Since CEO Bill Sandbrook joined U.S. Concrete six years ago, he’s had three chief financial officers, the latest one lasting only a year and a half. Now he’s looking for his fourth.

But it hasn’t been easy. The difficulty is not just because the U.S. job market is tight, either. As a small-cap, publicly held company in the ready-mixed concrete business, the CFO job at U.S. Concrete just might not be as glamorous as some candidates hope.

“We’re not GE,” Sandbrook explains of the $1.2 billion company he helms. “We operate with very low overhead and a small staff, so I need the CFO to be a ‘roll up their sleeves’ contributor and participant, not just a manager of other people.”

Sandbrook cites three main job duties for his next CFO:

  • Investor relations. “We don’t have an IR department, so that person has to put on the IR hat,” he says.
  • Controllership. The next CFO has to ensure that Sarbanes-Oxley is adhered to and Securities and Exchange Commission filings are “impeccable.” In 2015 and 2016, the company’s previous auditor, Grant Thornton, issued an “adverse opinion” regarding the company’s internal controls over financial reporting. Grant Thornton has since been replaced with EY.
  • Capital markets skills. “We don’t have deep pockets, so we need to be very flexible in our approach to raising funds,” Sandbrook explains. The new CFO needs to “get us the best deal with the banks and be able to speak coherently and consistently with the rating agencies.”

While U.S. Concrete uses a nationally known search firm, Sandbrook has personally interviewed a large number of CFO candidates over the years, and, he says, “invariably they are looking at this job as a stepping stone” to a job with a big-cap company. He says they see often see the job of CFO of a small-cap company “as a placeholder until they can find a better one.”

But Sandbrook says he doesn’t want U.S. Concrete to be a way station for his next CFO. “I want a fairly long-term commitment, so that they are not always shopping or looking” for their next position, he says.

One of the issues Sandbrook sees is that a lot of CFO candidates don’t relish the controllership aspect of the job anymore. “They’ve done that earlier in their career and they don’t want to be engaged in it. They want to wash their hands of it.” Sandbrook says that it’s “amazing” how many candidates later in their careers “don’t want to get their hands dirty.”

A second point he makes about the candidates he sees is that a lot of them want to be the CEO’s “business partner”; that is, they want to have a very active role in setting strategy. But that’s not what Sandbrook needs. “We have a development team and a [chief operating officer], and the strategy is very consistent and not that complex. We’re not looking at product step-outs and adjacencies,” he says. “The people who want to come in and reinvent the wheel and be my strategy expert — I am not looking for that either.”

Finally, some of the candidates that have experience in the heavy materials industry just don’t have the experience U.S. Concrete needs. Most heavy materials companies in the United States, Sandbrook points out, are owned by multinationals, so that the U.S. divisional CFO is “a CFO in title only.” Even though these CFOs may have a large portfolio of products and operations underneath them, “they don’t do capital markets, they don’t do investor relations, and they have very little SEC experience.”

“It’s pretty clear what I want, but it’s amazing at how difficult it is finding that person,” Sandbrook says of his CFO search.

In the meantime, Sandbrook will continue to perform CFO fill-in duties, as he has done since April. He has a chief accounting officer who’s been with the company for years, but the lack of a CFO means taking an active part in drafting earnings releases and earnings-call scripts and, since U.S. Concrete is an acquisitive company, doing a more in-depth review of proposals and models that have to be presented to the company’s board of directors.

In early August, it looked like Sandbrook’s term as interim finance chief was coming to an end soon: the company’s CFO search had been whittled down to a short list of candidates. Stay tuned.

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6 responses to “Wanted: A Hands-On CFO”

  1. That sounds like a dead-end job the way it is described…, I would imagine truly qualified candidates are go-getters and would rather see their career on an upward trajectory. And anyone who is truly qualified and says they are happy to do grunt work and not get ahead is lying to you and will leave anyway.
    I would hire a Rent-a-CFO, who comes from a major accounting firm background who would look at the job as a project, not a career. Or better yet, maybe even a recently retired CFO who is bored in retirement and are looking for a consulting gig, who could do that kind of work in their sleep. I have a number of my own clients who do that kind of thing all the time, in some cases well into their 80s. I’m sure you could find someone from your industry who is qualified. Just a thought……

  2. Agree with Tom. Too often, company heads want a ‘Cadillac’ solution with a ‘Smart Car’ wallet to offer. The expectations for a role like this are way out of line for what the company has to offer, and are not aligned with today’s job market and candidate pool. Good luck with your search!

  3. OK, so, let’s break this down. One of you is saying this work could be done in your sleep, and the other is saying, “the expectations for a role like this are way out of line for what the company has to offer.” Which is it, if it is either one? Is it that this job would be challenging to some and not to others? It seems like both of you are assuming way too much about this position. If not, please explain. What does everyone else think?

  4. Sandbrooks’s comments that he doesn’t want a business partner sounds very presumptive. One could easily interpret that statement as” you don’t matter”
    . What if he offered to have a conversational interview about how the candidate could bring real power (vs. force) to the role that might include more than can now be imagined. Predictive conversations that try to
    engage complex issues in 2017 aren’t just unproductive, they’re disrespectful of BOTH parties. What might 2 leaders co-create if they knew how to act and talk generatively with each other? That is the
    true question.

  5. Not surprised Sandbrook is burning through so many CFO’s. I wonder if his Board is questioning what is going on. He is hardly the first (or last) CEO who believes the best place for his CFO is counting the beans or handling the bankers. Clearly some leaders are threatened by the ever-expanding role of the CFO and choose to limit a person who could provide valuable insight on many different issues. In this case, it appears that the CEO is applying across all functions.
    Thankfully, there seem to be many CEO’s that value the breadth and perspective of an active and engaged CFO. Organizations are best served when all senior leaders venture out of their silos and contribute to bettering the Company together.

  6. Guys – research the company before you try to take out it. Why would the board question Mr. Sandbrook when since January 2016 he took the company’s stock from mid 40’s to low 80’s as of today?

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