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Members Spotlight: Glenn Hopper Interview

July 2, 2024 / 08:19 / E18

In this episode, we chat with Glenn Hopper, an instructor at both Duke University and CFI, author, and CFO. Glenn’s book, “Deep Finance: Corporate Finance in the Information Age,” solidified his position as a thought leader on the impact of AI on finance roles.

In our conversation, Glenn shares his unconventional path to finance, starting as a journalist in the Navy, transitioning to marketing, and ultimately becoming a successful CFO working in a variety of organizations.

He shares insights on his career progression, emphasizing the importance of tech and data in his finance roles. We discuss his work in generative AI, its impact on finance, and the future of AI in FP&A. Glenn also offers advice for aspiring finance professionals, stressing the need to understand basic accounting and data science.

Tune in for valuable insights from a seasoned finance leader!


Anna Talerico (00:13)
Welcome to CFI Member Spotlight. And I am Anna Talerico, your host today, thrilled to be with Glenn Hopper, man who does everything. We have so much to cover today. I feel like the CFI member part is just a tiny, tiny part of it because you are an instructor in executive education at Duke that just started that you’ve been at CFO for 15 years. You are a CFI instructor now.

We met through, you know, you’re doing the FMVA, but now you’re a CFI instructor. You’ve written a book about AI and finance. You are the host of one of our favorite podcasts, FP &A Today. So Glenn, glad you’re here and truly there is nothing you don’t do.

Glenn Hopper (00:58)
I’m very glad to be here and for some for some reason, you just going through that list made me very tired. I don’t.

Anna Talerico (01:04)
Exactly. But you don’t do asleep that we know. Well, I want to chat a little bit about your career progression because you know, people, especially starting out in their career or thinking about career switches or thinking about where they might want to go next in their finance career, love to hear the stories about people and sort of their journey. And I really want to spend a little bit of time on that. And then we’ve got to spend some time at the end hearing about all the things you’re doing now. But

why don’t you take us back to some of your first roles in finance? How did you decide to get into finance? Did you stumble into it? Did you always know? And what were some of those first roles like?

Glenn Hopper (01:40)
Yeah. So I’m old. So this would take me forever to go through everything. So I’ll go, I’ll, I’ll hit the highlights. And first off, I guess my origin story in finance is probably not conventional. My first professional career was as a journalist and I was a journalist in the Navy for five years. and then I got married and realized I’d like to do something that gets paid a little better than journalism. So I went and got my, MBA.

Anna Talerico (01:41)
Thank you.

Glenn Hopper (02:09)
And out of my MBNA or MBA out of my MBA, I thought I was going to be working in marketing because I had the sort of the PR and the writing background and I liked marketing. Got into marketing. I was a product manager for a really cool product back in the, this was the late nineties, early two thousands. It was a tool called the web architect. So it was basically like WordPress, but this was in the late nineties. So it was a template-driven website creator a little bit ahead of its time. We didn’t, we never got the

traction that we wanted, but I thought it was really cool. But because we never got the traction we wanted, I never got the budget that I wanted. So I started applying those newly minted MBA skills and asking for budgets and trying to find ways that I could get projects approved. And in doing so I became the de facto budgeting person for marketing and got more and more involved in the finance. And then weirdly the COO of that company was a telecom company

poached me from marketing to be his personal finance guy. So I came outside of finance was my first foray into finance and accounting. And that actually was pretty interesting because I didn’t report up to the CFO. I represented the other departments and asking them, you know, asking finance and accounting to do things to give me access to systems. So let me do reporting. I had to overcome a lot of challenges that have stayed with me through my whole.

So anyway, all that said, I didn’t come up through the typical like CPA and audit for your audience. I mean, I came up through financial planning and analysis and kind of rev ops and all that. So, and also BI was incorporated really early in my career. So I was, I sort of had finance and tech linked pretty early and use of data. And so I anyway, moved through that, did that for about seven years and then

moved to a much smaller company in the startup space where I had my first CFO position and then spent 15 years as a CFO at various companies. But always, I’m not the best accountant, but I love the financial planning and analysis work. So that’s always been my primary focus.

Anna Talerico (04:19)
Yeah, you know what’s funny about that story too is the more of these podcasts I’m doing, the more I find people don’t always come in through a traditional path. In fact, I would say, you know, most of the conversations I have are people that kind of come into the role through different avenues. And I think that’s probably a misconception that people have is that if you’re in finance, you know, you’re just like through and through finance, but so many finance leaders like you

are so well-rounded, right? They have so much business acumen, they understand the different parts of the business. In your case, you know, even just coming in through marketing and to COO and all the different departments, like, I feel like today’s CFO, that’s what you need to succeed, right? It’s a real understanding of the whole business.

Glenn Hopper (05:02)
Yeah, I mean, think about it. It’s, you know, the phrase business partnering. When I first started out, that wasn’t anything anybody said, and that’s becoming more and more common. And it really is in finance, you need to get out of that ivory tower of finance and go out and be, you know, understand what the company’s doing. You can’t just be, you know, maybe 20 years ago, your finance career could be, I have very deep knowledge in finance and accounting. I don’t care what

the sprockets and cogs we’re using are, I’m just the finance guy, but now it’s being embedded with those teams and that whole business partnering thing. So it does help, I think, to have that rounded background.

Anna Talerico (05:38)
It really does, it really does. And even at CFI on a small scale, when I’m making a business decision, the first stop I make is finance, even if it’s a business decision, not about numbers, right? It’s like, that’s kind of the first thing for me to do is bounce it off of them and the FP &A team, who I feel like I could, you know, just, they walk on water. I don’t do, I don’t move without them, you know? So you spend about 15 years as a CFO in startups and different types of companies.

And then what after that? So tell me a little bit about what did you do after your official CFO inside of, you know, operating a company.

Glenn Hopper (06:14)
Yeah. So I sort of carved out this niche where I said, you know, I was typically the first CFO in a company. So right around series a VC backed or a couple of private equity companies in there. And I really, my pitch was I’m going to come in, help you put on your big boy accounting pants, help you, set up FP and a, and we’re going to be able to report like a bigger company because to me it’s always been

the company can be running really, really well, but if you can’t report on it, you don’t know what your KPIs are, what your metrics are, and you can’t consistently report on them, then investors, banks, whoever you’re talking to, or if you’re looking to do a sale, no one’s gonna take you seriously because they’re gonna be nervous. If you can’t survive due diligence, you’re not gonna raise money or go through a sale. So I had this sort of lather, rinse, repeat method where I would come in, we would get some…

you know, controls and everything we need around setting up FP &A and be able to communicate our story, which that’s what we as FP &A people do is a big part of it. We’re the storytellers. So be able to show our results to investors or whomever. So when I moved into private equity companies, I had pretty short 10 years at most of them, because I would come in, get them set up, and then we’d sell or they’d raise money and, or, you know, get, be involved in a roll up. So did that all the way until,

about, I guess about a year and a half or so ago. And you know, the VC market was kind of dry drying up then. And I decided to, I was going to take a break from going to startups just because it wasn’t the best startup environment then got into consulting where I was doing fractional CFO services, got a lot of experience with ERPs. So

a big part of my consulting ended up being ERP implementation, software selections, and that’s all part of building out FP &A. So since I’ve moved into consulting, I still have clients where I’m a fractional CFO or an interim CFO, and I’m doing traditional stuff, but most of my focus has been on the tech side. And that’s rolled into what I’m doing right now. We’re standing up, I’m a big AI dork, so we’re…

we’re doing a lot with AI and we’re actually trying to productize some of the things that we’re doing for automation and not just AI, but I am incorporating generative AI into some of my first actual products that are ready for prime time with customers.

Anna Talerico (08:48)
Yeah, so it’s so exciting. This is the time you mentioned two themes in your career that I want to just touch on tech and data, which again, go back to you know, how you can’t really be a successful finance leader, I feel like without deep tentacles into both of those things. And that’s kind of been with you all along. Tell us a little bit about, you know, how you view

data because it’s not just the finance data that you have to have access to and understand, right? Like how do you view where data sits today and like the modern finance function and finance leadership role.

Glenn Hopper (09:25)
It’s, you know, it’s, as long as I’ve been doing this, it’s been really exciting to watch how the field has changed. it used to be, if you’re the finance guy and you’re going over to the sales team and telling them you want to see their pipeline and see the data that’s coming in from that, they’re like, what do you get out of my yard? You know, what are you, what are you doing here? But now with the business partnering, we talked about and everything that now it’s the expectation is if you’re going to be able to accurately forecast.

And if you’re going to be presenting as a unified front to board or investors or whatever it is, a sales forecast, then certainly FP &A needs to be involved. And with this business partnering, it’s been much easier to do that. So, you know, rather than have sales and marketing saying this is what our sales forecast is and finance maybe with, well, we don’t really believe that we’re going to do something different. Now you work together and come up with it. And I think for me, it’s all about.

that first level of data maturity is come up with a data lexicon, come up with a single source of truth, understand, have everybody, I’m just throwing metaphors out like crazy, but everybody’s singing from the same sheet of music where if we say this is our DSO or our data sales outstanding site, you know, everybody needs to agree with and understand and report the same way. So consistency in the reporting and then knocking down those data silos

and being able to, and also I think that finance really needs to own all the KPIs for the company. Because if you think about it, finance is, you know, if we’re the objective reporters of the financial status of the company, we don’t necessarily have a dog in the fight with the other departments. We’re not gonna create metrics that artificially, you know, show how the other companies look. So I think we’re that sort of, you know, sort of the Socratic observer in the company where,

we’re not trying to defend anyone or what we’re just reporting the numbers. So I do think that, I don’t, you don’t even have to necessarily have a, a sophisticated data warehouse or, or data lake or whatever, as long as you know where your data is, which data is official and how to use it. And it’s, to me, it all incorporates into FP&A because the more correlation you can find between whether it’s number of customer service calls versus churn or the number of

you know, one prospects from the pipeline or whatever, it all rolls into more accurate forecasting. And I think people are under, as the use of data, not just in finance and accounting, but across entire business spectrum, as that’s gotten more that people understand the value of it, it’s gotten easier to share data across departments.

Anna Talerico (12:13)
Yeah, but still so challenging for some companies to have that same lexicon. Everybody’s using the same definitions and the same source of truth. It’s just even in the most kind of sophisticated companies, that’s a challenge. And I think it just requires that like rigorous consistency, right? And just in all is like reminding everybody of the terms and the definitions and the sources of truth. You said something too, though, that I think also a lot of people don’t realize is finance’s role as

the objective, you know, Socratic force. I was doing a podcast with somebody that came up through FP &A and I was talking about that because even like at CFI, when we are trying to investigate something, what’s going on, looking at root cause, in my role, I’m hearing from a lot of different parts of the business and different views that they have and different data sources. And it’s, I, it’s always, I’m going back to our FP &A team to be, you know, cutting through all of that. And it’s like them that gives me,

the really clear view of all of the noise of all the different departments kind of try to solve something or look into something. And I just think maybe people don’t realize how true that is, is that you are the objective kind of holders of truth. Yeah.

Glenn Hopper (13:28)
Yeah. So I, I actually interviewed, a guy, CFO for my podcast, FB and a today, a couple of weeks ago. And he said something that I loved because as a former journalist, I thought, how did I not come up with this? But he said that in FP and a, you need to,

think of yourself as an investigative reporter, always why, why, why. And so it’s real. And then I had another guest say, ask why five times or whatever, but that’s the kind of mindset and thinking. So, it’s a right brain, left brain thing. You have to understand, you have to be good at the math and logic of it, but you also have to have that sort of

intuition and ability to drive to get to the truth and then to be able to communicate that. So it’s an exciting time because there is so much data and because I feel like our roles are expanding and we’re gaining more traction and foothold in organizations. And I think that’s, obviously I think that’s for the good.

Anna Talerico (14:26)
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It is. It’s a great time to be in finance. I was on a webinar a year ago, and one of the panelists said, you know, finance is sexy. And it just stuck with me because nobody thinks of it like that. Right. But if you’re living it, you know it, you know, it’s true. You are in every part of the business. And yeah, I think it’s I love that phrase. And it’s not untrue. so tech, that’s the other theme for you.

and even now leading into, we gotta spend a few minutes on AI as well, but what role has tech and your understanding of tech and your focus on tech played in your career?

Glenn Hopper (15:04)
Yeah, so to me, I don’t know. I mean, I was writing in basic programming when I was, I’m a terrible coder, I’m not selling myself as a coder. I know enough to really break things, but I’ve always been interested in programming in the dev side. And I think because of that, I’ve had maybe, because of that curiosity, I’ve had more of a…

an ability to interact with the developers and the tech people. And really from early in my career, especially, so I started out in telecom. I had a huge team of BI people. I had a crystal report writers back in the day, SQL people, and just a great team that I was able to learn from. And then I left that, I had like 30 something people reporting to me when I was in telecom, left that to a private equity backed, actually it was a car wash business where I had,

a pseudo controller and an, you know, like a AP, payroll clerk or whatever. And then me, and we were trying to raise money and we were, leveraging up at that point and everything. And I, I knew the level of reporting that I wanted, but I didn’t have any people to do it. So I could either work a hundred hour weeks or figure out ways to automate things. So very early in my career, I learned the more we can automate, the more we can use this data and, and.

make things more efficient, the better our reporting is going to be. And I ended up having a really good exit from that business. And I sort of, that’s how I started taking that model and using it over and over. So sometimes, and back then you had to build a lot more, but now there’s so many SAS tools out there. There’s so much off the shelf that can automate things. And it’s just, when you see the amount of manual work people are doing before you do a good tech implementation, it could be a full ERP or it could be some kind of just

bolting on other SaaS products, but seeing the other side and when whatever resources you have, you know, we never have enough resources, but the ability to get meaningful work out of the few people that you have is much more significant. And so, you know, I’ve been an evangelist for tech since when my first finance role in 2002 or whatever. So yeah.

Anna Talerico (17:21)
Yeah, and I think in finance more than almost any other function, it’s truly where you can take a five day process or a two day process and turn it into minutes and hours, right? Like it’s rare to have tech have that much of an impact on a function and a role and the things that we, you know, in finance have to do every month or on a quarterly basis and to be able to kind of transform them so quickly with the right tech implemented the right way.

Glenn Hopper (17:46)
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s, you know, and I’m still working on even at event is where I am now we’re doing some internal projects to reduce our order to cash cycle, to look at other cycles and to take people out of that. You know, because if you have inefficient processes that are very manual, yes, they take time, but there’s also the potential for error. And if you can automate and take out that, you know, risk that somebody is going to fat finger something or that do something incorrectly or not do something at all that.

Anna Talerico (18:12)

Glenn Hopper (18:15)
That makes it, you know, not only are we reducing our DSO, but we’re also getting much more efficient work. And the people who were having to do the data entering are now adding value in other ways to the business.

Anna Talerico (18:29)
Exactly, and they can think and pick their head up and look across the business, absolutely. So you mentioned Aventus, which is a great segue for us to just chat really quickly about all the things you have your hands in now. You have got so much going on and I want to make sure everybody knows where to find you. And again, can’t say enough about FP&A Today, one of our favorite podcasts here at CFI.

Let’s talk a little bit about all the things you’re doing and then I want to hit on your two CFI courses and then I want to talk a little bit about you getting your FMVA which is kind of how we first got connected but just run us through all the things you’ve got going on right now.

Glenn Hopper (19:05)
Yeah, my main thing I’ve got going right now, which I’m really, really excited about is I’ve, you know, when you, when you talk a lot about new technology or whatever, it’s easy to just be a, an orator and a pedantic, whatever, where you’re just talking about these things. And, you know, it’s in the AI space. That’s really all we could do. We’re very early. This is a very nascent technology. But.

through all the work and the sort of experiment and proof of concept things I’ve been doing over the last year and a half. Well, that’s just on the generative AI side. Obviously I was using, I wrote the book on machine learning and a couple of years ago using machine learning and finance. So I’ve been interested in this for a while, but gen AI is really everyone’s interest. It’s all, we’re at the peak of the Gartner hype cycle around that. So I’ve been talking about it. I’ve been building proof of concept tools for FP&A, trying to automate more and more of the FP&A function.

But now at Eventus is we’re standing up a lab where I’m actually going to be productizing some of this stuff and we’re going to be able to roll it out. It’s gotten to a point where we’ve figured out ways around some of the common pitfalls with, using generative AI, you know, hallucinations and trust of data and bias and all that. So we’re, aggressively moving forward with being able to productize some of this. So that’s, that that’s the sort of cutting edge frontier stuff that I’m doing, but I’m also really an evangelist about

this and I’m working with CFI doing these courses and I do, you know, the FMVA was so valuable to me. We’ll talk about that in a minute, but I think it’s so important for people in finance and accounting right now and really across all professions, but we have to reskill and upskill. We have to understand how to use this. We cannot ignore it. It’s not going anywhere. And like I said, I’m old. I’ve seen a lot of tech. This is

This tech is moving faster than anything we’ve done before. So I really am passionate about, I do a lot of public speaking and it’s a lot of webinars, a lot of courses. And, you know, at some point it seems like this Glenn guy must really like to hear himself talk, but it’s, I’m adamant that we have to learn this. So I’m trying to find platforms and places where I can get this message across. So I’m gonna be teaching a course

at Duke or being a guest lecturer for using AI and finance. I’m working with CFI on the courses. I have the FP&A Today podcast. I work with the chief executive group and CFO leadership council where I’m running a community where we’re helping people to get up to speed on AI. And I continue to do a lot of public speaking. Next week I have two conferences I’m going to where I’m talking about this. So.

It’s a busy time, but I think that it’s the right time to really be putting a lot of focus on the use of AI in FP&A. Because I think we’re going to adapt or we’re going to get left behind by it.

Anna Talerico (22:01)
Thank you.

That’s right. And thank goodness you are using the platform to just speak about it because that’s actually how we got connected. It got about maybe a year or a year and a half ago, there was a panel about AI. I was thinking about attending. So I was like, who are these speakers? I saw you, saw that you were based in Tennessee like I am. So I connected and we connected on LinkedIn and you said, Hey, I have my FMVA

which is our kind of our key designation at CFI, which was so fun to meet somebody that had their FMVA. And so we just connected. And then as we were thinking about our AI curriculum, I said, I know the guy for this. So you’ve done, you did leveraging generative AI for financial analysis already. That’s out, came out here. It just, I think it was in April. And then you’ve got scenario analysis and AI underway.

But let’s just talk a little bit about FMVA because how fun for me to just randomly connect with somebody who got it. And yeah, tell me a little bit about when did you get it? Why did you get it? You know, and just share a little bit more about that.

Glenn Hopper (23:16)
Yes, I don’t know how I’d be interested to see where people are in their career when they do the FMVA because when I decided to do it, I’d already been a CFO for over a decade, but here’s why I did it. It had been so long since I, you know, when I started my career, I big team, we would all geek out and talk about all the really cool stuff we could do in Excel. And we’d try to one up each other with, look at this macro, look at this, you know, crazy, you know,

whatever I did in Excel and I realized it’s been a long time since I actually built a model. So I thought, not that I wanted to get, at that point in my career, not that I wanted to spend all my time back buried in spreadsheets, but at the same time, I felt like I was too far removed from the analysts who worked for me. And I thought, I don’t wanna be that old guy in the room who doesn’t know what’s going on and doesn’t know the probing questions to ask or doesn’t understand a model as it’s given to me.

And I’ll tell you, it really, so it had been, so I got my FMVA in 2020 and it had been a few years and it had been a really long time since I worked with a bunch of people with Excel. And I just, I loved the way the courses were set up and that way that it just, you went really deep in and understood things. And the templates were incredible that were included, that we worked on. And it really, I would,

The unexpected benefit of that is because it got me back into sort of the complications of building a three statement model and you know, you’ve got where you’re going to plug something versus, you know, stuff rolling over and having stuff automatically update through the model. But it made me understand or it reeducated me on sort of the connections between the models. And so by having that level of understanding when I, it gave me a new,

refreshed view of how to look at the sort of financial planning. And, you know, as a CFO, it’s like, you know, we need to get, this needs to be our cashflow, this needs to be our balance sheet, you know, whatever is going on. And it really, it was a very good thing for me, because I think, you know, it would have been awesome at the beginning of my career, but at the same time, as I’d moved away from it, it was like a perfect refresher

Anna Talerico (25:18)

Glenn Hopper (25:39)
coming back in 2020. So yeah, really, really valuable certification.

Anna Talerico (25:43)
I love it. And I’m glad because again, that’s how we got connected. And the rest is history. We’re so lucky to have you at CFI. It’s funny what you said about, you know, curious the ages and the experience level of people who take it because it’s such a wide swath. I mean, we have so many students taking it or people fresh out of school, but I had on the podcast the other day, a CFO who took it after he was a CFO. So it’s such a big, you know, wide swath of people, which I love, you know, whether it’s

I think maybe the core is people like you who are curious and lifelong learners. I mean, all the things you’re doing are really, you know, come from this foundation of being curious, being an explorer, and being a lifelong learner where you’re just kind of always doing things and having your hands in new things. Yeah.

Glenn Hopper (26:28)
Yeah, that’s great. That makes sense. Yeah.

Anna Talerico (26:30)
Yeah, so two rapid fire questions before we’re done. First one is, I have to ask this one, five years from now, generative AI, what role is it playing and maybe specifically in FP&A.

Glenn Hopper (26:45)
So I think that the way most people are going to see generative AI, the way they’re going to experience it, it’s not going to be that they build out custom, they’re not going to have, I’m thinking SMBs in particular. Now, enterprise companies certainly will be building out their own stuff, but the way most people are going to interact with generative AI is it’s going to be built into everything from…

your reporting tools to your ERPs. And it’s the biggest impact it’s going to have is I like to think of it as democratization of data science. So we’ve been talking about democratization of data forever, but data science was an exclusive club where, you know, if you don’t know Python, SQL or whatever the language and having that background, you can’t join the club. But now with generative AI, you can use

your English or your natural spoken language to interact and to do the same things that you used to have to know how to use Python to do. So I think about, you know, dashboards are great and we’ve companies love building out their dashboards with all their KPIs and metrics that you can see and you can go and click on them and get more detail. But still today, if you want something that is not a canned report that’s included in that dashboard, you may have to put in a report request with the BI group or whatever. But.

with generative AI and with linked data and an ability to interact with that data, suddenly you have a whole new dimension to your dashboards. And what we’re already seeing with generative AI, it’s not, and this is one thing, a paradigm shift I want people to have is we think about all software as I tell it rule -based things to do, and then it goes and does them. And then that’s it. But with generative AI, you can ask for recommendations. It’s doing, you have to

think differently about how to use this software. So I think the way most people will see it will be in they won’t have to build their own large language model or applications because it’ll be brought to us by the software providers. And I see that easily in the next five years.

Anna Talerico (28:54)
Which is so exciting. Yeah, you were seeing it in Martech now, like with HubSpot and some of the things it’s doing where you can conversationally be asking for reports or insights even. It’s super exciting. So the only other rapid fire question I have for you is, what advice would you give to somebody who’s starting out in their career and wants to grow into a CFO, let’s say, and they’re just getting started. What kind of advice would you give to them?

Glenn Hopper (29:21)
Yeah, it’s, I think that right now, I mean, I, you know, I’ve just, I’ve got to say, even though I didn’t come up this route, having an understanding of the basic accounting and understanding gap or IRF RS or that is, that’s table stakes. the finance route, you know, we are seeing more and more people come up to CFO, not through the CPA audit route, but through the FP&A side. And I think you have to have the expertise.

Anna Talerico (29:38)

Glenn Hopper (29:51)
in finance, I mean, so that you know the difference between EBITDA and net income or operating income and net income, or we know the fundamentals of the job, but because the importance of and use of data has gotten so much more important lately, I really think that early in your career, understanding analytics and BI and data science is very important because there’s going to be…

you know, there’s, we’re already kind of drowning in data, but there’s only going to be more and more, you know, data coming in from internal sources, external sources, internet of things, you know, who knows where all it’s going to be coming from. So the more you’re able to use that data to drive your, your modeling and your decision -making the better. So understanding if you had to understand, you know, the basics of gap now understanding sort of the basics of, what, you know, of

predictive analytics and prescriptive analytics and understanding how to apply all the data science to finance is going to be very important.

Anna Talerico (30:54)
Yeah, great advice and a great conversation, Glenn. Thank you so much for being a guest and for having your FMVA and being a CFI instructor. And we’re just so glad to have you part of the CFI, friends and family.

Glenn Hopper (31:08)
Thank you, Anna, I really enjoyed it.

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