From leveraged buy-outs to the development of the COSO framework to the WorldCom and Fannie Mae accounting scandals, this year's inductees into FEI's Hall of Fame were deeply involved in some of the leading business stories of the past quarter-century.
Throughout their notable careers, these financial executives have made vast and diverse contributions that influenced not only accounting and financial reporting, but also the broader business community.
These three leaders--
Robert T. Blakely (pictured left), Gaylen N. Larson (pictured center) and Robert L. Ryan (pictured right) join the 23 executives FEI has been proud to honor since the Hall of Fame was created eight years ago.
Robert T. Blakely
Blakely, former CFO of WorldCom/MCI and former executive vice president and CFO of Fannie Mae, among other roles, has been at the heart of responding to some of the most notable accounting challenges of the past dozen years.
Blakely, who began his career as a managing director of Morgan Stanley, also served as executive vice president and CFO of Tenneco Inc., and of Lyondell Chemical, and as a trustee of the Financial Accounting Foundation. He currently sits on the boards of Ally Financial, Inc., Westlake Chemical Corporation, Greenhill & Co., Inc. and Natural Resource Partners, LP.
Looking at his many accomplishments, Blakely cites the restatement of WorldCom's books in 2002 and the reconstruction of Fannie Mae's financial records two years later as among the leading challenges he's faced.
"At WorldCom, obviously we had the accounting fraud," Blakely says. "There was a bankruptcy, so we had to both work through the bankruptcy and through all the accounting restatements with a tremendous amount of scrutiny from the SEC. I thought that would be the biggest job in the world, until I left there to do the restatements at Fannie Mae. As it turned out, the restatements at Fannie Mae were more complex and it was a much bigger job.
"We actually had 2,400 consultants on that engagement, and were spending $50 million a month. We had 80 consultants doing nothing but project management as we kept track of 2,000 different accounting projects as we tried to reconstruct the financials, and we had enough data storage to store the Library of Congress 12 times over."
His extensive experience in addressing challenging financial reporting situations were called upon when he was asked in 2009 to help set up the board of Ally Financial, the successor company to GMAC, after the financial crisis and recapitalization of General Motors and GMAC by the U.S. government.
"I consider myself as having retired three times, and first, at age 53, and I hardly consider myself retired now at 72."
Comfort With Complexity
Looking at his experience, Blakely says among the most important lessons he's learned over the years are the importance of confronting challenges quickly and working to become comfortable with complexity.
"I would say in both WorldCom and Fannie Mae, you quickly realized that complex problems didn't get better with time, so you have to get problems up to the surface to attack them head-on as quickly as possible. Don't let them languish.
"I also learned that as a rule, both with audit committees now and when I was a CFO--when we think we're done with a particular matter, I always try, if it's possible, to let everything sit for a day or two, so everyone has a moment to reflect. We have to take a little bit more time to reflect and think about things with the complexity we typically deal with. It's an important lesson."
Blakely says leadership also played an important role in the success of his turnaround efforts.
"At Fannie, we had a large staff there in addition to all the consultants, but you had to stand up in front of that group with conviction and convince them that they were capable of getting the job done. There was a leadership element that was in many ways, more important I think than what I'd seen in the past."
Corporate Finance Introduction
Blakely began his career at Morgan Stanley, performing computer modeling for the Alaskan Pipeline System before expanding into a broader view of corporate finance.
"I don't have a CPA, and I never had an accounting major. So, I learned the more technical aspects of accounting and finance on the job, and it grew from there."
Blakely served as CFO of the U.S. Synthetic Fuels Corporation before being offered the CFO job at Tenneco. At the time, he says, taking a CFO role at a Fortune 20 company without a strong accounting background was uncommon.
"Obviously, someone who is a partner in an investment banking firm has a broad finance knowledge, but the depth in accounting, the depth in tax, the depth in internal audit and controls is, I would have to say, something you're not fully prepared for. You have to learn it on the way, but of course all of that's become more sophisticated over time, too."
Expanding CFO Challenges
Blakely says that increased financial sophistication, and a broader focus on corporate strategy, both characterize the heightened demands of today's CFO role.
"The focus for CFOs today is broader, and often includes the strategy of the company, the acquisition strategy, and the work with investor relations and shareholders. The focus is less on the accounting and the treasury side and more about an envelope around the whole institution and its constituencies.
"I think it's a much more complex job today, with...