In his 30 year-career, David Drillock has gone from a manager at McDonald’s to CFO of Cytec Industries Inc., a chemicals and materials company with an annual revenue of $3 billion—a transition he attributes, in part, to understanding the business as well as the numbers. Below, he tells us more.
What got you interested in finance?
Drillock: I started working my way through school as a manager at McDonald’s. I noticed that a weakness of many people who came through was in basic finance and accounting, so that’s what I studied. By the way, I met my wife at McDonald’s.
How did you get from McDonald’s to CFO of a multibillion-dollar company?
Drillock: While I was studying accounting at Rutgers University, I took a job as a cost accountant at one of American Cyanamid Company’s manufacturing plants. When I got my degree, I moved to the systems implementation group for 18 months. Then, in 1986, American Cyanamid bought a part interest in Applied Solar Energy, and I became its controller and later its CFO. After four years, I came back to headquarters as a division controller. When American Cyanamid spun off its chemical businesses as Cytec Industries in 1993, I became the corporate controller. I added the role of vice president of investor relations in 1988, and became CFO in 2007.
Did you ever consider doing anything else?
Drillock: Business came naturally to me. My father was a truck driver and my mother was a factory worker, but they always encouraged their children to get some college education and to be a businessperson—someone running the business rather than the worker doing the business.
What have been the keys to your success?
Drillock: For one, I don’t mind taking risks as long as I understand what the risk is. Back in 2008, we saw the financial crisis coming. I convinced management to spend a significant amount of money to engage a consulting firm to help us look at our working capital levels so we could generate cash. We made some significant changes as a result, and the project generated well over $300 million. I took the risk on spending the money up front, and we got a nice return on it.
Drillock: You have to know the business. From my first job, I’ve found it important to relate events to numbers and numbers to events. When I see something happening in a part of the world where we have an operation, I’m likely to pick up the phone and find out how that’s impacting us. I also travel a lot. I visit vendors to see how the products we use are developed. I visit our manufacturing locations. I go with our sales people to our customers’ plants to see how they use our products. It gives you a feel for the value chain, so when events are occurring in the world, you can be prepared. Say there’s a slowdown in automotive. Well, I know our coatings business provides coating for cars, so that will affect us.
What are you most proud of accomplishing in your current position?
Drillock: During the financial crisis, we made a lot of hard choices, restructured our business, and came out of it a stronger company. One was the working capital program, another was we put stock in our pension plans instead of payment in cash. That worked out well for our employees; when we did it, the stock was at $22 per share, and now it’s over $70. Our plans are well funded.
What do you still want to accomplish?
Drillock: We’re selling our coating-resins business, which makes up approximately half of Cytec’s revenues. We’re doing that so we can put focus on our growth segments, which consist of aerospace and industrial materials, as well as mining chemicals. They have good secular trends, high margins, and will allow us to provide good returns to our shareholders.
What advice do you give to the people working for you?
Drillock: First, you can’t underestimate the importance of having a good support team, and you can’t be afraid to empower them and delegate to them. So we’ve strived to transform our finance people to be more focused on the business while maintaining good internal controls. I tell them to remember a lot of what they do is about relationships. You can’t sit behind your desk and issue reports; you have to get out there and experience the business.
What advice would you give your younger self, if you could?
Drillock: Believe in yourself. Don’t underestimate the necessity of planning well. Speak with confidence. And remember, your career won’t progress in a straight line.