When Vito Badalamenti first joined Rhône Group eleven years ago as senior vice president of finance, he immediately faced a major challenge: the resignation of the CFO. Thrust into the top job just a few months into his tenure, he had his hands full. “I consider it the biggest challenge of my career to date,” he says.
Now, he is gratified to report that with a strong team behind him, he has a built a high-quality, responsive, and effective finance organization. “I’m thankful that Rhône’s leadership took a chance to let me build this organization,” Badalamenti says. “I will never forget their generosity, and I work every day to justify it.”
Before he began at Rhône Group, Badalamenti acquired a valuable set of diverse experiences at a series of accounting and investment firms. Though he initially aspired to work in marketing, he began his career in public accounting and worked his way up to a position as audit manager with EY. During his tenure at EY, he led a group of approximately eleven professionals providing consulting and best-practice efforts for start-ups. His extensive experience with start-ups led him to his next venture: a newly formed company called Greenhill & Co., a New York-based investment bank started by Robert Greenhill. He then worked with several other private-equity groups before joining Rhône in 2007.
Not long after becoming CFO, Badalamenti realized that the challenges he faced were actually opportunities. Prior CFOs had built a capable organization, but Badalamenti knew that good wasn’t enough. “I saw a chance to build on the work of my predecessors and create a uniquely valuable finance and accounting team,” he says.
His first step was to focus on quality. “We had been getting good service from some third-party providers, but I felt that getting to great service required moving this work to a motivated internal team,” Badalamenti says.
He set about the task immediately, starting with some key hires, followed by some difficult discussions to terminate many of the third-party relationships. Within a year, he had brought on a new team that included some trusted colleagues he had worked with before as well as some top-quality fund controllers, the first of whom is still working with Badalamenti today. And, he had saved some real money: more than $350,000 in annual service-provider costs.
In addition to quality, Badalamenti focused on systems. He inherited a working infrastructure, but one he realized would not keep up with a fast-growing firm. Addressing this challenge first required understanding the numbers at an obsessively detailed level. Fortunately, Badalamenti was up to the task. “I believe in rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty—really dirty,” he says with a laugh.
Badalamenti knew he would have to be personally involved in migrating to a new general ledger. Working nights and weekends in the trenches with his team enabled him to develop a crystal-clear understanding of the company’s finances—something that pays dividends even today. It also enabled him to forge a strong bond with his team. “There is nothing like a tough, shared experience to foster trust and commitment,” he says.
The final piece of the puzzle was a focus on responsiveness. “In this business, you have two demanding constituencies: your partners and your investors,” Badalamenti says. “And you better pay attention to both,” he says. Early on, he and his team spent time with these constituencies to identify pain points.
The metrics were simple: speed and accuracy. The team responded with a religious focus on both. Today, thanks to these efforts, Badalamenti reports, the team quickly and routinely delivers monthly closes, quarterly summaries, and annual reporting requirements that last year included twenty-nine audits, seventy-six tax returns, and more than 1,500 K1s. “I am truly fortunate to work with the quality individuals on my team,” Badalamenti says. “It’s a real privilege.”
When it comes to his leadership philosophy, Badalamenti stresses the importance of development. In addition to staying close to the details, he works to ensure all team members have a chance to grow and develop. Whether it is professional recertification or on-the-job training, Badalamenti tries to provide real access to learning opportunities. “I also try to disseminate whatever I know to whomever will listen,” he says. “I like to think my teaching style has evolved to an acceptable level, but I’m sure there will always be ways to make it better.”
As for the future, Badalamenti is not resting on prior accomplishments. As he puts it, both the finance field and his own company are changing fast, and they present new demands almost daily. Such demands require constant questioning, constant reexamination, and constant renewal. “There are times when I feel like we are almost back at square one in terms of the task ahead,” he says. “But, frankly, renewal is good, and it keeps things interesting.”
Badalamenti has some advice for new CFOs in situations similar to the one he inherited: “Remember that a finance function is at its core a service organization. So, if you focus on quality, accuracy, and responsiveness, you can’t go wrong.”
Equally important, in his view, is the team. “Build your team, lead with purpose, and put the interests of your colleagues first,” he says. “In time, this approach will earn you respect across the organization—and more broadly with investors and others that depend on you.”
For Badalamenti, that’s his most satisfying accomplishment.
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