Joining a Tech Icon: Adobe CFO Dan Durn

“Digital content and data are going to be the fuel of economic growth," said Durn, the former Applied Materials CFO.

Daniel J. Durn has been a finance chief in the semiconductor industry for over a decade. By leaving Applied Materials and joining Adobe in October 2021, he moved downstream in the tech supply chain. He is now leading finance at the iconic software company that serves professional designers, graphics professionals, and consumers.

It’s easy to see the attraction of Adobe. For one, even with less revenue than Applied, Adobe has a market capitalization that’s $100 billion larger. The chip industry is not short on demand or a claim to a stake in the U.S. economy’s future. But as Durn put it, “Digital content and data are going to be the fuel of economic growth, much like oil was a century ago. We’re [Adobe is] at the center of it all.” 

Once a desktop software powerhouse, Adobe is making strides in the cloud and in the last few years expanded into e-commerce reporting tools and solutions. The company also introduced Adobe Express, a “freemium” offering, last year to “democratize the access to Adobe’s creativity tools,” Durn said. (And to combat the proliferation of lower-priced web-based competitors.)

I spoke with Durn about leaving the semiconductor industry and what a new CFO can bring to an established company like Adobe.

Dan Durn 

CFO, Adobe

  • First CFO position: 2011
  • Notable previous companies:
    • Applied Materials
    • Freescale Semiconductor
    • GlobalFoundries
    • Goldman Sachs

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

VINCENT RYAN: Why the move to Adobe?

DAN DURN: I’m never looking for things. But when a company like Adobe calls, it’s a call you take. We all know Adobe is a great company. It has visionary leadership and great talent at all levels — the product teams and corporate support functions. [In addition,] the company’s innovation engine is second to none. The team has innovated across technology, products, categories, and business models. 

Another aspect is the secular trends shaping the global economy. The digitization of the global economy is going to be the engine of economic growth worldwide. The opportunity to partner with Shantanu [Narayen, Adobe CEO] to drive scale and take Adobe to $30 billion and $40 billion in revenue is a great opportunity.

Did you have any trepidation leaving semiconductors?

DURN: I didn’t. These are decisions that you don’t take lightly. Both industries have a solid role to play in the digitization of the economy. The semiconductor industry is about the foundation infrastructure. Adobe is driving transformation — the transformation of opportunities and the transformation of businesses. This decision for me is all about Adobe being this incredibly special company right at the center of it all.

Eight months in, is the CFO job any different?

DURN: I would say yes and no. An important role of the CFO is to drive business discipline, to drive execution to sharpen the decision-making inside the company. Two-thirds or 70% of the revenue at Applied Materials was driven by the top 8 to 10 customers. Data was used to drive operating efficiency in factories and supply chains, to better serve our customers with technology. At Adobe, though, we don’t have the benefit of connecting on a very personal level with all of our customers. We have 600 million monthly active users in just the digital media business. So, we use data to drive insights into customer behaviors so that we can deliver functionality and features that improve user adoption and satisfaction, and unlock more creativity. At the core, though, is still a data-driven mindset.

Where are the opportunities to improve the finance department?

DURN: This company operates in a highly efficient manner. We can always do better. Digitally enabling the business is about the democratization of data, the speed at which information flows around the company, providing context for business decision-making and then driving execution.  

We’re engaging in a viral way with hundreds of millions of users at the top of the funnel [with Adobe Express]. At the core of complementing marketing-led growth with product-led growth is an agility that needs to underpin operations. [Finance is] going to be a key facilitator of improving the way the company is able to process data and drive decision-making to produce better results.

Does the finance department “own” all that data?

DURN: In a reorganization, IT (Adobe Technology Services) will start to roll up under my organization. So, we will combine the IT organization with finance to provide that underpinning of infrastructure, data visibility, the democratization of data, and speed. The product teams will have insights and visibility into the journeys our customers take and how they use products. And it’s the marrying of those two sets of data that fundamentally drive the day-to-day operations. I think the organizational change and marrying of finance with the Adobe Technology Services organization creates a nice catalyst to drive the vision.

You have a lot of M&A experience. Does that fit into Adobe’s plans?

DURN: We’ll look for opportunities to do transactions, but the bar is going to be high because we have great organic growth prospects. [A deal has to be] an opportunity to accelerate the technology or the product roadmap. The target also has to be a strong cultural fit. And the third lens is, will the acquisition create value for shareholders?