Although the stages of growth can vary from business to business, the approach to how to grow is largely universal. Whether you’re selling technology, raw materials, information, or even cocktails, what every business demands is a fundamental game plan.
For David Santos, CFO of Goat Hospitality Group (GHG), his growth plan has consisted of more than just what his business needs. As the finance leader of a Miami nightclub and restaurant ownership group, Santos' own professional and personal goals have led him to his current role as well as the decision to immigrate from his home country of Portugal to the U.S.
The key to success, according to Santos, is a sustained interest in learning. Whether that learning consists of knowledge about new technologies, improving business operations, or what benefits a new city and country can bring personally, a hunger for growth has brought Santos and GHG together. The company has a goal of opening three locations by the end of this year.
CFO, Goat Hospitality Group
- First CFO position: 2022
- Notable previous companies:
- Savoy Hotel & Beach Club
- Pestana Hotel Group
- Amorim & Irmaos
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ADAM ZAKI: When growing your tech stack, what elements do you look for in a vendor that hints their product may be worth exploring?
DAVID SANTOS: You need to know exactly what you’re looking for. Recently, I needed AP management software. and we were working with a very popular company, but they were really expensive. I mentioned to my team that we needed to change because of [the cost], and they were on board so I began exploring our options.
I spoke to four different companies and every vendor promised me everything. They all claimed their technology was the most efficient and had the best technology behind it.
But, after getting into the details of what I was looking for, I learned that to get around all of the sales tactics and different ways these companies get you interested in what they are offering, you must know exactly what you want. Knowing this got me exactly what I was looking for, at the right price.
In what areas of the business are you looking to implement automation and AI first?
SANTOS: Our business is based on nightlife, and with that environment comes tips for our service staff. Right now, to my knowledge, there is not a single software that can connect a point of sale (POS) system and accounting software to properly track employee tips to our standards. Even payroll services like ADP don’t provide this technology.
When it comes to implementing technology to track credit card tips accurately, our employees need to know what the rules are. When an employee starts at our company, they need to know the rules of what they can keep and what they must claim in the POS.
Oversight in this space is increasing, but employee knowledge is still the most important. Everything else is just a calculation. Tracking tips for audit purposes is not an employee problem, it’s a software problem. Five years ago I may not have said that, but today, the environment is much different.
As you grow, what strategies do you believe are needed to get the best finance talent?
SANTOS: We need to change the perception of the CFO — we need to be more than CPAs. I am a CPA in Portugal, but here in the U.S., I am not certified. However, I’m still able to be a CFO, which I believe has helped me understand the role uniquely.
I think for younger talent, being a CPA has been labeled as a boring job. There’s a perception that you just follow rules, plug in numbers, and have no creativity. Doing this like processing invoices and balance sheets is boring, I admit it.
"We need to change the perception of the CFO — we need to be more than CPAs."
[But] I love this job because I am involved in operations as a CFO. I believe there is a need to increase involvement in operations and use technology and automation to remove the boring aspects of finance roles.
Your role at Pestana Hotels was a 10-year stint that brought you to the U.S. Why did you choose to stay at the company for so long, and when you left, why didn’t you go back to Portugal?
The company, Portugal’s largest hotel chain, tasked me with opening up their first hotel in Miami, so I moved here. I then opened up two hotels in New York and one in Miami — it was a lot of damn fun. I did new things and had experiences I never thought I would have. During this, I knew the only way for me to learn and grow in my industry was to open up more hotels in this country and continue growing here.
Before I left, they invited me to go back to Portugal and then to relocate to Brazil, and I said no. I wanted to stay here. Miami is the perfect place to build, create, and test new concepts in hospitality. I also really like the competition that takes place in the U.S. in this industry.
We both know this country has its problems, but there is something here that is nowhere else in the world. When it comes to your career and your life, you can truly do whatever you want in America, and that’s why I chose to stay.