Peter Vlerick is enjoying a career that has matched his skills in previous industries. It’s a skill set that is constantly evolving. The chief financial officer joined BravoSolution, a leading global strategic procurement solution provider, in July 2015 after recognizing the job was a rare opportunity that checked off all of his criteria. Vlerick says the business was at an “inflection point” in its life cycle, while at the same time looking to rapidly accelerate already consistent double-digit revenue growth through organic and inorganic channels.
Vlerick also wanted to continue to work in fast-paced markets. He previously served as the chief financial officer for Avatar Solutions and Servigistics—both leading SaaS-based B2B businesses—and in financial leadership positions at Orbitz Worldwide, RR Donnelley, and Ernst & Young LLP.
“I like businesses in the tech sector that have a better ability to achieve operational leverage,” Vlerick says. “They don’t have massive investments in heavy equipment or facilities. [BravoSolution] is a people-based business, and it’s the intellectual property investment that drives the value.”
At BravoSolution, that intellectual property is something already used by more than 600 companies and 100,000 procurement professionals in more than seventy countries. Vlerick says these clients are heavily invested in BravoSolution’s products and value-added services, training employees to use them for key functions such as supplier performance management, spend analysis, sourcing strategy, and contract management.
These are key areas where BravoSolution clients can achieve material operational and financial over-performance relative to their peers driving significant value to the bottom line. “I like to be in a place where there’s a large and growing market pie, and we can then garner a leading position in that space,” Vlerick says. “In the case of BravoSolution, the market is north of $7 billion. It’s a huge pie and it is very fragmented, which brings into play lots of possibilities for organic and inorganic growth.”
Vlerick has done it all. In his twenty-five years of experience, he has worked on everything from mergers and acquisitions to international expansion projects. “The more I feel that my background and experiences can help improve margins and cash flow and help the business grow, the more attractive the job becomes,” he says.
His main focus at BravoSolution thus far has been establishing a more cohesive, standardized, and streamlined system for financial reporting and knowledge sharing across the company. “We have had great historical success focusing on our individual market needs and staying very close to our customers in each of our markets,” he says. “However, we have come to appreciate that there is a ton of opportunity for us to improve our performance and our customer experience by better leveraging the vast knowledge and expertise of our global organization.”
He says one project the company is in the middle of is implementing global systems for ERP, professional services, and human resource management, with a goal of having all these communicating seamlessly across the globe in a standardized way.
Vlerick says this effort will constantly evolve as technology, the market, and the business itself continues to mature. “The market is not standing still and you have to reprioritize and adjust your plan as you go,” he says. “But the overriding theme is that we’re going to operate as a global business and continue to share information and best practices across the entire organization.”
If that doesn’t sound like the kind of initiative a traditional CFO would work on, that’s because it’s not. Vlerick says modern CFOs are no longer just finance people. “The operational CFO is really what’s needed now,” he says. “Not just someone who’s closing the books and doing forecasts and all the basic price-of-admission things, but who adds value by being a sharp business person who can get his or her head around all aspects of the business—be it sales processes, marketing, software development, service delivery, or other operational matters.”
For Vlerick, a CFO today must not only be detail-oriented for the core of the job, but also a strategic thinker to help move the business forward. “If you operate at too much of a high level you’re going to miss something that’s important sooner or later,” he says. “How you manage the details can vary by the organization, the team you have, and how you’re structured. But you need to make sure the details are covered, then focus additional efforts on strategic drivers that are going to enhance growth, improve profitability, and cash flow.”
Part of the way Vlerick has accomplished this feat throughout his career is through deft management. “It starts with communication and involving and empowering your team to drive key decisions and processes,” he explains.
But that doesn’t happen automatically, Vlerick continues. Everyone in a high-performing organization should have to earn the trust of their leadership, according to the CFO. Then once that trust is earned, they should be given the freedom to spread their wings and take on a visible leadership role in the organization.
“I have been fortunate enough to have had some great mentors in my career who did just that. They allowed me the opportunity to present to the CEO and executive team instead of taking all the credit themselves. In turn, I try to let people on my team take the spotlight. I don’t need to be the one doing all the talking.”
There is no time for that anyway. Vlerick’s multifaceted role as a modern CFO is quickly evolving at BravoSolution, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.