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ServiceNow CFO reveals value of risk-taking

Gina Mastantuono, finance leader of the fast growth software giant, reveals in an interview how taking chances paid off on a personal and corporate level 

As the first member of her family to attend university, ServiceNow’s CFO Gina Mastantuono has had to push hard to succeed in the corporate environment.

But that desire to excel has kept her on a career trajectory that saw a rapid rise into senior finance positions, in cosmetics giant Revlon and tech equipment distributor Ingram Micro.

“I’ve taken a number of risks throughout my career. Once you’ve done one, you get confident and more confident and you’re willing to do another one. I love to put myself out of my comfort zone  and try something new because I really feel like the biggest growth opportunities produce the best development,” says the New Yorker.

In January Mastantuono became CFO role of ServiceNow, the software giant offering a cloud computing platform for companies to manage digital workflows.

Mastantuono says her rise to become the finance leader of ServiceNow, one of the fastest growing software companies that has seen its stock price increase more than 20-fold since it listed in 2012, reflects how far she has come in her career journey. “When I started out in finance, my dream was not to be a CFO, because quite frankly, I didn’t really think it was a possibility,” she says.

It also reveals the ambition of Mastantuono and the rest of ServiceNow’s leadership team that saw the firm reach a $100bn market cap on 13 October- a major achievement given the California-based firm was launched in 2004.

After it released third quarter results on October 28, revealing subscription revenues of $1.09bn for the period, ServiceNow’s share price fell as part of a wider market sell-off over coronavirus concerns, valuing the company at around $92bn. But Mastantuono was bullish in her remarks on results day when she said: “We see strong momentum heading into the last quarter of the year and our robust pipeline gives me confidence in our ability to continue executing well into 2021. I’m very excited about the traction we are seeing in our journey towards becoming a $10bn revenue company.”

ServiceNow’s roots are in providing technical management support, such as IT service management to the IT operations of large corporations, including help desk functionality. In order to continually finesse the offer a series of bolt-on acquisitions in areas such as AI, data analytics and machine learning capabilities have been added in recent years, as well as investment to build customer and employee workflow solutions.

By the time the coronavirus pandemic hit last March, ServiceNow was just releasing the latest version of its cloud software called Now Platform ‘Orlando’ – which is paired with artificial intelligence (AI) technology aimed at fixing practical problems.

The result is an offer that aims to provide clients with the means to “detect IT incidents before they even happen,” says Mastantuono.

“It’s really enabling productivity because helpdesk resources are able to resolve recurring, repetitive issues without having to get on the phone with a human, freeing up time for higher value work to be done by skilled people” she adds.

As such, ServiceNow’s approach, which addresses IT, employee and customer workflows simultaneously, is coming of age in the coronavirus environment, says Mastantuono. “Most of our innovations come from customer requests, and what they’re looking for and what they’re trying to accomplish,” she says.

A recent customer survey by ServiceNow, showed that since the coronavirus struck, corporates have become keener to invest cost savings into innovation for improving employee productivity, says Mastantuono. “It’s about making the world of work better for people in the coronavirus environment when employees are often working at home, having to juggle with family and other commitments,” she says.

Value of CFO

Mastantuono says that in every company she has worked in the CFO “has had enormous value and a seat at the table when driving strategic decisions”, whether she has been in the finance leader role or observing from roles on her way up the career ladder.

After graduating from State University of New York at Albany as an accounting major “when there were really no female CFO role models out there,” she moved to accountants Ernst & Young, now EY. “I went into accounting, because I felt everyone always needed needs an accountant and from a security perspective, I’d be in in a good place,” she says.

After finding her feet in corporate accounting and controlling roles, Mastantuono’s career took off at cosmetics giant Revlon where she was hired as the group’s international CFO. “I really wanted to broaden my horizon and move out of accounting and into other areas. Since then, the career trajectory for me has  been all about growth and taking risks, smart risks,” she adds.

“It was a huge risk for me, as well as for the company because my entire career had been accounting and domestic. I really didn’t have a whole lot of experience internationally. And so for me, it was broadening not only my depth of experience outside of accounting, but really broadening that experience in the international markets,” says Mastantuono.

Although considered a leading cosmetics group, Mastantuono says she worked closely with Revlon’s international president to build out what had been a traditionally US-centric model. She was promoted to SVP (senior vice president) while adding the chief accounting officer and keeping the international CFO role. “I was doing a dual role for probably three quarters of my time there, but I was able to really marry both sides finance and accounting.”

On reflection, Mastantuono says taking on these big challenges while at the same time bringing up a family, building the personal resilience that has been key in 2020. “Taking those types of risks, putting yourself out there and being confident that you’re going to have a safe landing and do well, has been pivotal,” she says.

Mastantuono landed her first group CFO role at IT products distributor Ingram Micro, that has since been acquired by HNA Technology. She describes Ingram as “an enormous business with a $40bn turnover and razor thin margins.” In her six years there, Mastantuono says she was “at the forefront of every conversation and decision.”

It was an ideal honing ground for her arrival at ServiceNow, which needed a new leadership team to scale up the company that had hit $4bn annual revenues but had ambitions of much bigger turnover. “We need to look at how we scale the operation and the back office to ensure that we are absolutely ready for when we hit $10bn.

“It’s a matter of building the cross functional muscle and bringing teams together at the leadership level, something they were looking for the CFO to help drive,” says Mastantuono.

It was also important not to lose sight of the firm’s original values. “It was vital to ensure that we ae able to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit and the agility of the ServiceNow culture,” she adds.

 Supporting strategy

ServiceNow may have an offer that is being well received by corporates as the coronavirus environment plays out, but in the early days of the epidemic there was a sense of urgency for Mastantuono to be up and running as the firm was being run by a very new management team. CEO Bill McDermott had joined shortly before, the hiring of Mastantuono being one of his first moves on arrival from German software giant SAP. “I started on January 8 and because of coronavirus we all went home in mid-March, 60 days later,” she says.

But she quickly realised that the group needed to keep innovating despite the challenges, backed up by a finance function providing the critical insights to inform good decision-making. “We’re not just the bean counters- adding up and looking backwards. We need to think about how we drive strategy looking forward, and making sure that we’re on the forefront of where the customer needs us to be,” she says.

Mastantuono says the coronavirus epidemic has shifted priorities about how decision making is undertaken, elevating the role of CFO as a transformation driver. “I see the CFO as the chief transformation officer,” she says.

In the ServiceNow model, Mastantuono works in harness with CIO (chief information officer) Chris Bedi to ensure the data sets are as effective as possible to  capture valuable insights. “I work really closely with the CIO to make sure that the data is as clean and reliable as possible. I talk about having the right data at the right time to make the best decisions,” she says.

CFOs can play a pivotal role of guiding organisations through the crisis by making strategic decisions to help corporates not only survive the current environment, but also thrive in the “next normal”, says Mastantuono

“That’s all about digital transformation. We were able to move 95 percent of our workforce to remote in 24 hours because we are a digital first company. But it can be really hard for many companies who haven’t focused and invested in the digital side of things to do that.

“What this crisis has shown, is that they absolutely need to be investing in these areas. The coronavirus is ushering in a new convergence of corporate financial and digital strategies. Those companies that embrace this idea will come out stronger on the other side of the pandemic,” she says.

Mastantuono says its vitally important to think beyond the immediate environment defined by the pandemic. “There is a need for cohesive long-term strategy more than ever, because this moment will pass. You’ve got to handle the short-term issues whilst looking ahead,” she says.

“It can be hard to think long term in the midst of a crisis. But I would say that it is the CFO’s role to help drive that conversation,” she adds.

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