Sonoma Land Trust's Paul DeMarco wins North Bay CFO award

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Paul DeMarco of Sonoma Land Trust in Santa Rosa wins one of North Bay Business Journal's CFO awards.

Professional background : 32 years’ experience in non-profit financial management

Education: B.A., Yale University

What do you see as the essential role of a financial leader in the current environment?

The CFO of a nonprofit organization (NPO) has a significantly different role that a for-profit CFO. Our job descriptions usually include HR, risk management, investments and other roles. Of all of those roles, the most important one to me is supporting a workplace culture that encourages excellence, team cohesion, mutual support, diversity, long-term sustainability and integrity

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your industry?

The ongoing electronic revolution has been affecting all phases of NPO operations for more than 30 years.

Tell us about the particular challenges and opportunities your organization has met in the recent past.

The October wildfires affected both the properties we own and the lives of our staff. Our emergency responses reflected the quality and cohesion of our organization. Our staff looked out for each other. We assessed the immediate and longer-term damage to our properties. We immediately began revising a long-term sustainable fire ecology strategy based on current threats and opportunities.

What advice would you give to young emerging financial leaders?

Use your financial data to look ahead, not just to report on what has happened. Strengthen your communication skills.

What’s the best advice for weathering today’s economic environment?

Don’t be lulled by current prosperity. Calculate your external and internal risks, anticipate what can go wrong, and set aside funds to cushion likely economic downturns.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years?

Rising housing costs challenge our ability to recruit and retain staff. Understanding the effects of climate change will affect how we manage our lands. Funding a conservation organization is ever-changing, particularly as to the purposes and levels of government grants.

What is a decision you wish you hadn’t made? What did you learn from it?

Budgeting for 2001 without understanding the risk to revenue of a sudden drop in the fed funds rate. It dropped from 6.0% to 1.75% in that year. I learned that success increases risk, and risk should be dynamically assessed.

What is your most memorable business experience?

Orchestrating all aspects of a seismic retrofit for an historic church in San Francisco after the 1989 earthquake. [The following is optional] Tasks included assessing the need, convincing the board, raising the money, designing the project with professionals, negotiating the contracts, communicating progress to the congregation, and seeing the construction through to completion.

What is your greatest business success?

Helping to create a culture at Sonoma Land Trust that values its staff and enables it to do excellent work.

What was your toughest business decision?

Taking the leap that a larger office and larger staff would be sustainable in the long run. The numbers showed that it was possible; intuition showed us it was likely.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?

Probably the extent to which my interpretation of spiritual principles informs my work.

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