2014 CFO Awards: Lori Felando, St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery

Chief financial officer8440 St. Helena Hwy., Rutherford 94573; 707-963-4507; stsupery.com

Employees: 100

Professional background: Certified public accountant

Education: B.A., economics, University of California, Los Angeles; MBA, Thunderbird School of Global Management

Age: 50

I am a certified public accountant with eight years of public-accounting experience. In my 13 years of wine industry experience, I served as the controller for Domaine Carneros and St. Francis Winery as well as direct-to-consumer finance manager for Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines.

[caption id="attachment_96398" align="alignleft" width="259"] Lori Felando[/caption]

I also currently serve as the chair of Women for Wine Sense's Financial Roundtable and on the planning committee for the California Society of Certified Public Accountants (CalCPA) Wine Industry Conference.

What do you see as the essential role of a financial leader in the current environment?: A financial leader's role should not be limited to providing financial information to a company's CEO and board. It's critical that a chief financial officer ensures the financial information being provided is accurate in order to meet the company's strategic goals and objectives.

CFOs need their hands in every aspect of operations and must work well with all levels of management to understand how financial data is flowing and how systems are being used to gather data to ensure the integrity of the financial statements. A CFO needs to bridge the gap between operations and finance and be able to translate what is being done into how it should be reported.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry?: The number of wine brands continues to increase, along with the number of imports, while the number of distributors continues to decrease. That makes the job of selling wine more and more challenging. Social media, alternative wine packaging and increased consumption by a younger demographic have also changed how the industry sells wine.

Tell us about the particular challenges and opportunities your organization has met in the recent past?: The Great Recession certainly slowed down wine sales which meant growing inventory and reduced earnings. Instead of reducing prices, which would have affected the brand image, alternative markets and channels were used to deplete inventory.

We are probably better off now than we were before the recession, due to the fact that we held firm to our strategic goals, even through a difficult period.

What advice would you give to young emerging financial leaders?: Don't just sit behind your desk and crunch numbers. Meet with managers across operations and learn what they do and how what they do flows into the financials. Taking the time to meet with people face to face often gets things done faster, as you can get a lot more information on a topic in person than you can over email.

Be adaptable to change and sharpen your multitasking skills. Network and be yourself. You can act with integrity and transparency without sacrificing advancement.

Become the company expert on the various software solutions and technology you use. Think outside the box as to how software and technology can be used to improve efficiency within the organization.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment?: Don't make any shortsighted decisions that may result in a quick buck but could negatively affect your brand. When inventory is building, find alternative solutions and markets instead of making price cuts in your traditional channels.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years?: To stay competitive, we need to stay current with changing technologies. As we transition to cloud computing, BYOD (bring your own device) environments, business mobile apps and increased social media, we need to understand what changes we need to make to stay relevant to consumers and how to increase efficiency and productivity.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it?: I was involved in a software implementation with a vendor that was new to the wine industry. Although I was concerned with the fact that they were new to the industry, the company was staffed by people who all previously worked for a large, reputable software company. In addition, they received an excellent reference from the CFO of a very large winery. I hung my hat on that reference.

Unfortunately, the software company promised a lot of features that, in the end, it couldn't deliver. I wish that I trusted my instincts and talked to line managers about how the software was working for them instead of relying on the word of someone who didn't actually use the software.

What is your most memorable business experience?: One of my former direct reports said to me that he "learned more from me in a year of working together than he did in all of his previous work experience combined." To me, that was the highest compliment I could have received.

I don't believe my professional legacy will come from any business transaction. Instead, it will come from developing other people. It is one of the most important things to me and gives me the greatest satisfaction.

What is your greatest business success?: I started at an organization where the finance department was largely ineffective. Bank statements weren't being reconciled, internal financial statements weren't being prepared for management, and there were errors and flaws with invoice coding, fixed assets and inventory costing. By working with the various managers throughout the company to thoroughly understand the business, I was able to turn the department around in less than a year.

By the end of the first year, management was involved in budgeting, reviewing their financial statements and improving the inventory costing. The finance department was then able to close the books for the year in three business days and had zero audit adjustments.

The experience instilled in me a core belief that defines how I work today as a CFO. It's absolutely critical to work with every department within a company to ensure precise financial statements that allow the CEO and board to accurately measure success towards strategic goals and initiatives.

What was your toughest business decision?: The toughest thing for me has always been layoffs. It will always be difficult to make these decisions. We can understand from a business perspective what is necessary, but there will always be an emotional, human component too.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?: I spent two years overseas, including a seven-month solo backpacking trip through Southeast Asia, where I trekked in the Himalayas, rode an elephant and ventured into the Golden Triangle.

Most admired businessperson outside the company: Steve Jobs

Current reading: Re-reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Most want to meet: Jon Stewart

Stress-relievers: Walking, yoga and massages

Favorite activities outside work: Traveling

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