Finance Leads Beyond the Bottom Line to Direct Relationships

Here’s how Judi Pulig got her department a seat the table at Yorktel, an Emmy-winning video solutions company

Not too long ago, anyone walking through the cubicle farm of a finance department would have seen a group of accountants poring over spreadsheets. Each employee with his or her head down would be crunching and manipulating numbers before sending the information to the business’s real decision makers—people the finance department would rarely think of and never meet.

Judi Pulig says those days are long gone. Pulig is chief financial officer at Yorktel, an award-winning company known for providing video-based collaboration tools, solutions, and services. As the use of video in private companies and public organizations takes a different shape, Pulig believes that now more than ever, her department has an important role to play in the company’s success. “As CFO, I’m no longer relegated to a strict focus on banking and equity matters,” she says. “I’m taking a strategic role across the entire organization and integrating myself as much as possible to influence our direction based on the important role finance has to play in our future.”

Judi Pulig, Yorktel
Judi Pulig, Yorktel

Pulig is fostering a culture of understanding, in which her associates know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. “I’m not asking anyone to simply put some numbers on paper, I’m asking them to create real relationships with their colleagues and counterparts so they know why costs are a certain way in a certain place. Then they can ask key questions, provide important feedback, and become a true partner to the business,” she says. In building her team, Pulig looks for good communicators who can spot new opportunities and are willing to suggest changes.

A long history with Yorktel helps Pulig get buy-in from other company executives. She earned an accounting degree and went into private accounting before coming to Yorktel in 2000 through an acquisition. She then worked for the subsidiary for three years before moving to the parent side in 2004. Pulig worked her way up through the organization, and stepped in as CFO in 2011.

During those years, she’s taken time to develop important relationships with business leaders, and she leverages those relationships to help move Yorktel forward. “Our partners in business are often in the thick of things, and we can help them approach new opportunities from a fresh perspective,” she says. “They want to compete, and we can tell them if they can do it, and how to do it.” By using data from finance, Yorktel’s leaders determine if they should compete on price. They make decisions about rebate programs. They choose between investing in headcount and pouring resources into development.

Yorktel provides the communication and collaboration solutions that bring its clients’ employees and partners closer together. Those solutions include everything from simple video conferencing systems to full video production services. It’s a competitive market, and one that is changing quickly. Brands like Skype are making complete hardware systems less of a necessity, IT departments are embracing video as a network application instead of an audio-visual add-on, and digital content is finding itself integrated into voice mails, e-mails, presence, and texts. The catchall phrase for this process is “unified communications,” and Pulig says it, as well as telehealth, will likely drive Yorktel forward.

As the industry shifts, finance has an important role to play. “Finance has to stay flexible and creative to allow Yorktel to compete in many different areas,” Pulig says. That’s especially true in the world of telehealth, where hospitals often don’t make payments for 90 to 120 days.

As CFO, Pulig must have transparent conversations with her vendors to set expectations. Since the technology changes so quickly, and customers don’t always want to pay to update systems every eighteen months, she’s also created lease buy-backs and other programs that allow clients to periodically trade in and refresh equipment. For these and other reasons, Pulig puts in extra time to develop close relationships with Yorktel’s clients. “It furthers the relationship as a partner instead of a vendor, keeps them updated, and reduces Yorktel’s risk,” she explains.

In the first quarter of 2015, Yorktel won a ten-year NASA SEWP contract worth tens of billions of dollars. Various departments, including finance and corporate services, made important contributions. “Contract holders in large deals like this want to see a company’s financial stability,” Pulig says. “And we have strong internal structure. We have a good foundation, and if those things aren’t in place, a large, complex deal with a government agency could never work.” With the deal in place, Yorktel is poised to continue its success. As technology continues its rapid evolution, and as the industry continues to adjust, the finance department, with Pulig as its guide,  will help determine the next steps that will guide Yorktel through 2016 and beyond.