Nancy Person was promoted to CFO of Midwest-based Hyland Software in April 2020, replacing the finance chief of 28 years. The global pandemic was in full swing, and the content management platform provider was determining if its infrastructure could handle all 4,000 employees, 40% international, working from home.
Nearly two years later, in a changing working world, Person, like other CFOs, is setting a course through the pandemic’s wake: an unprecedentedly competitive labor market and the highest consumer price inflation in 40 years.
CFO, Hyland Software
Founded in 1991; enterprise content management and process management software
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
NANCY PERSON: I joke with [former CFO Chris Hyland], asking if he had some kind of crystal ball and knew [the pandemic] was coming. Ironically, though, it wound up being the best timing for me to step in. Since its founding, he was with the company, and everyone was used to him being the CFO. So when the pandemic unfolded, we couldn’t go back and say, “What would Chris have done?” Because he didn’t face a pandemic.
I was able to make decisions on my own. …Granted, it was a busy, chaotic, time but it was also refreshing to take on the pandemic and not have to worry about what the company would have done five years ago. There was nothing in the past to compare it with.
PERSON: [Besides adjusting to working remotely], the biggest question was was how do we model for the future? The most difficult part for me was making assumptions about what the pandemic would do to the macroeconomic environment and Hyland’s business. And then making decisions to be [financially] responsible, like pausing hiring. It also meant managing our expenses until we got further into it and knew how it impacted us.
The most difficult part for me was making assumptions about what the pandemic would do to the macroeconomic environment and Hyland’s business. And then making decisions to be [financially] responsible, like pausing hiring.
Many companies cut 401k matches and furloughed employees. That’s the last thing you want to have to do, especially as a finance leader, but even more so as a new finance leader. And so that was the most pressure-filled [decision]. I wanted to think of everything we could do that was discretionary and [wouldn’t] impact existing employees. I hated even having to evaluate the potential impact on someone’s take-home pay, especially during a pandemic. [Hyland did not cut any salaries.] … We’re back to our original spending plan, but for a long time, we didn’t know how it would unfold.
PERSON: The product installation can take months and require quite a bit of configuration. We weren’t sure if the customers would be receptive to us virtually doing [installations and configurations]. But they were, and some preferred it. Additionally, it didn’t lengthen [project] timelines.
Even when travel fully resumes, we won’t have to necessarily travel to a customer’s [office]. That gives us more flexibility in engagement assignments and managing the services “bench.” [Services] employees can now work Monday through Friday on an engagement because there’s no travel day. Some customers have asked us to return, and we do. But it’s at the customer’s discretion. When [customers] are comfortable, maybe we’ll go onsite for specific engagement milestones or at a particular phase in the discovery process. The majority of services are still being done remotely.
PERSON: We resumed hiring in 2021. No company expected all of the labor constraints generated by the pandemic. In pre-pandemic days, you would pay a salary commensurate with the cost of living in the location you were hiring. Now, Silicon Valley companies are recruiting people here [Westlake, Ohio] and paying Silicon Valley wages. And that person doesn’t have to move. We’re now competing with the world’s employers.
How do you remain competitive and retain people? For one, we’re staying flexible and not [instituting] a mandate that employees have to work in the office… We also looked at our benefits package to make sure it was compelling. We just announced, for example, that we expanded our gym membership [reimbursement] to other wellness activities. We also increased our dental benefits, so adults can get orthodontic treatment. Those are little things, but they add up. And, by the way, we didn’t raise the medical premiums employees pay, even though [the company’s] costs continue to go up.
PERSON: You read the numbers in the press, but there’s a delay before you see the impact. Our costs have gone up or will go up for purchases like hardware and applications for employees, professional services, consultants, and the public cloud services needed for some customers. We’re preparing for that. But how do you pass those higher costs on to customers? Absorbing all the costs is not a sustainable model.
So, [in addition], you have to be thoughtful in your spending, take a little extra time to find the best price. Look at the value you’re getting from vendors. Do you go out to bid more often and issue RFPs (request for proposals)? But then it’s also thinking about how you price your solution while staying relevant in the market.