Amanda Whalen’s nearly 10-year experience as a CFO spans multiple industries, including food supply, big-box stores and healthcare. Most recently, Whalen served as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Walmart International.
After recently serving as CFO at Klaviyo, a technology company specializing in marketing automation, whale has a lot to say about technology, its value to the CFO, and how it will influence the role of CFOs in the future.
Whalen also spoke about the role of the CFO of tomorrow, the value of C-suite education in the future, and his plans as a first-time CFO of a tech company.
Chief Financial Officer, Klaviyo
- Notable previous companies:
- Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President, Walmart International
- Chief Financial Officer and Chief Administrative Officer, Davita Kidney Care
- Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President Finance, Saputo Dairy Foods
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ADAM ZAKI: In your career, how do the requirements of a CFO vary by industry and company size?
Amanda Whalen: I think there is something more in common than you might think between these different companies. The CFO’s role is to allocate resources and capital to help drive business growth, and then create the systems and processes they will need to be successful in the future.
One of the best analogies I’ve heard about the CFO’s life is that it’s kind of like being a dolphin – you’re above water, looking at the horizon and thinking strategically about the direction we are taking. And then you dive deep below, being practical, to really understand the details of where we are and what we need to do to get to that place that we’re headed to in the future. So it’s all about balancing the big picture and being practical.
I think some of the differences are that you never really get to a point where the job is done. The big difference is what stage you are at and how you think about the future you are heading towards. So I’ll take Walmart, for example – it’s a massive company that’s transforming for the future. So at Walmart, you’re thinking what investments do I need to make this change? And what system and features do I need to modify during this journey?
Why is technology valuable to a CFO and how do you assess that value?
WHALE : I think technology is absolutely essential for the CFO in the future. I think the CFO in the future will have to be technical, as well as financial, and I don’t mean experienced on the technical side of finance which is traditional technical finance. I mean understanding financial technology, ie “what are the systems?” »
As a CFO, I think technology really comes into play when we can be more efficient and effective in a way that helps free up time to spend on higher value work. The second thing I really think about about technology is, “how can I make finance work smarter?” We put a lot [of technology] currently in place at Klaviyo. There was already a lot of cool stuff here, and we’re still tweaking it. We implement automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, enabled forecasting and reporting. So we seek to use data to understand what drives customer behavior and predict it.
As a CFO, I think technology really comes into play when we can be more efficient and effective in a way that helps free up time to spend on higher value work.
It’s something I’ve seen at Walmart – they have some fantastic approaches to using artificial intelligence to drive those predictions. I think that really recognizes the importance for CFOs not only in terms of automation, but this technology is also important when we’re thinking about how to make our work smarter.
We see surveys out now who say the value of an MBA or being a CPA isn’t necessarily where it once was. Has your education given you value in your career or is it really just the work experience that is valued for you?
WHALE : I have an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management. And the reason is that the value of the MBA and the value of the CPA are similar to what we were talking about earlier about experience across industries. The requirements of a CFO are different. I think a big part of what I gained from the MBA is this vast experience that helps you with your foundation as you grow. Whether it’s moving between industries, or even moving within the same industry, as you take on more responsibility, you go from individual contributor to manager to leader…everything high-profile areas you haven’t worked in before are valuable.
What is your biggest obstacle right now? If you could change one thing or make one thing happen to make your goals more achievable, what would it be?
WHALE : We have four priorities that we are working on. The first is to become a public company ready. It always depends on what is happening in the market at the right time. But we want Klaviyo to operate at a level that matches the standards, discipline and rigor of public companies in the way we operate. So that’s the number one priority.
The second is to expand the business and expand the scale function. We’ve grown incredibly fast. So we need to think, and not just a year, two years or three years ahead, about the approaches we will need to support that growth in the future.
The third would be to foster great business partnership and business decision making. Create actionable reports to help business leaders see trends and perform dynamic planning and forecasting, ensuring we make great data-driven business decisions.
The last is building a great team. I’m incredibly lucky at Klaviyo – we have a fantastic team. And I am looking for how to continue to build, develop and develop their career. So if I could do one thing, I would find the answer to the question of how to get through this journey as quickly as possible. But the process is really fun.