Before joining FLEETCOR 22 years ago, Charles Freund worked with a variety of companies and business models as a management consultant for almost seven years. After connecting with the firm’s CEO as a client, he signed on as the corporate payment company’s business development director. Freund was named vice president of business development five years later, before shifting into general management as managing director of a U.K. subsidiary.
Returning to the U.S. two years later to a corporate strategy leadership role focused on the company’s IPO, Freund was later named president of developing markets, taking the company into four more countries. Following that, he moved into executive vice president positions with strategy and global sales before being named CFO in 2020.
- First CFO position: 2020
- Business development and strategy
- Notable previous companies:
- Sibson Consulting
- Sibson Consulting
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
SANDRA BECKWITH: Why does your background particularly suit the CFO role at FLEETCOR?
Charles Freund: My consulting background gave me a solid foundation, teaching me how to diagnose and solve problems, and manage projects and teams. Here, I've played a lot of different roles. I know the company, its products and revenue models, and the markets we operate in. I've worked internationally and helped drive FLEETCOR’s initial public offering.
I can tell the story because I've lived it while helping to build the company. When I talk to investors or investment banking analysts about our company, I can speak from a place of firsthand knowledge. It's a very unique fit, given the CEO’s desire for a strategic partner.
What type of professional development did you invest in to prepare for the CFO role?
Freund: I read a lot and participated in a multi-day workshop presented by one of the large audit firms that outlined different aspects of the role, such as issues to focus on and how to approach initiatives in a staged way.
Early on, as you can imagine, given the breadth of the role and my newness to some of these functions, I had my first and only migraine. That prompted me to engage an executive leadership coach to make sure I'm clear on what I'm trying to accomplish, both at the company and in my life.
How does your background affect how you do the job, perhaps differently from your predecessor?
Freund: The solid foundation my long-time predecessor built before retiring lets me play with how to build the house going forward, doing things a little differently. He was a traditional CFO coming up through accounting, so he would look through the accounting lens before looking broader.
I come from strategy, so I look broad first, and then narrow it down. This helps me see synergies across my functions that include the traditional responsibilities plus legal, investor relations, human resources, large portions of the risk organization, and several regional CFOs.
It has been a mindset shift to, “How do I think about cost control rather than revenue and sales?”
What part of the CFO’s job is more difficult for you, given your background?
Freund: One of the challenging things for me in this role is in the past, I was much more focused on growth — revenue, sales, developing new products, sales, and distribution channels, whatever it may be. As the CFO, I manage cost centers. We want to run those as efficiently as possible without spending a lot of money. It has been a mindset shift to, “How do I think about cost control rather than revenue and sales?”
Was becoming CFO ever the goal — was it what you wanted to do next?
Freund: It was never the goal. I actually asked the CEO to recruit externally. I requested he get the board’s view on me as a candidate and that they consider bringing in others.
However, because of the unique fit and skill set that I bring and the solid finance team already in place, he wanted me to do it. So, putting my fears aside after I talked to a few other folks, I decided it was a go. One migraine aside, it's been an incredible journey.
The CFO role is challenging and stressful, but when you have the right team and you're focused on the right things, you can enjoy the journey together.
Would you recommend the path you followed to others hoping to become CFOs?
Freund: On a personal level, you have to get comfortable with the fact that you're not the expert. I'm not going to be the smartest person in the room as it relates to accounting, legal, or HR rules and regulations. The company also has to be of sufficient size or value to warrant hiring a chief accounting officer who has the official credentials to sign certain documents. It also has to value a strategic CFO who's out telling the story while the chief accounting officer and corporate controller run accounting.
The CFO role is challenging and stressful, but when you have the right team and you're focused on the right things, you can enjoy the journey together. It's very rewarding.