After helping put Slack on its growth path, Allen Shim was impatient to be named CFO.
The company had only 20 employees in 2014 when he joined as a finance executive, and soon he was overseeing not just finance, analytics and accounting but also IT, legal, facilities and HR, among other function areas.
“On paper, I felt like l was the CFO,” Shim said in an Airbase webcast. “I was very troubled by the hesitance, even the resistance to it.”
It wasn’t until he stopped wanting the job so insistently that he understood how he had been impeding himself by his own actions, he said.
“I had a 360 review done in August of 2017,” he said. “You get [feedback] from your peers, your fellow executives, your direct reports, even some board members. They said I was a hard worker, had high integrity, that sort of thing.”
But there was one thing that stood out, he said: his fixation on becoming CFO was taking away from his effectiveness.
“That floored me,” he said. “As someone who wants to earn from my own merit, that made me seem hyper ambitious, someone angling for something that maybe I don’t deserve.”
In response, he changed how he thought about his performance.
“It’s not about, did I do this or did I achieve this or that? It’s more around, am I the one who’s able to help drive this greater company outcome?” he said. “That was a real shift in my mindset and in the way I would think about my own development over time.”
At the same time, he had a key conversation with Sean Aggrawal, CEO of Soar Capital and the chair of Lyft who had played instrumental roles in the growth of PayPal, Amazon, eBay, and Trulia.
“He asked me a really interesting question,” Shim said. “He said, ‘Tell me who reports to you. Tell me your organizational structure. Tell me how much time you’re spending on each of these areas.'”
When Shim considered the question, he realized overseeing no fewer than nine function areas had left him spread too thin and unable to devote the time to the tasks required of an effective CFO — the forward-looking planning and analysis that was core to driving growth.
“If I was going to be CFO, I needed to become excellent in financial planning and analysis (FP&A) and understand what’s going to drive this business forward,” he said. “The time I’m spending in IT vs. facilities is not going to make the most sense for me. That one conversation made it very clear to me I need to think about this in the way a CFO would and design a structure I can support at scale and growth over time.”
His changed mindset didn’t go unnoticed by his team, board members, or Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s founder and CEO.
“The irony of this is, I went into Stuart’s office and I said, ‘Listen, I’m never going to talk about the CFO thing again,’ and he said great,” Shim said. “By December, I was brought into a board meeting and they said, ‘You’re going to be the CFO of the company.’ Not being stuck in this hamster wheel of advancement allowed me to excel in the way I needed to excel.”