what they want to do that better helps us achieve our goals, I want people to be driven by that desire to go and do things themselves, but to know when they need to stop and ask a question.
As a partner at KPMG once said, "Don't come to me with a problem; come to me with two possible resolutions." The fact is that we're all busy and while I don't want people to spin their wheels hopelessly, I do want them to think critically and come to me with suggestions to the challenges they're facing.
When I'm interviewing people for other departments, which I do often, I want them to know that you have to be willing to roll your sleeves up and do what needs to be done. When you grow from a small company to a company that has 95 or so people, everyone must be willing to do what needs to be done, even if that means getting lunch. I will go out and get lunch too. No task is below any of us.
We all work better around happy people. I was telling someone the other day that I've got quite a cast of characters on my team. They're all different personalities, but they're all generally happy people. That's contagious, it makes it fun to work together, even though we all have different personalities. They're all working for a common goal and they all come together, so the personality stuff that can sometimes be difficult because we are all different goes by the wayside..
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?
Rather than interview candidates with a set questionnaire, I will ask them why they are here, what brought them to us and what they know about Lancope. If they haven't done their homework on the company, then this will be a red flag. Then, I try to determine if they can walk me through their experiences on the resume.
I prefer to have them tell me about their style because I want people to be their own boss and I'll be around as a resource. I like to ask people to give examples of some successes they've had and challenges they tackled on their own and one where they had to enlist help. Based on their answers, I can determine if they have the same approach that I have to problem-solving and if they are self-motivated.
As we're growing and we have more people with a little more experience in years, they may be willing to go back to a small company from a larger company, but what are their expectations in terms of operational support? Do they think they're not going to have to make copies? Or if they're a sales guy are they capable of making cold calls themselves or will they wait for someone to hand them the lead? If they give any indication that they aren't a roll-up-their-sleeves type, that's a big red flag for a company like ours.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
I often get comments internally and externally that I don't seem like the typical CFO. I'm fortunate that throughout my 10 years at Lancope, I've been afforded opportunities to expand my horizons and focus on corporate development, drive partner acquisition, contribute to strategic product direction, etcetera. I like being involved in so many different aspects of the company. It definitely keeps me busy with less time spent on typical CFO responsibilities, and that's why a great supporting team is critical for success.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I have a wonderful family. Even on the most hectic days, my two boys will find a way to quickly whisk me away from the stresses of the workday. Then suddenly it's past bedtime and you're back to work.
I also love to play tennis and will spend a couple evenings a week outdoors taking any stress out on that helpless fuzzy ball.
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
I'd love to be a professional athlete. But seriously, I'd look for an opportunity or career that is as rewarding, challenging and creative as my time at Lancope. And I wouldn't mind traveling the world.
Given that I have truly enjoyed leading new hire training and mentoring upward professionals, I've contemplated a career as a teacher, whether grade school or university.