Indy CFO Spotlight-Kay Whitaker

||Indy CFO Spotlight-Kay Whitaker

Kay Whitaker has had quite a run as an Indianapolis CFO. A builder and a fixer, she’s made a name for herself
with successes at RenPSG, Odyssey, First Internet Bank and Central Indiana Community Foundation. In 2012,
The Indianapolis Business Journal honored her as its CFO of the Year for her work at CICF.

KB: Tell me about your journey.
KW: I grew up west of Danville playing on my Grandfather’s farm. My Grandpa is my hero; he farmed until
the week before he died at age 78. I graduated from Danville High School, then headed to Ball State. After
a semester at Ball State I moved back to Indianapolis, enrolled at IUPUI and started working.

KB: So, you put yourself through school?
KW: Yes, my husband and I worked our way through and paid all our expenses.

KB: Post-graduation, where did you land?
KW: I took a job at PwC (then Coopers & Lybrand) as part of their audit practice. That’s where I learned that
entrepreneurial businesses were my passion. You can see the whole picture. My Grandpa liked farming
because you could see the whole lifecycle. I got that mindset from him.

KB: What happened after PwC?
KW: I left PwC for a startup. A husband and wife invested $20K to start a business and later sold for
$62MM. Golden Care Respiratory Therapy. I was there about two years…then helped them set up their
family office after the sale.

KB: Then your career really took off.
KW: I was at Citizens in a corporate development role, then as treasurer. I eventually found myself at a
utility post-Enron. The regulation was stifling. I joined CICF and began to really understand private equity
investing as well as impact investing. And of course, working with Brian Payne was amazing, he is an
amazing human being. Working there taught me what really matters in life: to be doing good work and
important work and work that one is suited to. I’ve always gone with my heart; what can I be really good at
doing? My career decisions have not always been about the financial reward, rather the work. The last 10
years, I’ve been able to choose the work I want and can be all-in.

KB: You took First Internet Bank public, right?
KW: Yes, quite a challenge in a post-2008 regulated environment and I remain skeptical whether the
restrictions and requirements are better for the average investor. The best part was working with serial
entrepreneur David [Becker] and his team. He taught me so many things. From there I decided to work
with smaller entrepreneurial companies in a less regulated environment, which eventually led to Odyssey
Media.

KB: The readers may not be familiar with where you are now – RenPSG.
KW: Ren provides back office solutions to philanthropic organizations via our proprietary cloud computing
platform. We administer $18 billion in assets and we’re growing 18% year over year.

KB: Wow
KW: Our vision is to amplify philanthropy by processing charitable donations and grants most efficiently –
think of us as the VISA of charity.

KB: You’ve had some great CFO jobs in Indy tech. What’s your assessment of the tech market here?
KW: Indianapolis is at an inflection point. We have critical mass in tech. We have the $250MM fund Next
Fund that Governor Holcomb set up. It’s a phenomenal time. Plus, the Midwest does business differently.
You don’t get that on the coasts.

KB: “You don’t get that on the coasts.” What does that mean?
KW: On the coasts, it’s deep venture environment…. they have a higher risk threshold. They do a lot more
starting…here, we finish. It’s harder to get started, because investors are more demanding. They have a
different risk profile. But that makes for better companies and higher returns. There’s much more focus on
delivering results. Even our angels expect results.

KB: What advice would you give a younger person who may want to become a CFO?
KW: Be flexible. Be willing to create your own path. I like to go places where I can create the job – where
even if the job title is CFO, the owners want more than that. Get the classical training…. know your way
around financials. Then try to get a different view. Bots will do all the things you and I cut our teeth on…the
things that helped us develop our strategic thinking. How will this generation develop those skills? Also
develop strong communication skills –financials are grouped numbers; be less about the groupings and
more about the story they tell.

KB: That’s great advice.
KW: I haven’t relied on my resume in 15 years. I’ve always had an abundance of opportunity here. So much
going on – and it’s accessible. You can get to people if you simply ask for a face to face. Think of it from
the other person’s view – it’s a privilege to be asked for advice or support. Start with one person you know
that trusts you and build on that. Get on the board of a charity…. call the Executive Director. There’s lots you
can do.

KB: How would you describe your mindset as a leader?
KW: Have fun. Laugh a lot. Trust is everything. I care deeply about the team. To me, the team is a sacred
thing. I assume that people want to give their best. Are people contributing, are they committed, are they
accountable and do they have integrity? If you have those four elements, you’ll have a great team that has
a blast. Of course, you have to hit the outcomes. Also, I want to understand what each team member’s
goals are. My role is to provide the resources so that they can achieve them.

KB: What’s a big lesson you can share with the readers?
KW: Finance people think it’s their job to control the finances. And of course, it is. But It’s easy to control
expense. Having a finance team that supports growth thinking is more challenging. For example, you may
have to hire people so that you can deliver into growth when it happens. Sales has to own the revenue
goal, but new business is a small piece of that. It’s the non-sales people that serve the existing revenue.
That requires customer focus. Keep the metrics and the scorecard so that people know if they’re doing a
good job. On-time delivery. Customer retention. Contribution margin. When Finance tells the complete
story of the numbers, the results improve. At RenPSG, we have over 99% customer retention.

KB: What do you count among your greatest wins?
KW: Winning CFO of the Year, but not for the accolade. My team put me up for the award secretly. I had
no idea. That meant more to me than anything. And of course ringing the NASDAQ bell along with the First
Internet Bank team when we went public was nothing less than astonishing.

KB: What’s your favorite movie?
KW: Right now, A Star is Born.

KB: What’s your favorite quote?
KW: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

KB: What advice would you give yourself 30 years ago?
KW: Believe in yourself.

KB: What would you be doing if you weren’t a CFO?
KW: I’d be a fashion designer, or I’d raise Irish setters.

KB: Any professional regrets?
KW: I left First Internet to start a women-led venture capital fund but decided not to. I should have
continued that.

KB: You still can.
KW: You’re right, I still can. [smile]

By | 2018-11-09T15:28:30+00:00 October 8th, 2018|Simply Driven Articles and Whitepapers|0 Comments