846: Influencing Your Operating Inputs | Ambereen Toubassy, CFO, Airtable

When Ambereen Toubassy decided that it was time to start up her own hedge fund, it's likely that no one cast doubt on the experienced investor’s grand plan. That is, no one except Toubassy herself.  

After 7years as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs and a dozen running hedge funds, Toubassy says, she told herself, “Okay, this is a moment, I have a track record, I should start my own hedge fund.”

Thus with some freshly drafted marketing collateral in hand, she initiated the early round of discussions that would allow her to begin raising capital.  

“When I started doing this, I realized my that heart wasn’t in it—I told myself, ‘Okay, if your heart isn’t in this, you have no business asking other people to entrust you with their capital,’” recalls Toubassy, who notes that her outreach had put her in touch with a span of finance professionals from her Goldman Sachs years, including a number who had exited the investing world to take on a variety of operating roles—including CFO positions.

“What clicked for me and why I made the shift to operations was how much time CFOs spent in talking about the people with whom they were working,” reports Toubassy, who points out that while the guiding principle of her career had always been to “always be learning,” her discussions with CFOs made clear that there was more to learn.

Remarks Toubassy: “I'd always sort of had this inkling that when I was managing a portfolio and tickers, I didn't get as much of that people mentorship experience as I would have liked to have had.”

Today, after having served in multiple CFO roles, Toubassy keeps people top-of-mind when offering advice to new finance leaders.

For one thing, she advises, “Spend time gathering context and developing relationships with your peers and the business leaders for all of the other functions.”

Moreover, Toubassy exposes the people factor in CFO success from the perspective of output and input metrics.

“The financials are output metrics, and a CFO cannot influence them or change them because they're exactly that," remarks Toubassy. "To effect change, you need to understand and influence the inputs that go into the business.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, though, Toubassy quickly circles back to her relationship-building advice: “You need to spend time with the head of each of the business functions. You need to have a relationship with each of these people. You need to be able to sort of put yourself in their shoes and say, ‘How would that person effect change?’ And, over time, the output metrics that finance cares about will change.”

Meanwhile, Toubassy finds little or no irony in the title “chief finance officer.”

“We have this tendency to jump straight into the financials or outputs because that’s who we are," she says. "And, indeed, we are the chief financial officer.” –Jack Sweeney

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