The savvy financial officers behind innovative companies.

Author:Kramer, Leslie

The job of running the finance department at any corporation comes with a standard set of challenges. But for those financial executives working at companies dedicated to innovation, it also requires the ability to rein in overly optimistic business line forecasts, assuage the nerves of anxious investors and quickly learn about the latest advances and developments within their businesses and industry at large. These three financial executives take those challenges in stride, making themselves invaluable to their companies.

Michael Hutchison, chief financial officer (CFO) at Ecoserv, a provider of alternative cleaning solutions for the oil and gas industry, says a significant portion of his time is dedicated to keeping up with the ever-changing objectives both within Ecoserv's business and the broader oil and gas industry.

"The most challenging part of the job involves constantly having to manage the day-to-day changes that happen in the company's strategic planning," says Hutchison, who has been a member of FEI for a dozen years. "We are always trying to keep up with it and manage those changes, be they external to the business or changes implemented to try and keep the business going in the right direction," he says. Having that knowledge translates to better management of the company's finances, Hutchison notes.

Previously known as Offshore Cleaning Systems, the Lafayette, LA-based Ecoserv was formed earlier this year when the company merged with a division of New-park Resources called Newpark Environmental Services. Ecoserv now offers specialized cleaning, waste management and environmental services. The transaction was part of Ecoserv's ongoing effort to find new or enhanced ways to perform its core business in the constantly morphing oil and gas business.

To that end, Ecoserv recently developed a set of industrial robots that perform oil and gas cleaning services its employees once handled. "These robots replace humans who had manually worked on cleaning the tanks," says Hutchison. "These are dirty, dangerous, tough environments people were working in, and the work is hard to do, so we figured if we can automate it, and get people out of dangerous situations, there will be less opportunity to have problems or accidents or even people being killed because of it," he explains.

By operating robots, the workers no longer need to expose themselves to the caustic environment within oil tanks. "Imagine being in an oil storage tank in August in south Louisiana, wearing a Tyvek suit and respirator," Hutchison says. "You can't work for long hours without being worn out, so we are retraining our people to be able to operate some of the industrial robots," he says.

Innovation is not only serving Ecoserv well, but it is also helping to make the energy sector at large more efficient. "It was a big step for the industry," says Hutchison. In the future, the robots may also become wired to bring in some of the tools necessary to perform mandated inspections that take place every two years. "We are always trying to extend the capabilities of what we do," Hutchison says.

That commitment to research and development (R&D), while exhilarating, also makes it harder for Hutchison to do the types of forecasting required of a CFO. "We may think we are done with a product at a certain time and send it out on a job--and while we have never had an abject failure--there have been times when the product didn't work up to our expectations, so we brought it back in for retooling," he says. Or the product manufacturer may decide midstream to use a different type of material. "You may go in thinking you will use regular steel, but...

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