A CFO with a background in astrophysics talks about how A.I. will influence finance

April 7, 2023, 10:58 AM UTC
Alice Globus, CFO at Nanotronics / Courtesy of Nanotronics

Good morning,

Alice Globus, CFO at Nanotronics, a science technology company, has a background in astrophysics—a path she followed after being inspired by watching the classic sci-fi TV show “Star Trek” as a kid, she says. But advice from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson also had an impact on how she operates as a CFO. 

When Globus was in college studying physics, she participated in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program in astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. Tyson offered the students advice that she uses to this day.

“As scientists and astrophysicists, our job is as educators to the world,” Globus recalls Tyson told the group. “And if we cannot clearly communicate the most complex topics to the average person or a child, then we’re not doing our job successfully.”

“A lot of people don’t realize that astrophysics was probably one of the earliest forms of data science—dealing with really large datasets and numbers,” Globus says. She was in a Ph.D. program in astrophysics, but “what initially made me decide to transfer my career focus to investment banking was that I wanted to invest in the future technology of tomorrow,” Globus says. 

She would later enter become a finance chief. And as CFO at Nanotronics since 2021, communicating complex topics is key. The company applies A.I. to manufacturing processes—ingesting all data from a factory to identify opportunities for incremental and exponential efficiency gains. “We work with our customers to help them identify what the problems are, and then to automate, to be able to avoid those problems in the future,” Globus says.

Nanotronics customers are Fortune 500 companies, she says. They’re manufacturers, “not in the traditional sense, but a lot of them work in the tech industry,” Globus says. And Nanotronics also has some startups as clients “that we feel very passionately about and want to help them grow as we grow,” she says. 

Globus and I spoke about how Nanotronics uses generative A.I. and why CFOs shouldn’t shun the technology.

Fortune: What makes Nanotronics unique?

We’re the first to apply artificial intelligence to inspection within manufacturing. I know that’s not exactly the most exciting area for the average person. But what that means is we were identifying problems in the manufacturing process. And then people were making actionable changes. As a result, customers were reducing their waste, reducing their costs related to the scaling of their products, and quite often reducing the amount of man hours to actually inspect. 

Do you have examples of using generative A.I. when it comes to human performance?

Something I’ve seen growing that’s prevalent in factories is ‘machine whisperers,’ a term that is used endearingly. It’s these individuals who may be working on the second shift in a facility in Wichita, and for some reason, when they’re working, the quality of their product is significantly higher, their yields are significantly higher, whatever metric you’re measuring looks better. But you talk to that individual, and they can’t quite identify why that is.

Then what Nanotronics will do is go in, and we’ll actually put in additional sensors. And it turns out that maybe they’re adding a catalyst when the centrifuges are turning at so many RPMs [revolutions per minute]. And the worker is actually physically hearing that. This is where A.I. can really come in and notify management that this person is making a change to your process and it’s within safety guidelines. And the company can decide whether to consider applying this across all of their manufacturing facilities. 

Another use case: Oil rigs are the perfect example of where one of the largest causes of accidents is human fatigue. This is all avoidable through some of these cutting edge techniques of just letting people know when they need to take a break or alerting a supervisor when an employee should take a break.

There’s an argument that automation and A.I. in manufacturing may take away jobs from workers. What’s your viewpoint?

If I were to say no one’s job is going to be replaced, I would be lying to you. But I really think artificial intelligence, especially in manufacturing, is going to augment people in the facility. It’s going to help them do their jobs better. It’s another tool in their toolshed.

What would you say to CFOs hesitant about implementing A.I. into work processes?

I think the power of analytics and observation is just not obtainable through humans. The amount of stuff that can be measured and quantified is immense. This is where the role of becoming a strategic CFO really matters. With that data, you can make really educated decisions on where you could allocate your resources. And certain things are just not going to be achievable without artificial intelligence. If people are looking to be carbon neutral, it’s not possible without this interrelationship through artificial intelligence.

Have a good weekend.

Sheryl Estrada

Upcoming event: The next Fortune Emerging CFO virtual event, “Addressing the Talent Gap with Advanced Technologies,” presented in partnership with Workday (a CFO Daily sponsor), will take place from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. EST on April 12. Matt Heimer, executive editor of features at Fortune, and I will be joined by TELUS International CFO Vanessa Kanu; Alight Solutions CFO Katie Rooney; and Tom Davenport, author, All-in on A.I., President’s Distinguished Professor at Babson College, fellow at MIT Initiative for the Digital Economy, and visiting professor at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Click here to learn more and register.

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Big deal

A recent survey by management consulting firm Korn Ferry gauges the use of ChatGPT in business. A survey of 312 professionals found that 46% say they are currently using ChatGPT as part of their workday, and 83% say they plan on using it in the future. Seventy-six percent of respondents say their company doesn't encourage the use of ChatGPT in the workplace, according to the survey. And less than half (43%) say they trust that ChatGPT will provide accurate results. “ChatGPT is a useful tool, but it shouldn’t replace the personalized approach people bring to their daily work or even job searches,” Brad Frank, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s technology practice, said in a statement.

Going deeper

Here are a few Fortune weekend reads:

Apple’s Tim Cook shares his simple stress relief tip for running one of the biggest businesses in the world—and anyone can do it by Eleanor Pringle

Most leaders are making snap decisions with cost-cutting in mind—but be warned, research shows that over a third later regret it by Orianna Rosa Royle

Gen Z is leading the growing pack of workers who want to go to the office more, and they say they’re more productive for it by Trey Williams

Working past the traditional retirement age could be good for your health, but only if you’re rich by Chris Farrell


Here's a list of some notable moves this week:

William (Bill) Lacey was named CFO at Woodward, Inc. (Nasdaq: WWD), an energy conversion and control solutions provider, effective May 8. Lacey most recently served as VP of finance for Amazon’s Books and Kindle Content. Lacey also had a 28-year career at General Electric, which includes serving as president and CEO of the company’s Lighting division, a role he maintained following the division’s acquisition by Savant, and serving as CFO of the company’s Healthcare Medical Diagnostic and Wind Energy divisions.

Lillian D. Etzkorn was named EVP and CFO at LCI Industries (NYSE: LCII), a manufacturer, effective April 17. As previously announced, Brian Hall, LCI Industries’ current EVP and CFO, will retire. Before joining Lippert, Etzkorn was the CFO at Covia, and before that, she had served in multiple financial leadership roles, including CFO of Shiloh Industries and CPI CARD GROUP. In addition, she has held various senior positions at publicly traded automotive companies such as Dana Holding Corporation and Ford Motor Company.

Thomas D. Barry was named CFO of SiriusXM Holdings (Nasdaq: SIRI). He will replace current CFO Sean Sullivan effective April 28. Since 2009, Barry served as the senior vice president and controller of SiriusXM and has been the company’s chief accounting officer. Barry helped guide the company’s merger of Sirius and XM as well as guide the company through its acquisitions of Pandora and the Connected Vehicle Business.

Grant E. Fitz was named CFO at Myers Industries (NYSE:MYE), a manufacturing company. He will replace interim CFO Monica Vinay, effective May 8. Fitz has over three decades of operational and financial experience, including a tenure as an executive at General Motors. He was previously the CFO of tech company EFI before joining Myers Industries. 

Eric Williams was named CFO at commercial space technology company Momentus Inc. (Nasdaq: MNTS). He will take over from interim CFO Dennis Mahoney. Williams has over 15 years of financial operations experience at various tech companies. 


“We are pleased that Sweetgreen has chosen to amend their materials in a manner that protects our trademarks and intellectual property, and therefore, we have both agreed to resolve the pending lawsuit."

—Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.'s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Laurie Schalow wrote in an email to Bloomberg regarding the company resolving its pending lawsuit against Sweetgreen Inc. The salad restaurant agreed to change the name of a new menu item from “Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl” to “Chicken + Chipotle Burrito Bowl."

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