New CFO Works Overtime to Learn His New Industry

Jamey Mock came to life-sciences company PerkinElmer from General Electric. It's a mind-bending change, but of a type the finance chief is familiar...
David McCannSeptember 24, 2018

Like numerous General Electric finance executives before him, Jamey Mock recently left to become the CFO of a publicly held company. He’d spent his entire 19-year professional career at GE.

He has been running finance since May 1 of this year at PerkinElmer, a Fortune 1000 life-sciences company. It’s been quite a change for Mock, whose roles at his former employer included FP&A manager at GE Capital, finance chief for units within the GE Oil and Gas and GE Aviation divisions, and most recently corporate audit staff vice president.

PerkinElmer, by contrast, provides products and services in such areas as diagnostics, research, food, and environmental and industrial testing.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs

Download our whitepaper to discover the technical and behavioral skills needed to lead your business forward.

Mock says he’d long had an interest in becoming involved in the health-care field, but that did little to get him up to speed in his new job. For that, he’s been traveling and reading — a lot of both.

He traveled every week in May and June across Europe and the United States, meeting with investors, customers, and employees. In-person meetings with such stakeholders “is the best way to understand what’s on their minds,” he says.

Knowledge gained through these efforts helps guide his decisions and actions on a daily basis, according to Mock.

For example, PerkinElmer manufactures instruments that allow labs to perform organic and inorganic analyses of various materials and identify substances at even trace levels with very high accuracy. But meetings with customers confirmed something he’d been hearing about back in the office: that such capabilities actually represent the minimum customers look for in this kind of technology.

“Customers are seeking out solutions with simple user interfaces and user-friendly software to assist in their analyses,” Mock says. “How that translates into my day job is that I have to make sure we’re investing enough in the right R&D. I have to know what our rollout plan is, when’s the last time we refreshed the software, and which solutions are performing well and which aren’t.”

In fact, he believes capital deployment, such as for R&D or acquisitions, is “the hardest part of becoming a CFO in a new industry, particularly one as broad as health care.”

For example, there are thousands of companies with products that are potentially complementary to PerkinElmer’s portfolio. Understanding which ones are really worth acquiring and at what price points is a big part of the CFO’s job.

In addition to meetings with stakeholders, Mock is spending much of his down time reading up on the health-care industry — everything from analyst reports, to Goldman Sachs’ 90-page guide to biotech, to “Genetics for Dummies.”

In Mock’s view, the educational process demands that he pause to google every term he doesn’t understand. “It’s the only way to really have a say at the table,” he says. “Unless you really understand your end market and your technology, you’ll just be a numbers guy. And that’s not what I want to be.”

All that said, what makes Mock a logical choice to be the CFO of a large public company in a field where he had no experience?

“I do think finance skills are very transferable across sectors,” he says. “I am fortunate that that’s what GE did with me quite a bit.”

But what’s mostly required for success as the CFO of a multibillion-dollar company is “just being a curious operational person,” Mock opines. “Asking a lot of simple questions can get a business to think a bit differently and maybe take the next step toward something, be it a business-model item, something from a cost-out perspective, or a capital-deployment [decision],” he says.

Asked how long it might take to complete his learning curve, he responds, “Never, because you never stop learning.” But earning a seat at the executive table in a new industry probably takes about 100 days, he adds, and he’s already well beyond that milestone.

Meanwhile, Mock says he came into his new industry without much in the way of well-formed opinions in the ongoing political and economic debates over health care.

“I will probably gather those over time,” he muses. “But my view on those debated items, and on politics in general, is that you have to be pretty deep to have a say. It’s an argument because both sides have good points. Until you really understand what it’s all about, it’s hard to formulate which side is right.”