10 questions for Mimecast CFO Peter Campbell

Name: Peter Campbell

Age: 47

Time with company: 5 years

Education: Bachelor of Commerce in accounting from Concordia University in Montreal; graduate degree in accounting from Concordia; Chartered Accountant Designation with the Canadian Order of Chartered Accountants.

Company headquarters: London

Number of countries: Offices in five -- the U.S., South Africa and U.K. are main offices, other offices in the Middle East and offshore

Number of employees total: 260

Number of employees the CFO oversees: 28

About the company: Mimecast provides cloud-based email security, continuity, policy control and archiving. Last year, it ranked fifth on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA ranking of the fastest-growing technology companies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and third in Deloitte's rankings for the U.K.

1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?

My first finance job was at Ernst & Young in their tech group and that was back in the boom days. I did a lot of IPOs and had a lot of public company clients. I moved on to a company in Montreal called SR Telecom, which was a publicly listed company in Canada with 600 people, 200 million in revenue. While I was there, we did an acquisition of Netro, a company out of Palo Alto, California. We did an F3 filing and became listed on Nasdaq. Then I moved off to a smaller public company in Montreal. I was there for a little while, but they called me up at SR Telecom and asked me to take the CFO position, so I moved back there as CFO. At the time, I had a friend who worked for a company called Mimecast and he introduced me to the two founders and we hit it off pretty well. SR was struggling then ... so I moved here in 2006 and I've been here ever since.

2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?

When I was at Ernst & Young, I had a boss called Rod Budd -- he had 30 years in the business and I was just starting out. I was quite a lot more impressionable and less jaded ... Ernst & Young is really a slog, we worked real hard, we worked a lot of long hours. I worked a thousand hours of overtime a year and he worked really hard too. You had a lot of partners who would go off and leave everyone else to do the overtime. One weekend that I was working, my girlfriend -- my wife now -- called me because my dog was having an epileptic fit and she was really upset. He heard my side of the phone call and said, let's go. And he drove me home because I didn't have a car then. He taught me that family always comes first. That created a great deal of loyalty in me for him at the time.

The dog was fine. She was epileptic, however.

3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?

I think the thing for me is that things are changing all the time. CFOs like predictability, but technology is changing, the way people work is changing. ... In particular for us, in a SaaS business, in a cloud business, there's not an established paradigm for that right now. From a finance point of view, you're turning it around like Rubik's cube -- how can I adapt this? There are still a lot of people who look at SaaS like a traditional business, but it's not the same thing. [As a CFO], you're looking at it and figuring out ways to shape something new.

4. What is a good day at work like for you?

A good day for me is when I leave feeling like I've made a difference, that I've helped someone, that I've helped my team that I've provided useful and sound advice that helps us grow the business. That does it for me, that's when I go away feeling like I've earned my pay.

5. How would you characterize your management style?

I'm open, I'm honest, I'm consultative. I say what I think. I sometimes can be described as blunt, I think. I have the perception that more information is less -- I remember reading somewhere about a CEO who had 15 percent of the information to make the decision. I want my team to know what I know to make as well-informed a decision as I would.

6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?

It's slightly difficult to gauge, but I want them to be smart. I can't be constantly going to restart them, I can't be spinning the plates. I need them to be able to go. The finance team is small, so they need to be adaptable. I want them to come to me with problems and solutions, not just problems. I want them to be able to come to their own conclusions, so they can synch with me, so that we can feed each other information, so that we know we're on the same page, so that we can align with what we have to do.

7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?

I don't really have a bunch of set interview questions per se, but I do like to ask them what advice they would give me in managing them because I believe that can provide some insightful information. I also like to ask their references the same question. I also like to get a feel for what a typical day is like at their current organization. We're a fast-moving, dynamic organization. I like to see if that would be a big shift for them. I try to engage them in conversation and feel it out from there. I like to try to develop that conversation to get a feel for what they've done and what they can do.

If people give me stock answers to questions in the interview process then it's not going to happen for us working together. Sometimes people are stressed [at a job interview] and I take that into account, but I like just to develop a comfortable ongoing back and forth. If they can't do that then I know they're not a good fit.

8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?

Mimecast has grown massively since I started here five years ago -- we're talking 7,500 percent growth since I started. In the U.S. alone, we doubled our customer base last year. ... The anchor of a proven product and marketplace is demand. So, you've got to adapt to how you support that growth. I talk to a lot of customers and I think that too many financial organizations focus on control -- a lot like the tail wagging the dog. We have to adapt to support the growth and to support the rest of the organization. The growth we've experienced also brings a lot of opportunity. We've got a lot of dynamic Type A personalities here. Winning and success attract a particular type of person and it creates a really dynamic culture.

A lot of CFOs are really set in their ways. They're also really harried. They have a lot to do and a lot to balance. But you've got to make sure that what you're doing is right for the organization.

9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?

I read on the train on the way home. If I'm early enough [getting home], which isn't that frequent, sadly, then I like to spend time with my kids, because that's the only thing that does it [to unwind]. Everything just kind of sloughs off. [At the time of the interview in early September, Campbell's three children were 4, 2 and 3 months old.]

10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?

Assuming I could do anything I want? I think I'd like to be an astronaut. I've always wanted to go into outer space and my son would think that was really cool.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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