Lucy Rutishauser didn't wait for an opening to land a finance job she took 20 years ago. After rising through the ranks in treasury roles, the Baltimore resident reached out to a growing media company in her town and offered her services as assistant treasurer, a job the company didn't have and didn't know it needed. But she convinced them the job would help them as they grew — and that she could fill it. Now, as the CFO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, she's helping the company stay on track as it navigates being the largest owner of local TV stations and sports networks in the country.
"I had been reading about them rolling up the industry, doing a lot of consolidation," Rutishauser said in a CFO Thought Leader podcast last week. "So, I figured, 'OK, here’s a company that's growing; they’re probably going to need an assistant treasurer,' and so I cold-called them."
Rutishauser, who started out in finance in 1988 as a junior treasury analyst at Black & Decker, said she turned down better-paying jobs at key moments in her career to instead take jobs that filled gaps in her experience, making her a more well-rounded professional in later years.
"In 1990, I had an offer from AT&T as a foreign exchange trader, which I had done at Black & Decker," she said. "However, I decided to accept a lower-paying treasury position at Laura Ashley's U.S. division because I wanted to learn cash management. I had the international experience but I didn't have the domestic cash management experience.
"Certainly, AT&T should have been the easier choice to make from a transition and bank account standpoint, so the takeaway here is that, as you're growing your professional career, it's crucial to make sure the decisions you make are more valuable to a future employer and not just what's best for your bank account at that moment," she said.
Expediting the accounting close
Sinclair launched in 1960 as a local radio station and today owns almost 200 local TV stations in 89 markets and 23 regional sports networks, which have licensing rights to air 45 Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL games each year.
The first thing Rutishauser did once she was promoted from the company's treasury chief to its CFO was meet with her financial organization and ask them to review the reports they're generating, from whom they're getting the information and why, and to whom they're disseminating them.
"If nobody was seeing the report and it wasn't needed for our audits and public financial reporting, then do away with it," she said. "So, we took about six months and we knocked three days off our accounting close process because there were things people were just doing because it was on their checklist."
The two metrics Rutishauser tracks most closely are earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) and free cash flow. Earnings per share (EPS) is of less value to her, she said, because of the way media companies are valued. She instead closely tracks how well the company is performing relative to its public forecasts.
"I particularly want to know where we are against our public street guidance," she said. "I also look at our weekly advertising sales pace reports, and then monthly I'm also looking at which TV stations and regional sports networks are unfavorable to their budgets and why. And then I'll follow up with those general managers and business managers for remediation plans."
Non-financial metrics are also becoming increasingly important to her as the company's digital media channels — online streaming, mobile apps and social media — grow.
"How are we tracking for unique visits? What are our impressions on our digital sites?" she said.
More efficient meetings
The company's newest digital product is STIRR, an app consumers download to get local news on their phone. It currently offers 40 channels.
"What’s different about this is it's local," she said. "So, you can actually choose your city and get local news through our TV stations. If you pull it up in a location where we're not located, such as New York City, you can choose any other city you want where we'll serve you up. This is very unique because nobody's offering local news in these streaming devices."
Rutishauser said the bulk of her time is spent in meetings and on phone calls. To improve efficiency, she cuts all proposed meetings in half or by a third, and if a meeting runs over the allotted time, she leaves the meeting.
"If somebody asks for an hourlong meeting, I tell them they get half an hour," she said. "If they're not done in half an hour, I'll get up and leave the meeting, so people have come to understand they need to make the meetings more efficient. We've also set up rules of engagement, whereby people can't have the floor the entire time and we want to hear from all levels of staff, so we've set up how people communicate, engage in these meetings, with one another and how all viewpoints can be heard."
As with many CFOs today, Rutishauser spends less time on the numbers and more time on strategy.
"For me it's moved from a numbers game to having a holistic view whereby everybody's adding context to each other’s functions," she said. "The other thing I like is how organizations are becoming very data driven. It's all about, 'Can I use [artificial intelligence] technology, can I use [robotic process automation]?' How do we get more data and analyze that to inform the organization?"