Chris Herak Spotlight

In our quarterly Shooting Star series, we profile a team member who has exemplified a core Orion value. For our first spotlight, Orion recognizes Chris Herak, Leo FM CFO, for his aptitude for partnership and his commitment to building a world-class finance organization.

Leo FM is a premier, national facilities maintenance provider offering a range of interior and exterior services. As the CFO, Chris partners with business leaders on strategic vision and drives the finance and accounting functions.

Chris Herak Spotlight

Budding Partnerships

My dad has been in healthcare finance for his entire career. While I was growing up, I remember him handling his friends’ and family members’ taxes – and now I do the same. Even before I went to school, I knew I wanted to do something in economics or business, so my dad said, “Get an accounting degree. If you understand accounting, you can do anything in finance.” And that’s what I did.

Many of my college friends went on to become CPAs and work at major accounting firms. That just didn’t interest me. For me, accounting is the science behind the numbers, but finance is where you can bridge what has happened to what the numbers tell us about our business. When we arm our business leaders with that information, what they can put into action becomes much more valuable.

When I was in college, I did some freelance accounting work for one of my neighbors who owned a hair salon. While she was great at hairdressing, she didn’t know as much about how to manage a business, so she asked me to help her create a set of books every month. She then introduced me to some friends, and I ended up doing this freelance work for several small businesses in a local shopping mall.

To showcase information to a business owner that they would not have otherwise thought to look for – to be that thought partner – is an immensely rewarding experience. Even today in my career, that’s what I pride myself on.

Sprinting to the Finish Line

Early on in my career, I wound up in an internal auditing position at a healthcare network, which meant sitting with people who manage the function you’re auditing, following their every move, and documenting everything. Ideally, you find potential improvements to their current processes.

They hated me. No one wants an auditor around. I was also relatively young compared to the rest of the team, so there was a lot of skepticism about the legitimacy of my being there.

I left that position to join a water treatment company as their corporate accountant. The CEO and the CFO there really mentored me. They pulled me in on everything, whether it came to equity, debt, financial analysis, you name it. The CEO pushed me well outside of my comfort zone, but he also entrusted me to get the job done.

One of our debt raises was to finance a project to install thousands of drinking water systems across the Indian railway network. We had to partner with domestic and international banks, governmental authorities, and multiple legal firms across national borders. Near the end of the fundraise, in my efforts to secure funding, I flew to India with no specific return date and ended up spending 89 consecutive days on that single trip, hopping around hotels across the country.

On the night before I intended to come back to the U.S. – if anything, to avoid having to pay Indian income tax – I finally received the government approval document we desperately needed to start the project. The satisfaction of holding that crucial piece of paper was beyond words. We had planned to obtain funding in 18 months and achieved it in nine, shattering expectations.

Sprinting after an ambitious, record-setting goal can be such an exciting and fulfilling experience, especially when you have leaders who are backing you and empowering you to do this. It pushes you to keep improving and makes you want to excel.

 

A Winning Team

We have very intelligent people in this organization, in high-caliber, high-performing teams. And I want to be around those people because I want to learn continuously. As a part of this team, you get to work with some of the most talented people you’ve ever come across. It just feels like you’re on a winning team here.

And Orion’s rapid M&A pace is truly exciting. I know I’m going to be busy and challenged. I know there are going to be issues I’ll have to navigate, but I love that type of environment.

We’re also much more collaborative and focused on partnership here than I’ve previously experienced. We prioritize autonomy and latitude through a decentralized management structure, which is an environment I really thrive in. Here, I see myself as a bridge, connecting the requirements of our shareholders or lenders with the capabilities of the business leaders in our operating companies so that I can build a robust finance function to support all stakeholders. What I’ve prided myself on doing so far is building a very collaborative and supportive team.

And I’m not an auditor (anymore). I don’t want to be a “gotcha” person. My job is to be a business partner to my leadership team and to build trust in the finance function. My job is to say, “These are the numbers. They are correct. This is what they tell me. What do you think? Let’s spar and have a discussion to figure out what we’re going to do going forward.”

I’ve had tactical accomplishments that I’m proud of, but my favorite moments have been the training opportunities we have here. At this year’s Finance Community Offsite, for example, I was asked to be a mentor to a controller in a different industry. I also facilitated two Orion Workshops on Finance Fundamentals, which were super fun and different from my day-to-day work. The learning and development opportunities Orion offers are truly some of the best that I’ve seen in my career, and being a part of these efforts is what I’m most proud of. If, in any way, I have imparted knowledge to somebody else at this organization and helped them become better at their job, that’s what I’m most proud of. That’s what it’s all about for me.

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