Setting out to identify the top financial executives in North Texas this year, we quickly discovered a common denominator among them. Namely: a flexible, proactive approach to helping their organizations get out of jams or blaze new trails. Sometimes a good measure of hand-holding was required; sometimes, straight talk was the order of the day. “I am not a back-office CFO,” states Ken Judd of Keste LLC, in a typical comment. “I stay heavily involved in many areas.” Indeed, the same might be said of all the honorees in our 2014 Financial Executive Awards.

To select them, D CEO and our partners in this annual program—the Dallas CPA Society, Financial Executives International, and the Association for Corporate Growth—were assisted by a stellar panel of judges. The judges were: Kathy Costner, financial services representative/financial advisor/Princor registered represenative, Principal Financial Group; Jim Farrell, former CFO, Advanced Integration Technology Inc.; Brandt Hamby, founder and managing director, Six Pillars Partners; Terri Moss Hornberger, Terri Moss Hornberger CPA and chair-elect, Dallas CPA Society; Robert R. Kibby, section head of corporate securities, shareholder, Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr PC; and John Perkins, John N. Perkins CPA and chair, Dallas CPA Society. We’re grateful for their participation.


Outstanding CFO, Public Company

Tammy Romo, Southwest Airlines

When she took over as senior vice president of finance and CFO in 2012, Tammy Romo knew the short-haul business model that seemed to serve Southwest Airlines so well for many years was about to be turned on its head.

With soaring fuel costs and the economic downturn raging on, Southwest would have to make some changes to hold onto its long reign as the darling of the airline industry.

“In 2013, our financials were below where they needed to be,” Romo admits. “We knew we had to transform the company to enable new capabilities so we could get back to growth.”

Upon integration, the 2011 acquisition of AirTran provided a big assist by bringing Southwest into new markets, including Atlanta and Washington, D.C. The addition of international flights beginning this year is expected to help boost the airline to new heights as well. 

Southwest has grown from 120 airplanes when Romo first joined the company in 1991 to 700 planes now. The airline has also begun seeing a strong increase in its stock price, which soared 113 percent from the beginning of 2013 through the end of February of this year.

As CFO of a company known for its teamwork, Romo gives full credit to her teams for helping her succeed. “Seeing this all come together is very rewarding,” she says. “Prior to becoming CFO, I had a network planning function. So I’ve really been watching a seed grow into reality.” —Tanya Rutledge

ken_judd_financial_exec Ken Judd: Keste LLC


Outstanding CFO, Midsize Private Company

Ken Judd, Keste LLC

Ken Judd joined software consulting firm Keste in the midst of the economic downturn, knowing that he was coming on board during a difficult time. And although the company eventually emerged in good shape, Keste officials were caught off guard by what happened next.

In 2012, one of Keste’s largest customers hired a new CEO who proceeded to cancel that customer’s contract with Keste. That led to Keste’s first-ever year-over-year revenue decline since its founding a decade ago.

But Judd refused to give in, instead springing into action.

“Nobody ever panics here,” he says. “We definitely weren’t prepared for a contract of that size to get canceled, but it made us see that we needed to do a better job of contingency planning and creating balance. We needed to be more mindful of what our customers were doing, and what the risks were.”

After that bump in the road, Judd established new operating metrics and performance goals, and got more involved in sales and marketing.

Since Judd came on board five years ago, Keste, which has evolved beyond being just an Oracle-only systems integrator, has grown from 60 employees to 250, and revenue has skyrocketed 375 percent to $32.5 million last year. Judd has also helped grow the five-year-old India office from two to 100 employees.

“After the loss of that customer, we got back to closing transactions and deals, diversifying practice areas, and becoming more involved with the strategies of existing customers,” he says. “I am not a back-office CFO. I stay heavily involved in many areas.” —T.R.

FINALISTS: 
John Beall, eVerge Group
Omar Choucair, MultiView Inc.

renee_hornbaker_financial_exec Renée Hornbaker: Stream Energy


Outstanding CFO, Large Private Company

Renée Hornbaker, Stream Energy

Renée Hornbaker understood that she was taking on a big challenge when she became CFO at Stream Energy 30 months ago. But there were still some hurdles that just could not be anticipated.

The company had been struggling with so many issues on the financial side, Hornbaker essentially had to recreate the department from scratch.

“I brought in new talent and developed new processes,” she says. “A lot of it was about streamlining, but there were some processes that didn’t even exist at all, including forecasting. They just had never done it.”

Hornbaker, who was CFO of Shared Technologies Inc. before joining Stream, also was surprised to find out soon after coming on board that the electric retailer was in the midst of a sales tax audit. In addition, as the company was preparing for its year-end financial audit, Hornbaker found that the audit for the previous year still had not been completed.
“There were definitely some challenges I wasn’t expecting,” she says. “We just had to push through them. That’s all you could really do.”

Since taking over, Hornbaker’s efforts have helped Stream Energy improve its net income by more than 400 percent on relatively flat sales through cost reduction and process improvements. The company employs about 240 and generates more than $860 million in annual revenue. “There were a lot of obstacles, but it’s a totally transformed financial organization,” Hornbaker says. —T.R.

FINALIST:
Patrick Brensinger, Associa

john_walker_financial_exec John P. Walker: Kidkraft LP


Most Innovative Finance Team

John P. Walker, Kidkraft LP

When John Walker came through the doors of KidKraft LP, he saw a huge potential for growth and international expansion. He also found a group of family owners that were nervous about acting on that potential.

The owners of KidKraft, a designer and manufacturer of children’s toys and furniture, had never considered international expansion before Walker came on board in 2006.

“I developed a plan that first year that was very aggressive for a family-owned business,” Walker says. “They were a little scared. I definitely had to sell them and provide a level of comfort for them.”

Less than seven years later, KidKraft has grown 400 percent to reach net sales of $150 million with 500 employees. The company has expanded from a single office in the United States to five offices around the world and distribution facilities in the U.S., Europe, Canada, Australia, and China.

In addition, Walker brought KidKraft from holding just a $2 million line of credit with one bank to $75 million in bank financing.

Now that the roadmap for international expansion has been created, Walker said KidKraft is in a position to continue to grow exponentially.

“They just needed to be put in a situation to have the comfort that they weren’t going to Vegas and betting it all on black,” Walker says. “There was a lot of pressure to succeed those first couple of years, but it has all worked like clockwork.”  —T.R. 

FINALIST:
Shaun Cohen, EquityBuild Finance LLC

david_mckeever_financial_exec David McKeever Jr.: Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity


Outstanding CFO, Nonprofit Organization (TIE)

David McKeever Jr., Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity

David W. McKeever Jr. is chief financial officer for Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that builds homes for low-income people. But on a day-by-day basis, he’s thinking about building bridges as much as houses.

McKeever is a fan of the Will Allen Dromgoole poem titled “The Bridge Builder.” It tells the story of an old man who, after crossing a stream, constructs a bridge to help a youth get across the water. “You build a foundation so that it’s better for others than when you got there,” McKeever says.

It’s a nice sentiment, but McKeever is walking the walk, too. He went to work at Dallas Area Habitat early last year, following a career that had afforded him good-paying finance jobs at major companies like Disney and ABC.

At Dallas Area Habitat, there are fewer paid staff members than the number of people who once reported to him in the private sector. So for McKeever, that means wearing multiple hats and doing whatever needs doing, rather than delegating to someone else.

Most of all, though, it means helping keep the financial train running on time at Dallas Area Habitat so that it can continue building houses for people who are homeless, part of the working poor, or simply down on their luck. Sometimes, that includes speaking to potential donors about why they should give to the nonprofit. “We have to be advocates and stewards for the money at the same time,” McKeever says.

No doubt, the Habitat gig has been a bit of a personal adjustment, McKeever concedes: “It’s a major change for me. But I absolutely love it.” —Jeff Bounds

amber_kinney_financial_exec Amber Kinney:AT&T Performing Arts Center


Outstanding CFO, Nonprofit Organization (TIE)

Amber Kinney, AT&T Performing Arts Center

For Amber Kinney, one of the most attractive aspects of joining the AT&T Performing Arts Center as controller three years ago was that she would get to spend an extended period of time training under the then-CFO before eventually taking over the position. To her surprise, that period lasted just eight months.

Nonetheless, Kinney jumped right into the CFO role, first working to build upon the base of strong talent that was in place. The center, which was only two years old at the time Kinney joined, had talent on staff but was struggling from both a financial and a systems and operating standpoint.

Kinney got right to work implementing a financial-management system that was sophisticated enough to capture and report the intricacies of a complex revenue stream and a growing entity.

“What we needed was to transform the center from the construction era to the operational era,” Kinney says. “It was a huge transitional period.”

By building systems around financial reporting, analysis, and budgeting, Kinney was able to bring the venue into the black for the first time after just two years. By the end of fiscal 2012, the center was profitable from an operational standpoint and, by the end of fiscal 2013, both the bottom line and operational functions were in the black, too.

The center, which has 172 full-time employees and 325 volunteers, has an annual operating budget of $32 million. “We are in a much better position for the future,” Kinney says.  —T.R.

FINALIST:
Renell Hutton, Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

james_garner_financial_exec James Garner: Wagner, Eubank & Nichols LLP


Outstanding Public Service

James Garner, Wagner, Eubank & Nichols LLP

James Garner is an accomplished guy. A certified public accountant, he has a master’s degree in public accounting from the University of Texas at Austin. He has been a senior manager in the audit practice at KPMG LLP. And he’s currently a senior manager in audits at Wagner, Eubank & Nichols LLP in Dallas.

But Garner realizes there are other accountants out there who are accomplished as well. So a big part of his success lies not in his ability to crunch numbers, but rather in how he builds and maintains relationships in the working world. “A lot of services can become commodities on what you do,” he says. “It breaks down to how you do it.”

Last year, Garner focused on using his relationships to help build Wagner, Eubank’s technology practice. For example, he’s serving as president-elect of the Dallas chapter of TeXchange, which holds dinners and other networking events for technology entrepreneurs, business executives, and investors. Getting involved in groups like TeXchange “translates into business,” he says.

But he’s especially proud of the philanthropic causes in which he invests his time. For instance, he’s on the board of Senior Source, a Dallas nonprofit that provides various types of support to the elderly. Garner is part of an effort to broaden awareness of issues facing seniors to adults in their 30s and early 40s, many of whom have yet to deal with matters such as having a parent in nursing care.

Garner also is involved with Educational Opportunities Inc., which provides scholarships and mentoring to Dallas youths who have the academic ability to attend college, but not the money. The biggest challenge in juggling charitable endeavors, public accounting, and his family? “Pure time,” he says. —J.B

james_pool_financial_exec James Pool: Baylor Scott & White Health


Outstanding Chief Accounting Officer, Controller, or Treasurer 

James Pool, Baylor Scott & White Health

When the merger between Baylor Health Care System and Scott & White Healthcare was announced in late 2012, James E. Pool knew he was about to get a lot busier. As chief accounting officer at Baylor, Pool understood that he would have to become a master prioritizer in order to balance his day-to-day functions with work related to the mega-merger.
“The hardest part of prioritization and reprioritization is that there are always multiple top priorities across a system our size,” says Pool, who joined Baylor in 1985 as a staff auditor.

The merger, which closed last October, created the largest not-for-profit healthcare system in the state, with 43 hospitals, 500 patient care sites, 6,000 affiliated physicians, and 34,000 employees. And Pool and his team became responsible for all of the new $8.6 billion system’s hospitals, as well as two research institutes, nine partnerships, a construction company, five foundations, two wholly owned insurance companies, and the Scott & White Health Plan.
In the wake of the merger, Pool’s ability to constantly reprioritize his tasks and duties continues to serve him well. “I want to ensure that our new organization utilizes the best accounting practices from both predecessor organizations,” he says. —J.B.

FINALIST:
Christina Smith, FTS International

dennis_mccuistion_financial_exec Dennis McCuistion: UTD Institute for Excellence in Corporate Governance


Excellence in Corporate Governance

Dennis McCuistion, UTD Institute for Excellence in Corporate Governance

Corporate governance essentially means the system by which a company is run. And if you need to get up to speed on it, there is one person in North Texas to call: Dennis McCuistion.
He’s a clinical professor and executive director at the Institute for Excellence in Corporate Governance at the University of Texas at Dallas. Having served on both public and private boards in a career that stretches back to the 1960s, McCuistion has learned a thing or two about what makes corporate boards work—and what makes them dysfunctional as well.
“It’s a question of teaching, mentoring, and sharing our lessons,” he says. Those he’s teaching—whether they’re students or real-world board members—“don’t have to make the same mistakes we made. They can make new ones.”

Much of the reading in McCuistion’s courses, in addition to textbooks, includes The Wall Street Journal. Many students “don’t read anything in newspapers,” he says. “They don’t know what the heck is going on.”

He also works with the National Association of Corporate Directors, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group whose aims include improving boards. “I’m in the boardroom, educating people who don’t think they need any educating,” he says.

Here’s the good news from McCuistion’s perspective: corporate boards are getting better at governance. Mindful of fiascos ranging from Enron to WorldCom and of resulting laws such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, boards are improving the quality of their work, he says.

“The whole idea of corporate governance before the year 2000 [had] an entirely different set of dynamics than today,” he says. “Boards do much better than they used to, which is great.” —J.B.