Cindy King first realized her passion for financial services during an internship at a Japanese investment firm in New York City where she learned to “work closely with clients to understand their concerns and develop unique solutions to help them achieve their desired objectives.” As a person who always enjoyed a fast-paced environment and facing down new challenges, financial services presented itself as a dream come true, and King has made a name for herself in the field. Most recently, in 2007, King began her most interesting role yet: as vice president and treasurer for TESSCO Technologies Inc., a leading wireless-communications product supplier based in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Despite technically working on the finance side, King’s role is entirely customer-centric, and she was excited to discuss the value of such a unique financial position.
In previous roles you’ve developed corporate foreign exchange efforts, led an institutional-investment sales team, worked on multibillion-dollar loan syndication, and structured and managed the financing of overseas subsidiaries. If you had to pinpoint it, though, what experience do you feel truly prepared you for the work you do now at TESSCO?
Cindy King: Early in my career, I was given several opportunities to drive new initiatives, often with little background and a relatively small budget. My leadership team strongly believed in the initiatives and was confident I would determine a way to make them successful. I was given complete latitude to select my team, develop a strategic plan, determine my target customers, and appropriately price the products and services. That experience planted an enticing entrepreneurial seed that continues to shape the way I approach all of my challenges, both professionally and personally.
Technically you work on the financial-services side, but a great deal of your focus is on customers. Tell me about how you’re able to focus on clients. How does that take shape?
King: Every aspect of my role at TESSCO is customer-centric. My team’s key objective is to ensure that we are meeting our customers’ needs on the business-side of their relationship with TESSCO. We assist them in establishing a TESSCO account; work with them, if required, to establish a master purchasing agreement; provide them with the appropriate financing to purchase our products; assist them in managing their payables to us and any post sales concerns; and ensure their complete satisfaction with TESSCO.
Generally speaking, how unusual is it for a person in finance to focus solely on clients? Has TESSCO’s notion of the VP of customer transactions and finance role always been customer-centric, or is it unique to you?
King: The role as TESSCO defines it has always been a dual role, and it is abundantly clear to me why this works so well. I have found that many of my colleagues in other companies approach these areas from a different perspective. For example, typically the credit and accounts receivables teams are considered risk-mitigation efforts and are not viewed as an integral function of the business-generation process. At TESSCO, these teams focus on our customers’ needs and work diligently to accomplish them, even if it requires that we provide third-party solutions to meet their objectives. Keeping the customer transactions and finance roles together allows us to develop unique solutions to the evolving needs of our customers. These functions are symbiotic, and together create greater opportunities for both TESSCO and our customers.
What are the challenges of having such a role? What are you up against each day, and what are the rewards?
King: A source of many challenges is serving a wide variety of customers. This means we have customers of different sizes, from different markets, with different financing concerns, and varied experience with financing. These challenges are precisely what make the job so rewarding. No solution solves each of our customers’ needs, and we have the privilege of devising the most appropriate strategy for each customer.
What factors influence the work of TESSCO’s customer transaction team?
King: Both internal and external factors inform the work of our customer transactions and finance team. External factors include macro effects, such as the state of the economy, each market’s credit capacity, interest rates, significant shifts in consumer preferences, M&A activity, the level of bankruptcies in various regions, etc. Internal catalysts include specific strategic customer segments on which TESSCO is focused, new product developments by our roughly 350 manufacturing partners, as well as our own manufactured brand, Ventev Innovations. The critical differentiator is that our customer transactions and finance team supports our customers from their introduction to TESSCO through their own growth, and assists them with all aspects of the financial needs, their contractual requirements, their payables challenges, and their post-sale servicing. This gives us a unique relationship with our customers and serves as valuable insight to assist us in constantly improving our customer service.
Tell me about the value your customer transaction team adds to TESSCO. Why is the work they do so crucial to the overall success of the company?
King: TESSCO has always recognized that our success is directly correlated to the strength of our relationships with our customers. Our CT team helps to strengthen and broaden our relationships beyond the traditional sales-purchaser relationship so often seen at other companies. We develop strong, lasting relationships with our customers’ finance and accounting teams, including the controller, CFO, and often the CEO or owner of the company.
How does a complete understanding of the customer positively impact your abilities as a financial professional?
King: My earliest professional experiences taught me that each customer is unique. In order to develop the best financial alternatives to service our customers, a full understanding of their business challenges, financial strength, approach to their market, and competitive pressures is required. We are constantly listening to our customers to understand what issues are of the most concern, in order to develop financing solutions to appropriately assist them. Without this input, our financing product offering would quickly become irrelevant or obsolete.