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Staying grounded as a CFO

How one CFO learned tranquility from a Sunday morning phone call.
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Sobers

3 min read

Coworking is a weekly segment where we talk to CFOs and other leaders in the finance space about their experiences, their companies, and the larger economy. Let us know if you are—or you know—a CFO we should interview.

Sean Sobers has served as the CFO for thredUP, a digital consignment company, since 2019. Before that, he held senior finance positions at a variety of tech-oriented companies, including during the dot-com boom. Here, he shares some industry insights with CFO Brew.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How would you describe your job to someone who doesn’t work in finance?

In a nutshell, the CFO is like the financial captain of the company’s ship. They steer the company in the right direction by making smart financial decisions, ensuring the money is used wisely, and helping the company grow and succeed.

How has the CFO role changed in the past five to 10 years, both for you and in general?

The CFO role has shifted away from being a stereotypical budget gatekeeper to much more of a strategic business partner. As the financial strategist and guardian of the company’s financial health, their perspective leads to more well thought-out decisions with a deeper understanding of the financial impacts to the business.

Who’s a CFO you admire or model yourself after?

The first is Mark Garrett, former CFO of Adobe, plus several other technology companies. Mark was one of my first bosses who was a CFO. Not only is he incredibly accomplished with great experience over many years, but I admired that he was always calm in the face of adversity.

I remember calling Mark at home one Sunday morning. He picked up the phone and said, “Well it’s Sunday morning and my controller is calling me. Sean, you have my attention.”I was calling about an unexpected change that would reduce our earnings. I spent quite a bit of time worrying about the issue, what it meant for quarterly results, and how Mark was going to react.

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As Mark digested the information (and also realized the high levels of anxiety I was having), he said, “Remember, we are not brain surgeons and no one will die because of this.” It was a humorous comment, but it also put the issue into perspective for me. Mark helped me develop a sense of calmness whenever I am dealing with a challenging situation.

The next is Jack Lazar, former CFO of GoPro, Atheros and several other companies. Jack was introduced to me by a former boss of mine. The first time I met with Jack, he was interested in helping me find my first CFO role. He is very connected across the tech company landscape with a vast amount of experience in both CFO roles as well as board roles. He was generous in introducing me to people in his network. As a former CFO and an active board member of several public and non-public companies, he has real-world experience and insight that he shares with me without me asking for it. To this day, I check in with him on a weekly basis both personally and professionally.

If you weren’t a CFO, what would you be?

This one is a bit hard for me. And I know this will sound strange, but I knew I wanted to go into accounting since I was about 13. Yes, that is pretty nerdy, but I grew up with a mother who was a tax accountant and had aunts and uncles and cousins all in the finance [or] accounting fields. So I was able to see what some of the work would be like. With all of that said—I think I might be a diplomat or some type of negotiator. I generally like being in the “deal” and helping close it.

News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.