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Careers in Finance: Landon Cortenbach

June 27, 2024 / 08:40 / E17
In this episode of FinPod, join us for a conversation with CFI FMVA holder Landon Cortenbach as he shares his professional journey from aspiring sports agent to experienced CFO.
Landon’s career trajectory spans from public accounting to pivotal roles at renowned companies like Beats by Dre and Magic Leap. He discusses the crucial skills that contributed to his success, his problem-solving approach, and how he navigates the evolving landscape of business intelligence and AI in finance.
Don’t miss this episode, packed with valuable insights and practical advice for aspiring finance leaders, including the skills and characteristics that are required for today’s modern CFOs.


Anna Talerico (00:13)
of careers in finance. And I am here today with Landon Cortenbach which I’m so excited to finally get to do a podcast with you. Welcome Landon.

Landon (00:23)
Thanks for having me, looking forward to it.

Anna Talerico (00:25)
Yeah. So I’m just going to do a really quick how we came to meet each other. And then I want to hear all about your career so far, day in the life, you know, what you’re up to now. But I have to tell the story because I think it’s CFI, a sales rep was reaching out to you because you were an FMVA holder and a CFO. And so the sales rep was reaching out probably to talk about getting your whole team using CFI. And somehow, it came across my radar that you lived in Nashville

as do I. So I reached out to just say hello. We grabbed coffee. I feel like the rest is history because I felt like a fast friendship. Here we are a few years later, and it’s just been so great to get to know you and have a CFO friend in Nashville and a CFI FMBA designation holder too.

Landon (01:19)
Yeah, absolutely. You know that I’m a huge CFI advocate and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you over the last couple of years. So always happy to jump in and do things like this because I love the brand, love what you guys are doing.

Anna Talerico (01:29)
Yeah, appreciate you, appreciate you, thank you. So I have loved learning a bit about your career and just your journey. Not only do we both live in Nashville now, we also both lived in South Florida for a while too, so we’ve got that connection as well. But yeah, I just wanna start with, let’s maybe just start with how did you end up in finance? Like take us back to the beginning of your kind of career journey.

Landon (01:43)
Yeah. Yep.

Sure. Growing up, at least as I got into the second half of high school, so junior, senior year, I was hell-bent on becoming a sports agent. Jerry Maguire was one of my favorite movies. I played sports up through college. It just seemed like one of those things I was destined to do. And as I learned a little bit more about it as I got into college, where I was studying sports management, I realized it maybe not was the greatest fit.

For me, little cut throat, and just one of those things that I think my personality maybe doesn’t jive as well. And kind of at the same time, I was taking my first accounting class, which I was dreading going into it, and for some reason, things just clicked. It was like the world all of a sudden made sense from the lens of finance and accounting. And so I quickly changed my major to become or to get my major in accounting and finance.

I’m at a small private school in Southern California. And to your point, the rest is history.

Anna Talerico (02:56)
Yeah. So that’s interesting because a lot of times when I’m talking to, especially CFOs, there’s this path where they weren’t thinking they were going to go into finance early and then they end up in it. But you, first class or two, it clicked and then you knew what your path was. So when you graduated with your degree in finance and accounting, what was your first role out of college?

Landon (03:06)

Yeah, I worked public accounting out of college for a regional firm out of Southern California. So I was doing audit, which I always like to joke. It’s both the best place to start and the worst place to start. The best because you get pretty broad exposure across businesses and kind of how money moves, which I really love. Bad in the way that you’re out of college, you know very little and your job is to fact check people way smarter than you. And so if you’re not careful, you can develop.

A little bit of arrogance, which I most certainly did, and I’ve spent, you know, the last eight or nine years really trying to unwind that part of my thinking. But nevertheless, really, really grateful that that’s where I started my career because I just set a really great foundation. I got my CPA while I was working public accounting and then later FMVA. But ultimately was a really great place for me to start my finance career.

Anna Talerico (04:12)
So when you were in public accounting those first, you know, early years, what’s a day in the life like? Like what is that role actually like?

Landon (04:20)
Yeah, so it’s either you’re on site at clients handling work or you’re in the office doing prep and finalization work of an audit. And of course, like the simplest way I can explain an audit is you’re going to fact check that what they’re saying per their financials is actually what’s happening. They’re abiding by generally accepted accounting principles. And so for me early in my career, a big part of it was focusing on transaction cycles. So whether that’s cash, AR, AP,

and really digging into the guts of what’s happening there. I wouldn’t say any two days are alike because every customer is slightly different, but you’ve got a lot of tread and true methodologies within the audit world that help you kind of step through and learn the things to look for, how to document. But ultimately a lot of it is you’re a verification for the powers that be.

Right. And it’s an incredibly important function for investors, making sure that companies have their books in order so they can properly evaluate what a company is doing.

Anna Talerico (05:25)
So foundationally for you, as you moved into your next role, what do you think about that role helped you the most like to springboard into the next thing? Like what did you really take away that gave you that great foundation?

Landon (05:39)
Yeah, I think a lot of it was structure. So how to think about tackling a problem or opportunity space. And I think just general know-how within business, but specific from a financial lens. And so because you’re digging into every transaction cycle, there’s very little you’re not getting your hands involved in within a particular company. Which for me, again, coming out of college, I had never run a company. I’d worked for some companies, but I never really cared

about how they ran, right? And so it was a great experience in learning how companies run to then apply that to future things. And of course, having the backdrop of like hardcore financial discipline, understanding generally accepted accounting principles, how money should move, what’s, what’s accepted by law, et cetera. We’re all really good foundational points for me.

Anna Talerico (06:33)
Yeah. So then you leave public accounting. What did you do next?

Landon (06:37)
Yeah, so I moved from Southern California on a whim, no job, with an ex-girlfriend to Tampa, looking back. I’m like, what was I doing? I had no money, no job. And ended up catching on with a consulting organization that was based out of Tampa, Florida. And they were doing kind of a combination of internal controls work, as well as call it interim or fractional accounting manager, controller, etc. work.

And the first client I landed on with was Blumen Brands, which is a massive restaurant organization. They own Outback, Carrabbas, Bonefish, a few others. And I was doing interim accounting as well as controls testing work. And so it was a pretty seamless shift because I was tackling a lot of similar stuff that I was doing in public accounting, just with a slightly different lens where I was more…

client side instead of verification. So doing the work instead of verifying the work, that was really helpful for me. And so I spent about two years there and then ended up having my first kid on the way, couldn’t travel as much. So I took a job for a small public filer out of Clearwater, Florida, doing all their financial reporting. It was a fractional aviation company similar to a NetJez called Avantair

and I worked my way up into the VP controller role, really, like I would tell you by dumb luck, I think a lot of it was, you know, just sinking my teeth into everything they would give me access to and trying my best to add value wherever I could. And probably the thing I’ve built my career on is taking on stuff nobody else wants to do. So if there’s a hard problem to solve and nobody’s raising their hand, that’s usually my trigger to raise my hand and do that thing.

Because it’s typically those areas of discomfort that you’re learning the most and really pushing yourself. Excuse me.

Sorry, good luck.

Anna Talerico (08:38)
So I actually want to stop there for a minute because it’s something that I’ve always, it’s always struck me about you is that you’re so curious and you know so much about the business and I think of you as not just like strategic finance role, but just as a true operator because you’re just across so much. So yeah, let me stop for a minute here because I…

Do you find that about yourself? Right? Do you think of that part of you as just part of your role as a finance leader? Or is it more that you’re curious about business? You feel like you have to know these things to be a really good finance leader? Like just tell me a little bit philosophically about that. Cause that’s always something that stood out to me about you.

Landon (09:30)
Yeah, I think you’re catching me at a moment where I’ve probably gone through a fair amount of introspection on the first half of my career, which I mentioned like starting in public accounting, you can develop a little bit of arrogance, which I certainly did. I was always interested in finance. My mom would tell you as far back as she can remember, I was really motivated by money and not just earning money, but really learning about money, how it moves. Like it was just one of those early fascinations for me.

And so as I kind of got into my career, I learned quite a bit about finance. You know, probably seven years ago, I started to realize that kind of my jaded viewpoint or my, my tunnel vision viewpoint from the lens of finance was actually getting to a point of diminishing returns for the full value that I can add inside of an organization. And so I kind of went on this journey of trying to unwind that and sink my teeth further, further into operations. And a big part of that is like.

You’re looking at a three statement financial set, there’s only so much you can glean from that. And I was really interested in what are the hidden levers that you don’t necessarily see that ultimately impact finance, but it’s just harder to understand unless you’ve sat in a role like that. And so, working my way through my career, a big part of it was also taking on stuff that was outside of my financial comfort zone into operations, technology, and really just developing a love for learning. That was kind of the key turning moment.

For me was it’s less about the chase of money or equity, although those things I would say are important in table stakes and more, are you fulfilled? Are you learning a lot? Are you pushing yourself? And I find that the learning element, so regardless of role for me is the most important thing because that’s how I can determine how to extract the most value for any organization or engagement or whatever it is that I’m working on at that time.

Anna Talerico (11:25)
Yeah, that makes so much sense for sure. So at some point you left what you were doing there in Tampa. What was between that and now I want to talk about your time here at MFH and your role, but what was between like sort of leaving that, was it a volunteer? Yeah.

Landon (11:32)

Yeah, Avantaire. So leave Avantaire, go back to work consulting with the same company I’d worked with for the two years that I worked consulting. They were looking to open a Los Angeles location. They knew I was from there. Originally, they asked if I would go out there and open it. Of course, I said yes. I now had a kid, a wife and wanted to raise my kid or kids around my family. And the first client we landed was Beats by Dre. Within a week, I had an opportunity to join

Beats and I always joke like it’s one of those opportunities. You’re like trying your best not to say yes as quickly as possible. It was like at the peak of their marketing prowess, just an incredible business intoxicating culture. So I work there got to know quite a few really talented finance professionals who took me under their wing one in particular CFO named Scott Henry. I’ll get more to him in a second.

But I was in charge of overseeing global finance functions, specifically on the accounting side, we went through acquisition by Apple. I spent some time running the transition. Had a couple of opportunities at Apple out of Cupertino and Austin. I declined both not because I don’t like Apple. It’s just, it’s a big conglomerate. You’ve got to be an inch wide and a mile deep, which I don’t get a ton of fulfillment in. My wife still gives me crap that I didn’t join Apple, but different conversation.

And so after Beats, after the transition period, I ended up following Scott Henry to South Florida to a small, smart, small startup at the time named Magic Leap, who was doing augmented reality work, building the hardware, the operating system and the app ecosystem and spent the next five and a half years, the first year in global finance. And then I pivoted pretty intentionally into operations and technology. So I was standing up.

ERP, procure to pay, human capital management systems. I, again, I’ll call it dumb luck or just, you know, being able to ask all the stupid questions nobody else can because they accept certain things. We did a really good job on the program. And so I ended up taking on the build out of a business intelligence function. And so I spent the next four and a half years of in this interesting blend of operations and technology.

COVID hits, I lose 80% of my team on a Zoom call. I knew we weren’t gonna raise our kids long-term in South Florida. And so in July of 2020, I moved to Nashville with a local startup that I was there for a couple of months at, but ultimately my passion is in finance. And so I was sitting on the advisory board of a company named MSH. About 11 months after joining an advisory board capacity, I joined as a remote CFO

working with Azar Sheed, their founder and CEO.

Anna Talerico (14:30)
Yeah, and here we are today.

Landon (14:32)
Yeah, and here the rest is history. It’s almost, I’m on my fourth year here, and it’s just been an absolute blast. Wonderful team, wonderful culture.

Anna Talerico (14:39)
Yeah. What an incredible journey to get to that, to where you are now, just like so many different roles and opportunities and different types of organizations. Um, tell us about your role today at, um, MSH, you know, how you view the role really, and how do you, you define it? If we bumped in on the street and I said, what’s a CFO, you know, what, what did you do? How would you describe it?

Landon (15:05)
Yeah, I would say I probably am a little different to some CFOs in that I really think about things from a people first lens. Ultimately, I think every company is a people company. And so my job predominantly is overseeing a global finance function. What does that mean? It’s all things within, you know, running your operations from a financial perspective, bookkeeping, month-end close.

Cashflow management, strategic finance, et cetera, et cetera, where no, for me, no two days are alike. So the first year was standing up that team, introducing a lot of automation, so we didn’t have excess bloat from a team size perspective. And as I got into that, because in our space, the business model is not overly complicated. And based on our size, I kind of hit my capacity of things that I could continue doing. We had it relatively well oiled.

And so I started taking on more and more or volunteering myself for more and more work. I helped stand up our marketing function, which was new a couple of years ago, not because I’m great at marketing, but I’m pretty good at problem solving. And so helping to enable the brand marketing manager that we had come in, she’s done a wonderful job. And then more recently over the last year, standing up our business intelligence function. And so again, a lot of…

The ways that I approach things is very much from a customer service perspective. So on the finance side, my job is really to make sure I’m adding value to people across the organization, not just executives, but folks to the front lines and arming them with quality data that helps them in their decision-making to drive the best decisions and outcomes possible in their day-to-day jobs. And that’s for me, ultimately, I think of my customers as needing to be served within an organization.

Not the other way around where I find some finance folks are really, you serve me, you do what I say. Now is there some of that? Yeah, because you’ve got compliance and other things that we have to make sure we stay out of trouble. But ultimately, I serve the organization and I’m only serving it if I’m adding value to their day to day lives.

Anna Talerico (17:10)
Love it, love it. So let’s talk a little bit about the business intelligence work that you’ve done because so, you know, finance and business intelligence are so connected, right? And I think a lot of people don’t realize that. So had you done that before in any of your other roles? I know you did a lot with technology and technology transformation and everything and some of your other roles, but specifically business intelligence, had that been something already that had been under your remit or responsibility before?

Landon (17:38)
It had both indirectly and directly. So at Magically, I stood up the business intelligence function and oversaw it for a couple of years. So it was a natural assumption of responsibilities at MSH. But again, I am not the business intelligence leader. I know enough about data, enough about technology to be dangerous. But ultimately, I can’t grow and scale that function. And so a lot of it is really helping to set.

The strategic framework, the strategic vision for what we wanna do, and then building the team, the processes, the technology stacks around that to go out and enable it to have as much value as possible. So not necessarily new contextually, definitely new between Magic Leap and now, the technology landscape has changed dramatically, right? And so now with, you know, OpenAI, AI, LLMs, like there’s a whole…

whole new suite of advanced technologies to be mindful of. But ultimately all of this, I kind of view in this digital transformation journey that has data as the underpinning. And then it’s just this evolution of data discipline and what you can do with that data as you work your way further up the maturity curve.

Anna Talerico (18:52)
Yeah. And I want to come back to AI for sure, but it strikes me. I was talking to an FP&A leader recently and it strikes me, you can’t do those roles without understanding all the business data. They’re so linked, right? Especially like at CFI, I go to FP&A almost as my neutral voice when we’re problem solving, right? Because you get a marketing viewpoint or you get a product viewpoint and you’re trying to parse out like

Landon (19:14)

Anna Talerico (19:20)
what’s really going on here. And so I go to FP&A and they’re consuming all the data too, but it’s in a different way than sort of maybe functional leaders are. So it’s so interesting. I can’t imagine kind of doing that FP&A or finance function without all the business data, right?

Landon (19:26)

Yeah. I feel like you have to, like I asked my team to get as involved in operations because I think empathy and even though it’s a softer word is really important to understanding what’s important for the folks that you’re serving. And if you don’t understand the business and then their business, it’s really hard without like just jamming a report down their throat, which adds absolutely no value. And ultimately, you probably see this, but

data is the great equalizer. I think most all great professionals are really passionate about their space and have really strong opinions. And my job is never to discourage that. It’s actually to encourage it, but then ultimately get anchored back to data and what the data is telling us. Because often our feelings and what the data is saying could be two different things. And it’s not to approach that in a bad way, but really to get you anchored to some semblance of the truth to then make decisions based off of without

kind of getting overly emotionally attached to any one way.

Anna Talerico (20:37)
Yeah, exactly. Well said. So AI, how are you thinking about it and or using it now? Just give us a sense of where your head’s at with it.

Landon (20:48)
Yeah, so this one’s a tricky one because I think, I don’t know about you, at least I hear like, AI is taking everybody’s jobs, it’s automating everything, everybody wants AI right now. But it’s again, it’s really a maturity curve, right? And so absent data discipline or really good data about your organization, it’s very hard to enable AI. So for us internally, we’ve spent the last year kind of replatforming our BI technology stack.

And as we get more mature within our data discipline journey, we’re now starting to think about discrete use cases for AI, specifically in the large language model space. I think a big one for us right now is how individuals within our organization consume information. Now you can think anything from employee handbook to sales manual, but really starting to train models so folks can engage in a way that they’re used to through a chat interface,

hey, I have to go talk to the head of HR. I need to go talk to the head of finance. And so giving them just in time information that is up to date and current is much easier today than it was once upon a time. And so that’s the first area that we’re starting because what it will then do is teach us where are the knowledge gaps within this organization based on monitoring questions asked, answers given. So you can really start to get a sense or a temperature for what we need to.

to better enable our organization. And of course there’s other use cases beyond that. We’d like to start a little smaller and prove out things before we then deploy a bunch of resources, time and energy into the next shiny object. And so coming out of that, we’ve got no shortage of use cases, probably somewhere between 10 and 12 that we’re gonna be exploring thereafter, but really focusing on the foundation that we can scale against right out of the gate.

Anna Talerico (22:41)
Yeah. I think you do have to start small too, because especially one thing I think about a lot, even for us for product development is it’s evolving so rapidly and there’s, yeah, there’s so much good stuff going on. I don’t want to go kind of over index on an investment or development on something and then just find, you know, it’s obsolete or there’s a great product or plugin that’s doing that. So I think it’s not sitting back in

Landon (22:53)

Anna Talerico (23:09)
observing only, but just being cautious, dipping your toe in the water versus, you know, jumping all the way in. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So a couple of rapid fire questions and then that is it. And so maybe first, what if you had to say the three most important skills for a CFO? What do you think that they are?

Landon (23:15)
Yeah, absolutely. Couldn’t agree more.

Let’s hit it.


Curiosity, for sure. Empathy, for sure.

Maybe that’s not a skill, but what’s my last one? I think general business acumen. Like you’ll notice I don’t say anything overly complicated around general accepted accounting principles. I really focus on the skills that are enabling to the broader organization. And of course, finance can be convoluted at times. And often my job is…

translating that simplistically so I can get that to the organization. And so those are probably the ones that I would think about. The other piece, and not necessarily a scale, I referenced this earlier, but take on things nobody else wants to do. I think there’s an element of relentlessness to your learning that is absolutely important. And if you find yourself not interested in what you’re learning, you might be in the wrong career, right? And that’s the thing I always

Encourage people to think about is do you enjoy waking up? Is it fun for you to go solve the problems? If not, there’s plenty of things out there to go and evaluate

Anna Talerico (24:49)
Love that. Well, you answer my next question, which would be, what advice do you have for somebody who, you know, wants to follow this path? So that was great. And those three characteristics so define you and my impression of you and getting to know you in the last few years. So no surprise there. I love that. Last question then, what’s your favorite part of the job?

Landon (25:14)
So I drive most of my fulfillment from solving really hard problems with good people and that is my favorite part of the job here. I don’t necessarily gravitate to any one business model or industry. I really focus because I love business, I love money flow, it’s really focused on solving hard problems with really great people and if you can nail that and really enjoy going to work every day for me that’s like you’re always winning at that point.

Anna Talerico (25:43)
Fantastic. Well, that was a great way to end it. Landon, thanks for doing this. Thanks for being a CFI member, and we always appreciate you. And yeah, thank you for joining us today.

Landon (25:51)

Yeah, thanks for having me on. Happy to join any time you guys like. Keep doing great things at CFI.

Anna Talerico (26:00)
Thank you, sir.


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