Author: Charles McNair


Ray Young and Robert Sumichrast
Ray Young, GM's outgoing chief financial officer, shown here with Terry College Dean Robert Sumichrast, gave an insider's account of the financial collapse and recovery plan at General Motors in his keynote speech at the CFO Roundtable's fourth annual ban

Terry College of Business Dean Robert T. Sumichrast addressed some 150 Atlanta-area senior finance executives on Nov. 19 at the CFO Roundtable's 2009 Year-End Dinner and CFO of the Year award presentation. Sumichrast praised the nationally recognized roundtable program in remarks preceding a keynote address by Ray G. Young, who at the time of his speech was nearing the end of a tumultuous year as chief financial officer of General Motors Co.

Two Terry College of Business alums, John O'Neill (EMBA '05) and Christopher White (EMBA '04), created the CFO Roundtable in 2005 for real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. Terry is a founding partner of the CFO Roundtable and remains a key co-sponsor as the highly successful executive program enters its sixth year.

"The CFO Roundtable is a powerful way for our college and the business community to fulfill our mission," Sumichrast told the high-profile crowd gathered in the Venetian Ballroom of the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead.

Sumichrast and O'Neill offered remarks before Gary Fayard, CFO of the Coca-Cola Co., introduced keynote speaker Young.

The youthful General Motors executive held audience members breathless with the ultimate insider's account of the financial collapse of the legendary automotive company, its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and its subsequent rebound and strategy for recovery and growth in the future.

Young's presentation featured previously privileged financial statements and internal timelines that gave graphic evidence of the financial stresses that afflicted the world's best-known automaker. The candid overview transfixed attendees, and left many in the audience shaking their heads at the challenge Young and other GM execs faced in keeping their enterprise solvent.

"It's the first time I've had a chance to publicly talk about what happened at GM," Young remarked before he outlined steps that brought GM out of Chapter 11 in a remarkably short 40 days.

Following Young's address, Kurt Kuehn, CFO at Atlanta-based UPS, presented Carol Tomé, executive vice president and CFO of The Home Depot, with the roundtable's 2009 CFO of the Year award.

Tomé, one of the nation's longest-serving CFOs, has helped Home Depot grow five-fold during her tenure to become a $70 billion corporation and an anchor of the Georgia, regional and national economies.

The CFO Roundtable invites senior finance executives in the Atlanta market (and 13 other markets in the United States and Canada) to quarterly events where they network, take part in peer-to-peer discussions, examine CFO professionalism, and listen to newsworthy financial figures such as Young.

"Our goal is pretty simple, really," O'Neill said in his remarks to Atlanta-market participants. "We're working to establish a best-in-class program that over time creates trust in financial programs."

Cushman & Wakefield is continuing an aggressive national roll-out of the CFO Roundtable concept in 2010. Supported by Jen Bolk, director of client development at Cushman & Wakefield, O'Neill and White want to eventually connect more than 12,000 senior finance executives in the U.S. and Canada.

In the Atlanta market, the Terry College shares a lead sponsorship role with Alston & Bird, Grant Thornton, Alvarez & Marsal, Accenture, and Korn/Ferry International.

White explained how the CFO profession benefits from actual roundtable events.

"The program facilitates regionally driven, peer-to-peer discussions that deliver practical value," he said. "The interactive format engages attendees and provides new ideas to drive business performance. Plus, it builds meaningful relationships within the CFO community and participating sponsors."

Terry has partnered with the roundtable program during 15 quarterly sessions and three year-end events. The sponsorship has exposed the college to many of the 1,820 executives who have attended roundtable events in total, many in the past 12 months.

"It's been an extremely productive year for CFO Roundtable," confirmed Sumichrast. "And a rewarding relationship for us all."