The Making of a social media CFO: what it takes to count the costs of Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Yahoo!

With Facebook's flotation about to raise unthinkable sums of money, I thought it was worth giving a thought to those financial whizz kids who make sure the techy whizz kids don’t blow all their money on highly sugared drinks and the latest version of Grand Theft Auto.
Yes, all the big name social media companies - Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and Yahoo! have finance chiefs keeping a check on how many iPods and snowboards have been ordered on the company account (I read recently Bill Gates’ kids are not allowed Apple products, nor Melinda. Shame. Also, Mark Zuckerberg appears to spend a packet on private jets. See the prospectus).
So let’s call it the Big Four of CFOs and let’s have a look at what it takes to get the financial hotseat at one of these titans of the internet.
Let’s start with money. Between them these four giants turnover roughly $49bn (£31bn). The biggest of those, you will not be surprised to hear, is Google where finance is headed by Patrick Pichette and revenues are around $37bn. That, you will instantly notice, is marginally larger than the other three. Next up is Yahoo! raking in around $6.7bn under the financial beady eye of Tim Morse. Then of course there’s Facebook, which we now know takes in around $3.7bn, accounted for by David Ebersman. Lastly, we have Steve Sordello for LinkedIn, in charge of a more modest affair with revenues upwards of $240m.
Clearly you don’t have to have massive revenues to be a high profile internet company, but it helps.
How about age? I make the assumption that to be a proper exec in a social media behemoth a CFO must have been born since 1982 (Mark Zuckerberg was born in 1984), when the internet was officially launched. So maximum of 30 to qualify for the age of geek. None of our candidates, however, make the cut on that count. The youngest is Facebook’s Ebersman (Zuckerberg’s senior by 14 years) at 41. Tim Morse at Yahoo! is 42, while Sordello at Linkedin, I estimate, is around 43 ( I can’t find his age online - poor show really). However, the grandad of the four is Pichette at 48, ancient by Facebook standards, and well beyond the age of Carousel in Logan’s Run.
What about their professional background? What on the CV gives them the springboard into these social media roles? Starting where we left off, Pichette was vice president at Bell Communications a good old fashioned telephone company in Cananda and quite some way from the traditions of Silicon Valley. Morse was at Altera Corp making semiconductors. Ebersman is interesting because he was in biotechnology at Genentech. Of the four the closest to the internet business is Sordello having previously been CFO at TiVO and Ask Jeeves. Mixed backgrounds then, proving that submersion in the internet is not necessarily what the social media corps want from their finance chiefs. But even Pichette had some exposure to the commercial aspects of the internet.

Ebersman is the outlier here having worked in biotechnology. BUt that's all about research and development. Something Facebook will no doubt find very familiar.
One last test for the moment - LinkedIn connections and recommendations. Pichette has a lowly three connections, very little else and no recommendations on his sparse profile. Sadly, I couldn’t find Morse on LinkedIn - an obvious oversight for someone in his position. Ebersman, of Facebook, who must live by the number of virtual contacts and friends he has, registers 375 connections but sadly no sign of any recommendations. Champion here, of course, is Sordello. With 500 connections and four recommendations, the FD of LinkedIn is, by his own website’s standards, the most networked of the four CFOs. 
So what do we learn from this? Certainly it’s possible to be embarrassingly absent from a major social networking site and still be highly placed in the internet business world  (succour for those webphobes out there). Pichette demonstrates that a disengaged presence is all you need. Well, maybe for someone who has made it as big as he has - not sure that goes for the rest of us in this social media age. It remains intriguing though that two CFOs would apparently ignore the very medium that puts bread on their tables.
We also learn you don’t even need to have been raised and conditioned in Silicon Valley. You can cut your professional teeth in Canada of all places. Or, make you money counting the cost of grisly experiments in biotech. Or make semiconductors. Silicon Valley is not as closed as it may seem. For some things.
There is an important point there for ambitious CFOs. Your experience may have more application than you first imagine. You might be head of finance for Widgets in Widness right now. But look closely and you may have something that the internet world will buy. That “thing” will have to be the doorway by which you understand business drivers on the internet. Without that, my guess is, you’re sunk. The accounts you can do. What you need to master is the skill to allocate resources.
Lastly, the four prove beyond any doubt that you can be quite old (40 at least) and still work for social media companies. Your bosses may be young enough to be your children (almost. OK, not really), but they’ll still give you a job. As long as you’re in accounts. Not writing code. Or playing Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto. Or something.


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