Energy, something every company, team, event, and idea needs to reach its full potential, can be a difficult thing to harness. The ability to mix experience and knowledge with passion to present ideas captivatingly is incredibly valuable to a finance team leader.
For Chris Ortega, CEO and fractional CFO at Fresh FP&A, a consulting service specializing in fractional CFO and advisory services, attitude is everything. Even though Ortega operates from the small town of McCordsville, Indiana, he and his team have big ideas and goals.
But amateur boxer-turned-finance leader Ortega is also solidly grounded by the idea that learning and growing requires getting out of your comfort zone and being OK with the possibility of failure.
- First CFO position: 2022
- Notable previous companies:
- Weblink International
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
ADAM ZAKI: You are very active on LinkedIn. What is your approach to posting on that platform, and why is it such an important tool?
CHRIS ORTEGA: I haven’t cracked the LinkedIn code like others have, but I do have a method. When I left college, I realized my personal brand was important to me and extremely valuable to my career. Especially now, 20 years out of college, my approach to that hasn’t changed; it’s just the tools that I have. I call it the “CFO.com” test. When I go to CFO.com or any other media outlet or search engine and type in my name, I want to make sure what I am putting out there is accurately being represented.
I live and breathe this every day. I’ve been going down to my alma mater’s business school and working with students on the importance of brand-building via social media. While some post nonsense or fake their authenticity through posting and sharing, I prioritize putting my whole self out there and letting people looking for me or my business know precisely who I am and what I’m about.
When you’re working with young finance professionals on building their careers in such a dynamic and tech-driven labor market, how do you advise them to develop their approach to entering the workforce?
ORTEGA: Seeking failure is my secret sauce. The biggest opportunities to grow, get out of my comfort zone, learn new things, and get to where I am today are because I failed along the way. I am not saying go out there and take huge risks for the sake of doing so, but go out and learn and try new things without being held back by the notion of “what if.” This job is all about reps and learning from experience.
When I got out of college and into public accounting, I felt forever branded as an Ernest and Young soldier, so to speak. But, I needed to go out and explore new things, learn new perspectives, and develop my career. I believe there is nothing more authentic than taking a job where you say, ‘I might fail at this.’ So that’s what I did.
Even in starting Fresh FP&A, I knew this whole thing could fail. But, to be comfortable with failure, extract whatever success you can from it, and get better from the experience, I believe that is truly a superpower that I have done my best to use to my advantage.
Based on the CFOs you’ve been working with and talking to in the past year, what challenges do you expect CFOs to have to deal with in 2024?
ORTEGA: I think there are three big things this year that finance chiefs will find challenging. There will be continued volatility and uncertainty in the global economy — and no industry is safe from the ripples of that problem.
"For those unsure of how to get started, do what I did: ask ChatGPT to develop a fifteen-minute daily exercise to help you understand and leverage its use cases in your job."
Number two is people. This idea of hybrid work and office real estate is a lingering issue for many finance teams with office rental agreements and productivity issues. For CFOs, I think we need to be comfortable with the warm and fuzzies. If you want to put the finance officer hat on, you need to put the feeling officer hat on, too, nowadays, to truly know the pulse of your employees and the business.
The third is generative AI’s impact. If you are a finance professional or any other professional, and you haven’t been using AI, you’re already significantly behind. For those unsure of how to get started, do what I did: ask ChatGPT to develop a fifteen-minute daily exercise to help you understand and leverage its use cases in your job. If companies can connect and catch the value and accelerated adoption of AI simultaneously, they will set themselves up for great success.
I’m sure you’ve had opportunities to move throughout your career. What has kept you in your home state of Indiana?
ORTEGA: I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t there just corn in Indiana, and aren’t we just all corn-fed farmers who love basketball? While that’s not so far from the truth, there’s so much more than that. The cost of living here is ideal, especially for me early in my career, and now, as a business owner, that’s a big plus. I’m a three-hour flight from anywhere in the country for the most part, so I am super accessible to attend events and meet with my clients.
I could go to New York, live there, and build a bunch of connections, but I know I am not going to crush New York. I am a big fish in a small pond out here, which has helped me grow and build my career. Lastly, this is home to me. This is where I played basketball, had my first boxing fights, and fell on my face in board meetings. It’s where it all began for me.
I can go to events in London, New York, Vienna, and Berlin and bring that energy back here to Indiana to serve my clients and build my business. Then, I can cool off, spend time with my nieces and nephews, and do what I did when I grew up. I’m a Hoosier through and through, and I don’t see that ever changing, no matter where my career takes me.