In the words of Brian Downs, Shift4 Payments is a rocket ship. The integrated payments and commerce technology company has processed billions of transactions for its massive customer base since its 1999 founding in the garage of then-sixteen-year-old Jared Isaacman. The company has acquired thirteen companies in an effort to create a seamless end-to-end payment system, gone public, and even sponsored a seat on last year’s Inspiration4 mission, the first all-civilian mission to orbit, commanded by its company founder, literally, to raise money for St. Jude’s Hospital.
The kind of exponential growth and evolution required by Shift4 seems like it would have blown through executives in its tenure. The rapidity of pace and stretching required by even the most agile of business practitioners seems like it would be too much for any person to manage.
Enter the seventeen-year tenure of Downs, who is currently senior vice president of finance and treasury. The executive has grown up at Shift4 in more ways than one. The company that was founded by his friend since middle school also became his first employer straight out of Penn State. The finance operations and procedures that Downs helped to employ early on have grown in scope and framework, but his fingerprints are all over the success of Shift4.
“So much has changed since we were using Quickbooks,” Downs says. “I’ve just also tried to build for growth here, and I’ve had the chance to do just about everything someone in my position would hope for in a career.”
Downs is only thirty-nine, and he’s absolutely correct. Whatever special skill set can be expected of a high-performing executive officer, Downs has built it by doing it. It’s an imperative distinction. Downs didn’t land an established position that needed simple oversight and maintenance. For every herculean leap Shift4 has made, Downs has helped build the road map to get there.
The most shining example of Downs’s evolution as a senior financial leader is Shift4’s 2020 initial public offering (IPO). The SVP is quick to point out that an IPO requires far more than a single contributor, but his contributions cannot be overlooked. Downs owned the financial model build and was a major contributor to SOX readiness, analyst presentations, revenue recognition and segment memos, and management discussion and analysis work.
“The auditing we had to undergo using the PCAOB [Public Company Accounting Oversight Board] standards was new for us as a private company and really hit our finance teams hard,” Downs recalls. “My team and I really worked to assist the process. It was all-hands-on-deck in virtually every way.”
At the same time, the accounting team was still implementing elements of Oracle that would aid future financial disclosures. The SVP and his team leveraged their Vena Solutions planning and budgeting tool to help aid the transition and act as a check and balance to make sure finance and accounting were on the same page.
Those additional checks and balances, the SVP says, are imperative for a private company going public. “When you become an operator in a public company, the lights are a little brighter and the stakes are obviously a little higher,” Downs explains. “When it comes to a minor mistake or error [in reporting], you just have to treat those issues as intolerable.”
The SVP is incredibly proud of his team and says the caliber of work across the board has matched the demands of a public company. The new depth and management reporting infrastructure in the post-IPO life makes many new demands, but Downs says he’s gotten to go through a process that very few encounter in their whole careers before the age of forty.
“My success here isn’t just mine,” Downs says. “Out of everything I’ve had the opportunity to do, building the team that helped take us public is probably the most meaningful.”
Going public is the dream, but it’s almost just a byproduct of all the smaller successes that Downs has aided: securing Shift4’s first true private equity sponsor in 2016 in Searchlight Capital, helping cement Shift4’s status as a true end-to-end payment solutions company through multiple mergers, and continuing to build infrastructure that will serve the company long after his tenure ends.
It seems like Downs has already done it all, but there is still more to accomplish. He has amassed every experience at every step of Shift4’s growth, and Downs is eager to keep building toward something bigger, whatever that may be.
Put Him In, Coach
Brian Downs has a talent for team-building that isn’t just confined to Shift4 Payments. The lifelong athlete now acts as coach for some of his children’s athletics, while still staying active on his own. Downs was a player/manager with the Telford Mariners, a baseball team in the Bux-Mont Men’s Adult Baseball League. After his move to Florida, he quickly earned a roster spot with the Jacksonville MABL Angels.
“Finding competitive baseball again has been one of my favorite things in my life,” Downs says. He may not be turning double plays in the infield anymore, but the thirty-nine-year-old can still run down a ball in center field right quick.