Janet (Attaway) Fletcher of San Rafael’s Canal Alliance wins one of North Bay Business Journal’s 2017 North Bay CFO Awards.
Professional background: Non-profits, entertainment, video gaming, market research, publishing and risk assessment
Education: Bachelor of Science
What do you see as the essential role of a financial leader in the current environment?
A good financial leader has to be at the intersection of management and operations. You have to know enough about operations to provide adequate financial oversight and risk assessment for all activities of the organization, not just those of the business office.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your industry?
The non-profit sector is beginning to understand that non-profit agencies must operate with a net surplus. Agencies can’t survive long at break-even and without cash reserves. Our funders are more engaged and committed, knowing that the organization is working to ensure that they are making investments in a more financially secure and sustainable operation.
Tell us about the particular challenges and opportunities your organization has met in the recent past.
When I joined Canal Alliance, the organization was going through a difficult time. The agency had no reserves, was running at a loss, and had recently had to rapidly downsize, which is always a very painful and demoralizing process. However, doing so right-sized the organization. By holding fast on expenses, engaging in a robust planning process, and ensuring a cash reserve requirement Canal Alliance is now able to operate at a surplus and have cash reserves of more than three months’ operating expenses
What advice would you give to young emerging financial leaders?
My only advice is to get out of the business office. To bring value to your role, you must understand the operational side of your organization and to do that, you have to meet with operations/program staff and listen closely to their challenges and their aspirations for the business.
What’s the best advice for weathering today’s economic environment?
Be religious about building cash reserves and know that risk assessment is a big part of a CFO’s job. You are the voice of reason when enthusiasm obscures the risks in any new venture.
How do you think your business will change in the next five years?
Canal Alliance will continue to grow and also to refine our mission and our programs. The current environment in Washington puts an emphasis on Immigration Legal Services, so that practice will definitely grow larger at our agency. At the same time, we maintain our commitment to ensuring that our education and family resource programs are adequately funded to meet the need for those services in the immigrant community
What is a decision you wish you hadn’t made? What did you learn from it?
I was once hired by some investors to examine the finances and to create accurate financial statements for a company in which they wanted to invest. Once in, I realized quickly that the company was not honest in its reporting. The deal fell apart and I learned that I should have done better research on the prospective acquisition and said no to the assignment.
What is your most memorable business experience?
I’ve had so many, but one that really stands out is being hired by Canal Alliance. They hired me in three days from first introduction to offer letter. I was very surprised by how quickly they got me on board.
Janet Fletcher, née Attaway
Chief financial officer
91 Larkspur St., San Rafael 94901