For much of its 37-year history, Intel has served as a bellwether of the technology sector. So it’s fitting that the role Andy Bryant, 55, has carved out at the semiconductor giant since becoming CFO in 1994 hints at the many changes under way for finance executives. He has taken on a broad array of duties beyond finance, including IT and human resources. He is intimately involved in the company’s strategic decisions. In fact, Bryant’s role has become so expansive that several years ago he decided to hand off day-to-day operations of finance to a vice president.
As CFO, you are now in charge of a long and growing list of functions, including finance, IT, procurement, and HR. Do you think this is an appropriate model for CFOs in general?
Two years ago, I would have said it wasn’t appropriate for any CFO. With the financial scandals and Sarbanes-Oxley, how could the controller also be the one spending the IT money? I actually thought about whether I should give up some of this other stuff. At that time, Craig [chairman Craig Barrett] and Paul [CEO Paul Otellini] wanted to give me other things, but I said we should leave it as it is. Now, as we move away from the scandals, it feels more comfortable for the CFO to take on more roles, and I think that’s how it will continue to evolve.
Is it a model that has worked well?
Yes. For example, I think IT is better managed under me than if I were still on the other side having those fights about technology spending. And finance acts more appropriately toward IT because of the reporting relationship. I think the same thing can happen in a lot of other parts of the company.
What’s the next logical career step for a CFO with your duties? An operational role?
At Intel, we’ve never had a CFO retire as CFO. They’ve always gone into some operational role. I have tried three different times to leave finance for operations. The first two times [former CEO Andy Grove] told me I couldn’t; the third time he asked me not to, as opposed to telling me that I couldn’t. I assume that means he had more respect for me by the third time. [laughs] But each time he said, “Your value to the company is so much higher than if you take this other role.” I’m always a sucker for “you need to do what’s in the best interest of the company.” At this point, I’ll probably move more along the path of expanding the role I’m in, as opposed to taking on an operational role.
You have spoken about the need to have a finance department that helps facilitate better business decisions. Is that something you can measure?
There are three measures I track for the finance organization and that I use to evaluate those who work for me. One is the performance of our shared-services centers around the world. The second is a measure of what impact finance has had on the value of the company. For example, did a general manager change the direction of a project because of our input? Did we find a way to improve the project’s return?
The third measure is strategic contribution. Did finance contribute to a strategic decision in a significant way or were we just note takers? After a decision has been reached, we sit down with the participants and ask them what kind of contribution we made. My target is for finance to make a contribution equal to 25 percent. It’s an artificial number, but if a strategic decision is being made by a general manager and three key players, we should be one of the four people in the room. Of course, there are some visionaries who won’t ever listen to finance, but we want to be more involved in important decisions. The goal is to get my people to think, “My role isn’t just about cost savings; it’s about increasing the value of this business.” We have training programs to help finance people learn how to be part of a strategic group.
You do a great deal of public speaking. I’d imagine there is a lot of pressure not to misspeak, given how closely analysts watch the performance of Intel.
Yes, it is something I think about very carefully. A few years ago, the economy was in turmoil and we were getting ready to reveal our results. On the morning we were going to announce earnings, Andy Grove came by my office and said, “Good luck on the call today. Just remember, you can take down the entire U.S. economy if you say the wrong thing.” [laughs] What we say is important. How we say it is also important. My job is to get it right. By the way, Intel measures everything, including whether I misspeak and how I misspeak.
One area you’ve spoken about is Intel’s opposition to the expensing of stock options. Do you think that debate has now been settled?
The debate has been mostly settled, not because so many companies decided to expense, but because the Financial Accounting Standards Board said this is the rule, and the Securities and Exchange Commission said this is when it will be implemented. I think there has been a big misperception about why many companies are voluntarily expensing. The vast majority didn’t embrace this and say it was right — they knew they had to and they capitulated early. The only debate now is how to value the stock options. And I think that will go on for a while, because I believe Black-Scholes overstates the value.
How should a CFO’s role evolve over time?
Going forward, I’d say you have to be careful not to get too focused on any one aspect of the job. Don’t be the acquisition guy, or the IT guy, or the compliance guy. And don’t be overly preoccupied with saving money. Four years from now, when you ask who the really great CFOs are, it will be the ones that kept their eye on shareholder value. And that requires a broad orientation.