Last month, we proudly announced the promotion of one of our veteran company leaders to the position of Chief Financial Officer. Chris Holden, who previously served as our senior vice president of finance, has been with Eze Castle Integration for nearly a decade, and has led our efforts to expand the organization’s global reach. In his new position, Chris will continue to focus on corporate growth, while leading the way into new markets and regions around the world.
I recently sat down with Chris to pick his brain on the importance of continued international expansion, as well as to get his thoughts on some important lessons that he’d like to share with other CFOs and organizations that may be undertaking similar growth strategies.
Q. Congratulations on your recent promotion! Could you tell our readers a little about yourself and your background in the industry?
A. Thanks! As you mentioned, I have been with Eze Castle for almost nine years now. I manage our financial operations and spearhead the establishment of international operations. Most recently, I helped facilitate our expansion into London, Geneva, Singapore and Hong Kong. As part of this process, I oversee the company’s global finances, as well as the accounting, insurance, legal and real estate functions.
Prior to joining the Eze Castle team, I worked as a principal at The Parthenon Group, which is a global strategic advisory firm. While at Parthenon, I enjoyed the data-driven, financial aspects of the consulting engagements I worked on. This led me to pursue a finance position at a privately held company, thus bringing me to Eze Castle. I am a graduate of Dartmouth College, where I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics.
Q. Great! Could you tell us a little more about the company’s international growth? What were the driving factors behind the decision to expand beyond the United States?
A. Most of our growth is driven by the needs of our clients and the size of the market opportunity in a particular country or region. Our first international office, in London, was established as a result of the fact that we had a large client in New York who also had a significant presence in the UK. They were pleased with our level of service in New York and asked if we’d consider supporting them in London as well. The support from our client base, coupled with the size of the hedge fund market in London, made this an easy decision.
When we first opened in London, we focused our support on existing US clients that have London offices. Once we were comfortable that we were maintaining a consistently high level of support, we then looked to scale our efforts. We began selling our solutions and services to the local UK hedge fund market and adding new clientele. Subsequently, we have started the process of replicating this strategy as we expand into Asia. Our geographic breadth has since opened us up to opportunities with global financial institutions to which we would not have otherwise been exposed.
Q. Since some of our readers may be considering growing their own firms into new territories, can you walk us through the major steps involved in establishing a new office overseas?
A. A good place to start is often the inward investment branch of the government in the country or city to which you are looking to expand. They often have offices in the US and are eager to discuss expansion opportunities. They are a great (free!) resource and can provide contacts for everything from talent recruiters to tax advisors. They will also make you aware of any special tax incentives available for hitting certain revenue and/or job creation milestones.
From an operational standpoint, it’s important to choose the appropriate entity type to ensure it will fit into your overall corporate structure from both a tax and legal perspective. Once the entity choice is made you can focus on establishing how you will handle accounting, tax, audit, banking/foreign currency and legal/contracts.
It’s important to have all of the tactical aspects of running the business in place before supporting clients and selling products and services. Certainly, the sales and support strategy should be tackled in parallel so that client work can begin once the compliance initiatives are complete. If you have a realistic timeline and budget and partner with the right people, the process is not as daunting as it might seem.
Q. I understand you will be making a trip over to Europe soon. What will be your top priorities for this visit?
A. Yes, I will be in both the UK and Switzerland. I have three main objectives for the trip. The first is to handle all of the compliance requirements that need to be addressed in person. The second is to meet with all of our tactical partners in both locations. I have meetings set up with bankers, lawyers, tax advisors, auditors and regulatory agencies. My third goal is to spend time with the employees in our London office. That office has grown substantially since we opened it in 2007, and has recently moved to a new location so I’m looking forward to seeing that.
In today’s highly connected world there is so much that can be done over the phone and via email, but there still is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. I see real value in that and plan to take full advantage of this upcoming opportunity.
Q. What are some important lessons that you have learned throughout this process that you feel are important to share with other CFOs or anyone leading a company through a similar undertaking?
A. One of the major lessons I’ve learned is that there is so much that can be discovered on the job. If you have an interest in what you are working on, an aptitude for learning and a logical thought process you can accomplish anything. Five years ago we didn’t have any foreign offices or anyone with experience opening or operating a foreign office. As a team we figured out what we needed to do, developed a plan and executed on that plan. We certainly made some mistakes along the way, but we have learned from them and have been able to refine the process in order to become more efficient with each subsequent expansion. This knowledge, constantly evolving over time, will certainly serve us well in the future.
Photo Credit: Flickr