Growth Through Experience: Cyndx’s Mike Ballou

Ballou discusses his leadership style, retaining employees, and growth plans for the upcoming year.
Growth Through Experience: Cyndx’s Mike Ballou

In order to be in the best position to make good decisions, a wide array of experience is favored for leaders who value perspective in their decision-making approach.

Mike Ballou, CFO of Cyndx — a software as a service for artificial intelligence-driven corporate search for mergers and acquisitions, private equity, and venture capital growth tech offerings — brings a batch of financial experience to his role, where he is looking to make serious strides in growth the upcoming year.

Despite tech’s widespread layoffs to start 2023, Ballou says he has seen this play out before. From the dot-com bubble all the way through to the pandemic, the unpredictability of the economy’s ups and downs and their impacts on labor markets have been cyclical throughout his career.

Before joining Cyndx, Ballou spent 14 years in financial services, including roles in accounting, restructuring, and investment banking. His previous employers ranged from boutique firms to large multinational corporations. Throughout his career, he has seemingly prided himself on his ability to execute in various roles within corporate finance. His transaction experience is worth noting, with over $6B of M&A deals and $8B of financings.

Mike Ballou.jpeg

Mike Ballou

CFO, Cyndx

  • First CFO position: 2017
  • Notable previous companies:
    • Deloitte
    • Bank of America
    • Barclays

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

ADAM ZAKI: How do you approach the responsibility of leadership? What parts of your career have given you the necessary communication and people skills needed to be an executive?

MICHAEL BALLOU: Before becoming the CFO of Cyndx, I spent the majority of my career in media and telecom investment banking. As a banker, you are frequently charged with working on transactions that are often the most important ones your client will undertake in their career. As such, it is critical you provide flawless execution, which is something that can only be accomplished by a high-functioning team.   

Team building and leadership are something I’ve focused on since very early in my career. For me, the most effective approach has been to empower my coworkers to take on more responsibility and to serve as a resource when they need help. Creating a working relationship based on trust and empowerment has been the path that has worked best for me. This approach creates an environment where my coworkers can also develop into effective leaders.  

What are your thoughts on modern work environments, trends, and return-to-office plans?

BALLOU: On balance, I think it is important employees benefit from the cross-pollination of ideas and collaboration that is often best achieved when people work in the same physical location. However, in markets such as New York, where commuting is both very costly and time-consuming, I believe a hybrid work environment has merit.

Also, while painting everyone with the same brush is easy, I think it really does come down to the employee’s role in the organization and level of experience. We currently operate under a hybrid model but continue to evaluate what is best for our employees and the organization across various markets.

For 2023, I’m most concerned about retaining our best performers. Retention of talent is a top priority of the firm as we look to accelerate both of our businesses in the coming year.

What worries you most about labor markets? Do certain areas like retention, hiring, or benefits worry you more than others?

BALLOU: As someone who has worked in financial services his whole career, I’ve experienced many employment cycles from the dot-com bubble, 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, COVID-19, etc. It seems like I’m always concerned about the labor markets regardless of where we are in the cycle.

For 2023, I’m most concerned about retaining our best performers. Retention of talent is a top priority of the firm as we look to accelerate both of our businesses in the coming year.

You have been with your company now since 2015. What do you think about CFO turnover, and what about your role specifically has made you stick around?  

BALLOU: The simple answer is I enjoy my job and have great respect for my coworkers. When I first decided to join the company, I did so for two reasons: (a) out of my belief that a market existed for a tech-enabled boutique investment bank focused on growth-stage companies and (b) that the founders, Jim and Elise McVeigh, were the right people to bring this platform to market.

Over the years, we’ve been extremely blessed to have a core team of key employees that have had critical roles in making this all possible. I joined based on the founders and the mission but have stayed because of the team.     

What are you prioritizing in 2023? What is the biggest challenge you face?

BALLOU: My top priority for 2023 is providing best-in-class advisory services and technology tools to our clients and subscribers. One of the services we offer is helping companies find the right investment partner, and vice versa, and this knowledge is often critical for our clients – many of whom are expecting a recession or economic slowdown in 2023.

Some of these companies are anxious about how a potential slowdown will impact their ability to raise capital and grow their business. Our firm was founded on the premise that we are most valuable to our clients in times of economic uncertainty. As such, it is critical that we help our clients navigate these challenging market conditions.

This year has begun with significant activity across all facets of our business. The finance team has been working hard to ensure we have all the resources in place to meet our growth plans. This includes everything from working with our audit and legal advisers to human resources and investors. We have not only taken the first step but steps two, three, and four.  

Our general approach to forecasting is to be conservative but we run multiple scenarios to stress test our funding needs under different economic environments.

Do you believe in quantity or quality when it comes to financial forecasting, and how accurate is your cash flow data?

If I had to choose one, I would choose the quality of forecasting. Our general approach to forecasting is to be conservative, but we run multiple scenarios to stress test our funding needs under different economic environments. We start with our base case, which we believe reflects what we expect to happen, and then run both upside and downside scenarios. Our goal is to manage the downside case to ensure that we have adequate resources should economic uncertainty persist. 

[For cash flow data] as a growing company, we routinely monitor cash flow throughout the month. Our controller, Bridget Valdemira, has been in her role since the inception of the firm and does an excellent job of gathering the data required to manage our ongoing cash needs.