CFOs can ‘push for change’

October 6, 2021, 10:31 AM UTC

Good morning,

“The benefit of being a CFO is that you understand what drives business value,” Kelly Schmitt, CEO of Benevity, said. “And that’s important when you’re trying to push for change in your organization.”

During a Fortune Most Powerful Women virtual panel session on Tuesday, executives discussed leading with purpose and pushing for change internally and externally. Schmitt began her role in February at the helm of Benevity, a company that provides charitable donation and grant-management platforms. She was previously the company’s president and CFO. Schmitt led Benevity’s most recent round of financing with Hg Capital, The Rise Fund, and Generation IM, which valued the company at $1.1 billion.

“I think that historically, CSR, ESG, maybe even DEI was viewed as driving a social impact, but the business impact wasn’t as clear,” she explained. “The focus on ESG, by its nature, is driving a lot more measurement in those areas.” She continued, “And being able to measure the impact of a corporate purpose program, or even the impact of having a diverse team, and prove that these things drive real business value it helps to accelerate the pace of change.”

“I couldn’t agree with Kelly more,” said Peggy Alford, EVP of global sales at PayPal, who leads the company’s commercial and customer success teams worldwide. Alford has held numerous senior leadership roles at PayPal, including VP and CFO for the Americas region. “When you have finance training, you learn how to build a business case,” she explained. And that’s helpful when making the case for diversity, equity, and inclusion. “I do think that in the past, the way we’ve thought about social justice and diversity has been very much with a focus on doing the right thing and giving people a shot, which didn’t always resonate within companies that had lots of competing priorities,” Alford said. “What we’ve realized through the data is that [DEI] actually helps you achieve your business objectives, which makes it a much stronger business case.”

“There’s tons of data out there now on the business value of investing in ESG,” Schmitt said. “And essentially, it will tell you that companies who invest in these areas outperform those who don’t on everything from revenue to market cap to earnings per share. Our own data at Benevity tells us that companies who have really robust corporate purpose programs and engage their people in both giving and volunteering, actually experienced 57% less churn.”

Increasingly, employees and consumers want to show loyalty to companies that are “doing more than just pursuing profits, but they’re actually leaving the world a little better than they found it,” Schmitt said. And “that’s the real business value,” she added.

The focus many companies now have on DEI and making sure employee voices are heard is “really about ensuring that you’re much more competitive in the market,” Alford explained. Products need to resonate with customers across the globe “you’re serving today, or that you want to serve,” she said. And the value of this shift is well documented. “There’s lots of numbers and data that folks with finance backgrounds, and even those without, are able to piece together into a business case that resonates a lot stronger than it has in the past.”

See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada

Big deal

The recent State of Data Culture Report, sponsored by Alation, a software company, and executed by Wakefield Research, explores why data-driven decisions can lead to process optimization. Many data and analytics leaders said they could use more support in implementing new processes. About 74% surveyed claim their CFO’s do not invest enough in data and analytics. And 89% of companies that fell short of targeted revenue goals point to their CFO not investing enough, according to the report. Companies with a "top-tier data culture" are most aware of the risk of disruption from competitors who are able to use data better, the research found. More than half (54%) of respondents said factors that led to an improved data culture include investment in new data tools. The report is based on a study of 300 data and analytics leaders at companies with more than 2,500 employees in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. 

Going deeper

For the second consecutive month, the number of shifts worked by U.S. employees declined, decreasing by 0.1% in September, according to UKG's Workforce Activity Report released on October 5. However, September showed improvement from August’s 2.4% monthly decline, which may indicate a stabilization in workplace activity. "The UKG Workforce Recovery Scale, a measure of shift work losses and gains during the COVID-19 pandemic, currently sits at 85.2 out of 100," according to the report. 


Sam Backenroth was named CFO at VBL Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company, effective immediately. Backenroth will manage U.S. operations in New York. He succeeds Amos Ron, who is retiring but will continue to serve as corporate secretary and in an advisory capacity. Most recently, Backenroth was the CFO at NeuBase Therapeutics. While at the company, Backenroth helped build the finance and operations functions that took the company public. He is a former CFO of Ohr Pharmaceutical. Backenroth is also a founder of Orphion Therapeutics.

Judith Ottensoser was appointed COO and CFO at Rock Mountain Capital, a private equity firm, effective October 4. Previously, Ottensoser was the COO/CFO for GMF Capital, a real estate-focused private equity firm. She was a managing director, COO/CFO of the Distressed Debt Strategies Group at Napier Park Capital Partners. Ottensoser was also a managing member of Epic Asset Management, and an investment banking associate and analyst at Goldman Sachs & Co.


“I’ve long said that sustainability is a team sport. And if we’re going to transform the world economy with respect to a net zero or zero emissions world, we’re going to have to be working together to do that.”

—Mitch Jackson, chief sustainability officer at FedEx, said during Fortune’s recent Global Sustainability Forum.

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