People

The 6 a.m. CFO: How JonnyPops’ Connor Wray Starts His Day

The "young gun" finance chief shares his tips for keeping an even keel under pressure and the mantras that shape his leadership.
The 6 a.m. CFO:  How JonnyPops’ Connor Wray Starts His Day
Photo: JonnyPops. Co-founders Erik Brust, left, and Connor Wray, right.

Welcome to The 6 a.m. CFO, where finance chiefs share how they jump-start their days and engage with the tasks that are in front of them.

Today, JonnyPops’ CFO Connor Wray shares tips on how he keeps an even keel under pressure despite being fuelled by caffeine, how he’s always up for a foosball challenge, and the mantras that help decorate his desk with awards. And if you would like to know how Wray led his company from a dorm room start-up to have a national presence, check out his case study here.

If you’d like to be featured in a future post, please email us here.

How Startup CFO Grew Food Company 50% YoY

How Startup CFO Grew Food Company 50% YoY

This case study of JonnyPops’ success highlights the unusual financial and operational strategies that enabled rapid expansion into a crowded and highly competitive frozen treat market. 


connor_wray-square.jpg

Connor Wray — JonnyPops

  • A Minneapolis, Minnesota-based frozen food company specializing in frozen fruit, dairy, and non-dairy novelties.
  • Years in Business: 11 

  • Size: 60+ employees

  • Growth: +50% CAGR 

Morning Routine

Weekday wake-up time and the first thing I like to do: 6 to 6:30 a.m. First up is letting out our four-year-old Cavapoo, Theo. That is quickly followed by attending to the morning needs of our one-year-old son, Ethan.

Coffee, tea, or other morning beverage choice: While I am out with the dog, the Nespresso coffee is brewing every morning and I am drinking it as soon as possible. The day does not really start until that first cup is down.  

Workday start time: Depends on what counts as the workday. I will hit emails and news articles as soon as I have coffee in my hand. Beyond that, if I am not traveling, I usually will start meetings around 8 a.m.

How I usually spend the first hour of my day: Review emails, upcoming schedule, and standard reporting packages. Communicate and follow up with other team members as needed.

I try for inbox zero every morning before the craziness of the day gets into full swing. Not only does this keep my stress level down, but it also keeps other parts of the organization from waiting on my replies.  

The time I send out my first email: Typically they start coming from my iPad before 6:30 a.m. as I get into the inbox review part of my morning routine.

Best advice for writing an effective email: Keep it short, but provide all the context the receiver needs to take action — make their read/review/action item as efficient to compete as possible.

I view email as a to-do list that anyone can add something to, so it is important to organizational productivity to keep each item from being more burdensome than required.

The first dashboard I review: Executive financials in NetSuite. It shows all of our key metrics across eight different time periods, all in a single spot. From there, I have several customer dashboards I review to keep a firm pulse on the demand environment and progress toward forecasts or goals.

How I structure my morning meetings: I feel that 9-11 a.m. is the most effective work time for me, and many others, so these slots are reserved for important, strategic, or challenging meetings. This includes our weekly leadership team meetings, a weekly 1:1, key project meetings, and important partner meetings, depending on what pressing items are ongoing.

Mid-morning snack of choice: Priority number one is always more coffee. Although I have cut back, there are times when a pot per day is not out of the question.

I also have a soft spot for doughnuts, but fortunately for my health that is not too frequent of an occurrence.

Inspiration and Leadership

Favorite quote or mantra: I am going to give two because they are related.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Will Durant

“If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” — paraphrase of Philip Dormer Stanhope

Within any organization, but especially with high growth, re-work can be a significant drag on forward progress. A high standard of work, and an understanding that once we commit to a path we should execute it to the highest level, helps to minimize the instances where multiple passes on work are needed.

Favorite leadership lesson: There is nothing more important to growing an organization than adding great people to the team and empowering them to make important contributions.

I always liked the way Gene Kranz put it: “Hire people who are smarter and better than you are and learn with them.”

Something important to know about me that you wouldn’t know from my business bio: My hidden talent is foosball. I was able to play quite a bit as a child and, while it does not come up often, I am always on the lookout for new challengers.

What was the last job you did at your company that fell outside your traditional scope of work: Funny thing about the “co-founder” part of my title is that there are very few things that fall out of scope.

Compared to the traditional CFO role, additional work pops up daily – most recently this included carrying samples and sales materials to an industry conference, and scoping new IT systems for a facility.  

Can you share one way in which you have learned to manage work-induced stress: I am generally pretty even-keeled when it comes to stress, but one of my major goals is to get to sleep without thinking about work.

The most effective way I have found to do that is by reading. My go-to’s are science fiction and fantasy novels that really take you to a whole new world.

Favorite number: 3 — It is a good round number, and when you are tracking progress against ‘3’ you are always at a nice meaningful milestone (1/3 or 2/3).

It also happens to be my birthday, so maybe I have some bias.  

Most noteworthy items in my workspace: I keep things pretty sparse, but I do have a “Forbes 30 Under 30” award and a number of great family photos I keep on the walls.

Do you have a pet sitting in your office right now:  At this moment, no. But our dog, Theo, has been known to curl up in front of the computer fan for warmth during the cold winter months.

Favorite app on my phone that is not related to business:  Solitaire. This is my go-to game for take-off and landing when traveling. Helps to pass the time and no two games are ever the same.

When do you take time for learning/reading: I am always learning as a part of the job, but I try to set aside time to dig into new topics during the workday on a periodic basis because that is when I can focus and dig in with maximum energy. As I mentioned earlier, reading for pleasure is my preferred before-bed activity to help reset and refresh.