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The power of budget planning and forecasting

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Building a People Centric Culture

This episode of the Sage Advice podcast features Bruce Callahan and Jade Cole. Bruce is the Vice President of Finance and Controller for Cresa Global Incorporated (CGI). Prior to Cresa, he spent 32 years in government contracting and has worked mainly in finance and project finance roles, with some accounting. Cresa Global Inc. is a real estate company serving occupiers or tenants nationwide and across the globe. 

Jade serves as head of Product Development and is a co-founder of Limelight. He brings over 25 years of experience in consulting, product strategy & development, and management. As Limelight’s CTO, Jade plays a key role in the vision and innovation of our platform. 

Why do you do what you do?

Bruce Callahan: That’s a great question. I didn’t set out to be a vice president of finance. I had dreams of becoming a professional baseball or golf player. But I ended up down the finance track in college and I’ve been very lucky in the opportunities I’ve had in my current role.

I had a 180 degree shift in industry to corporate commercial real estate. I had an opportunity to come to Cresa. There, we focused on building a centralized finance team, built FP&A tools, processes, and policies.

I’ve been successful in building teams, supporting leadership, executing growth and adding value.

Jade Cole: I have a similar story to Bruce. I didn’t start off thinking I was going to do what I’m doing. I studied a very different area of focus in university and when I entered into the workforce, I found that I was more interested in the technological capabilities of the systems that I was working with, rather than the subject matter. I thought, what can we do with systems like this? So, I naturally gravitated towards information systems and software.

I got my first foothold into the FP&A (financial planning and analysis) space in the late 90’s when I joined a company called Clarity. I was the seventh employee at that time and everyone else was a consultant. By the time that company was purchased by IBM in 2010, there were over 400 employees.

Sometime around 2011, I was contacted by my current business partner about an idea that she had. We both saw eye to eye on what we would like to do, in terms of, “what does it look like to have an FP&A company in the 21st century?”

The world that I started in was very different than the one we are in now. When I first started working in this field, the internet was still sort of in its infancy. It wasn’t as robust and ubiquitous as it is today. We knew things have changed even in the last 10 years since the Clarity acquisition, and we knew that things would have to be different in this new on-demand internet age.

We started the company Limelight in 2011 initially, but we hit the ground running in 2012. We started off as a company working with IBM, but our goal was always to build our own solutions. We launched our first version of our product around 2016 and we’ve been progressing ever since.

As far as why I do what I do, I love working with technology and I love helping customers solve problems. I love the innovation and the excitement that technology has to offer.

What is one key piece of advice that you’re giving fellow finance people during these unprecedented times?

Bruce Callahan: Being in commercial real estate, people are not necessarily going out and looking immediately to increase their footprint. Everyone has heard that cash is king. Well, cash is king exponentially these days. I have worked with some consultant companies and a lot of the out of the gate kind of advice was “have a cash flow forecast.” It’s something we’ve been working on at Cresa.

From an aspect of planning, you have to be agile and adaptive. We have had to update our annual budget this year five times since the pandemic hit. You have to make quick decisions and you have to use these tools that give you the information to make those decisions.

Jade Cole: Furthering what Bruce is saying, we’ve been talking a lot about being able to do what we call “what if modeling,” or the ability to say what happens to our cash flow if the following things happen.

When the pandemic lockdown happened, there was an initial wave of uncertainty where a lot of businesses didn’t know what to expect. It was hard to plan. Your mind goes in a bunch of different directions.

Then once things—I don’t want to use the word stabilized—but once we reached a steady state where people got used to how things were operating, they could start to think “what happens if I’m a business that’s operating in a bunch of different verticals?”

Those different verticals are impacted in different ways by restrictions and lockdowns depending on what state, province, or country you are in. The ability to model these ‘what if’ scenarios dynamically is hard to do if you’re working with manual tools. When most of our customers first come to us, they start off with reporting, analysis, and maybe expense and revenue planning.

What Bruce was saying is, there’s now an increase on this cash flow forecasting side as well as the ability to model different scenarios. There are now companies that do this, from a compliance perspective. They have to show high, medium, and low scenarios like best case, worst case, optimistic case, etc., and get businesses to start thinking about that type of analysis in their planning.

The two of you are going to deliver a webcast for us, “The power of budgeting, planning and forecasting during uncertain times.” Why someone should come to this webinar?

Bruce Callahan: I can share a lot of experiences we’ve had as a company that’s been impacted by COVID. In our line of business, we’ve had to look at a lot of different scenarios. And as Jade was saying, having to look at the high, medium, and low-risk scenarios.

We’re also working with some of the stimulus packages and we’re in the process of looking at lending terms. When you are working with banks, they want to see your forecast for the next 24 or 48 months and being able to have tools to look at things dynamically is something that we’ve been using. Having those different scenarios has been immensely helpful.

Jade Cole: My angle is—what can tools do to help you with this? There are business people who would ask questions like, what do we do? How do we even start? And then some might say, well, I know what I want to do, but how do I do it?

Somebody with Bruce’s experience and background can certainly help answer question A and part of question B. What I would like to impart on people is that there are tools like Limelight that can help and here’s how.

It may not be something we would have talked about before COVID because it wasn’t top of mind, but now that we’re looking at how to handle the unexpected, how to forecast for the unexpected…

Bruce makes a great point, when you are looking at these relief and stimulus packages being made available by state, local, and federal governments—as well as banks when looking at financing. They want to see these forecasts.

They are going to be bombarding you with questions like: What happens if this happens? What happens if that happens? Show me your 24-48-month view. They want to see this stuff now. They’ve never asked for this before. A lot of organizations don’t have the tools in place to deliver these things. They have their finance teams trying to frantically put this together.

And how can a tool like Limelight help? Because the whole point of implementing software is to make these things easier.

 

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