An Engineering Challenge for a CFO

Prudential's Rich Carbone, a trained engineer, tackles "a bear of a project" for the company's annual day of volunteer efforts.
David McCannSeptember 30, 2011

Rich Carbone, who is among many prominent CFOs with engineering backgrounds, will put his old skills to good use tomorrow, October 1, when Prudential Financial holds its annual Global Volunteer Day.

Carbone, 63, was trained as a combat engineer in the Marine Corps and, upon returning from field duty in Vietnam, served as engineering officer for an airbase. He’s been lending his talent to Prudential’s annual day of charitable activity since he joined the company in 1997. About 25,000 people – Prudential employees and family members – typically participate in a variety of volunteer roles across the country.

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This year Carbone will lead his finance team in erecting a complicated arbor system with large, arched trellises. The work will be done at the Prudential Outdoor Learning Center in Newark, New Jersey, which provides teachers and students with environmental learning experiences. Carbone says it’s “a bear of a project.”

For the past two years on Global Volunteer Day, Carbone and the finance staff renovated Wynona’s House (see this video), a home for victims of child abuse in Newark. For the two years before that they did similar work at Ad House, which primarily helps at-risk adolescents adjust to home, school, and community environments. “If you walk into an environment where there are holes in the wall and peeling paint, there’s not a lot of respect,” says Carbone. “When you make the space more civil, you get civil behavior.”

Carbone says Prudential – 64th on Fortune‘s list of the largest U.S. companies – simply wants to help benefit the human condition. He’s aware that there is a business benefit, in that companies with good reputations are able to hire better-quality people. But, he says, “I don’t think anyone at the company, whether the chairman or an admin assistant, thinks about this in commercial terms.”

Engineering is an excellent educational background for a CFO, Carbone contends. That’s because “accounting is a very logical, and finance a somewhat logical, thought process.” Engineering teaches how to solve problems using the scientific method, which is also a common activity in finance departments.

Other engineers-turned-CFOs include: John Barpoulis, USEC; Al Drewes, who led finance for Pepsi Bottling Group before it merged with PepsiAmericas last year; Jim Flaws, Corning; Jeff McParland, Targa Resources (promoted last year from CFO to president, finance and administration); David Meline, 3M; Thomas Mutryn, CACI; and Vasant Prabhu, Starwood Hotels.