A talented, efficient finance team is table stakes for any company that wants to meet their goals, but CFOs must staff these teams with their needs and objectives in mind. When it comes to companies that are looking to scale, for example, building out the finance team means not looking for specialists, but for talent that can draw from a wide range of past experiences, said Karen Flores, newly-minted CFO of 3D AI company Leia Inc.
“You want individuals on your team that can really address a multitude of objectives for the finance organization,” Flores said in an interview.
Building a well-rounded finance team
Flores, a CFO with over 25 years of experience in the technology industry, was appointed as the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company’s top financial leader in early April, taking over from Leia’s cofounder Pierre-Emmanuel Evreux who will become a senior strategic advisor, the company said in a press release.
She will take point on the 3D display hardware provider’s financial strategy as well as “steward sustainable growth,” Leia said. The company is looking at its product roadmap over a 10-year period, Flores said, adding that one of her prime focuses as CFO is shaping the business case around its product use cases — a goal that will include building out Leia’s finance team, which is currently small and “primarily an accounting team.”
“I think because we're still a startup, the object is to run it as lean as possible, right?” Flores said. “But you have to make sure that you're bringing in great talent to help support all those efforts, because it is going to remain a small team for a period of time.”
A veteran of the technology space, this is far from the first time Flores is stepping into “more or less” a startup environment where the finance team is small, she said.
Before moving to Leia, Flores previously served as CFO for B2B technology provider GAN Limited. She also previously served as senior vice president, finance for Maker Studios Inc, which was acquired by the Walt Disney Company in 2014, and has also held key finance roles for Myspace and Napster, according to her LinkedIn profile.
At Napster, Flores also built “a highly talented and nimble FP&A team to support me which was, at that time, just a handful of people,” she said.
“My focus in building out this team for the next 12 months is really targeting talent that is very well rounded in terms of their experiences and the skill sets that they can bring, because when you're running a lean team initially, the team has to wear many hats,” Flores said.
Creating a growth mindset for success
Flores’ past experiences at Microsoft, Napster and other companies have given her the “tool belt” needed to steer Leia towards its future goals, she said whether that might be becoming part of a larger company or eventually going public, she said.
When taking the financial helm at startups or private companies, which are always fundraising, one needs to be nimble and react quickly, Flores said. One of Flores’ first roles as a financial analyst at Microsoft provided her with a “broad spectrum of learning opportunities,” paired with an “incredible mentor” which created a foundation enabling the rest of her career, she said.
From there, taking on her role as director of FP&A at Napster allowed her to further expand her experience, going deeper into controllership and to really start “understanding how a board functions,” she said.
Looking back on her career, “I would describe the core theme is really: taking on challenges that stretch you to the limits will prepare you for anything,” Flores said. “It won't be perfect, but it's a growth-mindset approach that builds towards greater success.”
Flores will bring her experiences to bear at Leia as she shapes its path towards growth, working together with the company’s CEO, Cecilia Qvist, who took the role last October — making the 3D AI company part of a rare group of women-led technology firms.
While the number of women in both the CEO and CFO roles is at an all-time high, according to Crist|Kolder’s 2022 Volatility Report, they make up just over 8% of U.S. CEOs and 16% of CFOs, the report said.
Working for a women-led CEO at a technology company is an “incredible opportunity,” Flores said. While “we still have a long way to go,” she said, there have been strides made, pointing to figures such as Angela Ahrendts — a former CEO of Burberry who also served as SVP, retail for Apple — as a prime example of “incredibly successful women that are running the most valuable companies in the world.”
Additionally, studies have shown gender-diverse workplaces often outperform their competitors, with a 2021 McKinsey report finding the most gender-diverse companies were 48% more likely to outperform the least such companies.
“We're incredibly excited about what we can unlock for the company over the next five to 10 years,” Flores said of her and Qvist’s leadership.