10 questions for Black Duck CFO Ken Goldman

  • Nancy Weil (IDG News Service)
  • 01 March, 2011 05:52

Name: Ken Goldman

Age: 51

Time with company: 3 years

Education: Syracuse University, Whitman School of Management

Company headquarters: Waltham, Massachusetts

Number of countries: 22, with offices in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Japan, China, Hong Kong and South Korea

Number of employees total: Just over 100

Number the CFO oversees: 11

About the company: Black Duck Software provides products and services to help enterprises scale adoption of free and open-source software. The company also is active in the free and open-source community. Its website is

1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?

I've been pretty fortunate to have had a variety of experiences over the past 30 years. I started with KPMG [as a CPA]. I figured out early on that I wanted to be sitting on the other side of the table as a CFO. And I was very fortunate to be hired as a CFO when I was 24, at Goldweitz. To date, I have been CFO at eight different companies, including privately held and venture-backed companies, and a multibillion-dollar division of a fortune 150. I've worked in a variety of different industries including four software companies, two e-commerce companies, two financial services companies; I've been CFO of two public companies, one of which I took public, In addition to that, in 2004 I had a midlife crisis and left being a CFO to be an investment banker for about two years. I got over my midlife crisis and went back to being a CFO.

2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?

Back in 1984 in my first CFO role at Goldweitz & Company, I reported to a gentleman named Tim Huber and I would say without question he's the most influential mentor in my professional career. He taught me about how to be successful in an executive position. I was thrust into an executive position at a very early age and without that mentorship I would not have been as successful. He helped me to grow professionally and personally, how to interact with people, how to deal with the challenges of getting the job done -- properly motivating people without running over them. How to be aggressive without being obnoxious, how to be assertive without crossing the line. Now that I'm 51, I can say that in my 20s I thought I knew everything, in my 30s I was sure I knew everything, in my 40s I realized all I didn't know, and now that I'm in my 50s, it just doesn't matter.

One thing I enjoy is that mentor relationship. You can be the brightest kid out of the best school but until you have a little experience under your belt having tried and failed, your intelligence and your degree don't matter.

3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?

I'm very fortunate to be at a company that's doing extremely well. That for me is pure luck -- the company's been growing every year since our founding eight years ago. We're a market leader in a space that's growing. We deliver high value to our customers. To be a CFO at that sort of company is a wonderful thing. The CFO is responsible for balancing risk and reward, cost and benefit. That's the person who is focused on making sure a company achieves its plan -- that's the CFO's role to make sure that the company doesn't lose its way.

The other thing is that the CFO serves multiple masters. On any given day, I'm responsible for making customers happy, for making employees happy and for making investors happy. And I did put them in the order that I really think of them -- customers come first and then employees and even though investors don't like to hear it, they come third. But I think they understand that I have to put customers and employees first. So, I describe the CFO as the navigator to the role played by the CEO, which is the pilot, and that relationship between the CFO as navigator and the CEO as pilot is critical and it goes back to having a plan and having the resources to achieve that plan. The last part of it is that the CFO is in this challenging position between a divided loyalty to support the CEO and the board of directors. The CEO typically oversees the CFO. The board will be quick to point out that the CFO has an absolute fiduciary responsibility to the investors and at times that relationship can be a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, infrequent as that [situation] can be.

4. What is a good day at work like for you?

A good day starts when I can help a customer with a problem or help a salesperson close a deal or help an employee get the job done. Those are the things that I put at the top of my list. When I consider that my job is to be an enabler, a facilitator, my success depends on getting things done. I also describe myself as someone who loves to be busy, I'm a multitasker, I'm a juggler. There's a saying that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it, and that's my life.

5. How would you characterize your management style?

First and foremost, I describe it as leading by example. I expect people to be hardworking, dedicated and passionate. I get to the office at 6:30 in the morning and although I don't expect everyone to be in the office that early, it's hard to say that someone is hardworking, dedicated and passionate if they're a nine-to-fiver. In leading by example, I never ask someone to do something that I wouldn't do. I like people who will take the ball and run with it. I always appreciate someone saying, "OK, let me take that and see how I do," as opposed to someone who is in my office every five minutes.

6. What strengths/qualities do you look for in job candidates?

I start with wanting people who are extremely self-motivated, with a high degree of passion, energy, and they're smart -- and I would describe smart as a good degree of common sense and business sense. I like people who are willing to try and fail. I like people who have scars from failure in the past. I want people who are willing to do something other than just play it safe. I want people who think outside the box.

I don't care where people went to college. I care about what they've learned in life and that isn't something written on sheepskin. I want people who take ownership as opposed to just doing what they're told.

7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? And what sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?

I figure that I've hired 500 or 600 employees and I figure I've interviewed at least 2,000 people to hire those 500 or 600. I have one question that I use and that is, tell me your life story. Some people will go right into it and others will stop and say what do you want me to say or how do you want me to respond? What I want is to see how they will respond to an open-ended question. Some just give you their résumé, others go into excruciating detail -- I was born the child of poor farmers in the southwest and grew up in extreme poverty. But what I'm looking for is have they worked menial jobs, have they worked construction, have they been a waitress? The best employees I've found are people who worked those sorts of jobs and now they're where they are. They're appreciative of what they learned in those jobs, of the opportunities they have, of the job they have today. When you hear from someone who says they worked two jobs to pay for college instead of the person who says mom and dad paid for all four years of college and I spent summers in Europe ... that demonstrates much better the answer to the question are you a hard worker?

[Red-flag answers] start when they give me a canned response or a trite answer. Often times a candidate will tell you what they think you want to hear as opposed to the real answer. For me, I don't expect people to be perfect, but I do expect them to be honest. I think of the interview as a conversation, so there's no right or wrong answer.

8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?

In my role as CFO at Black Duck Software, I would say that I spend as much (if not more) time thinking about and interfacing with our customers as I do in serving my internal constituency (employees, investors and board members). When I prioritize my day, I always make sure that the customer comes first, and that I am completely focused on how we can provide the best products, solutions and service to our customers and prospective customers. While I can't say that this is completely different than other CFO positions, I will say that having been CFO of eight companies over the past 30 years, I spend more time at Black Duck on externally focused matters than I do on internally focused issues (which is a shift in how my time is allocated).

I do believe that the most successful CFOs today are more externally facing / outwardly focused and my CFO position at Black Duck is confirmation of that change.

9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?

I'll start with my favorite, which is from April through October I enjoy outdoor activities -- biking, kayaking and going out on my boat. Living in New England, the weather is a little limiting, [in the winter] through April, it's going to the gym, reading, and playing with my new favorite toy, my iPad.

10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?

Easy -- first choice would be a charter boat captain in the Caribbean -- if I can dream, I can dream big -- and the second choice would be teaching at a business school.