Groupon is one of the most recognizable names in e-commerce and as such symbolizes innovation and agility for many. But even a vibrant business can find it difficult to weather the headwinds of sudden change. Melissa Thomas was officially appointed Groupon’s CFO at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and had to deal with a volatile situation in the global economy, while implementing a new growth strategy. In this Q&A, Melissa explains how she approached her new role, strengthening Groupon’s financial position while overseeing the restructuring of the company, drawing on communication and feedback from her own team and others. key stakeholders. In addition, she explains how acquiring key technological skills can enable finance professionals not only to do their jobs better, but also to truly differentiate and distinguish them within their organizations.
Jeff thomson: You became Groupon’s CFO in February 2020, at the dawn of one of the most tumultuous years in living memory. Your transition to CFO has coincided not only with a global pandemic, but with a new corporate restructuring plan, a new growth strategy, and the need to move Groupon staff to remote work. How did you manage to take on this role in the midst of all this change and successfully lead the finance function? What ideas do you have for newly appointed CFOs and other senior executives in a similar situation?
Melissa Thomas: When I was appointed CFO, I already had the advantage of holding this position for seven months on an interim basis, as well as having previously served as Groupon’s Chief Accounting Officer, Treasurer and Vice President of Commercial Finance. Once I was appointed permanent CFO, my top priority was making sure we were well positioned to deal with a protracted global pandemic that was going to have a profound impact on our business. Basically, we had to make sure we stabilize the business and have a strategy to build and maintain resilience. The biggest part of this was creating and then executing an overall restructuring plan that would allow us to operate with a streamlined infrastructure that supports both efficiency and productivity.
Once we were able to move forward with restructuring, we turned to future growth. This phase included an in-depth analysis of our value propositions for customers and merchants and a subsequent strategy to seize the opportunities of our business model to drive future growth. While creating a dynamic strategy was paramount, its success hinged on teams understanding and feeling connected to our strategy and goals.
This alignment is essential for leaders! To that end, it was important for me and other senior leaders to engage our employee base and ensure that everyone understood the strategy, the way forward and believed that we could achieve our goals. The main ways we did this were to increase the frequency of communications, make ourselves more visible to our organizations, and invite feedback, even though it was difficult. In addition to the employees, it was also important for me, as CFO, to build strong relationships with the board of directors and the investment community to ensure that they too understood what we were doing and why we were doing it. were doing it. Accountability and transparency are the keys to our performance culture and allow us to move faster than ever. We are excited about the future and believe that as the world continues to recover from the impact of the pandemic and continue to execute on our growth strategy, we are well positioned for long-term profitable growth. .
Thomas: Groupon announced in Q4 2020 that it will remove repeat purchase restrictions and invest in an improved customer experience and self-service tools for merchants. How does your finance team contribute to decision making in strategic areas such as technology investing? How do you cultivate a state of mind of anticipation when it comes to forecasting and planning?
Thomas: The opinions of my team are very well respected throughout the company. We value being a strategic, collaborative partner, and our colleagues value us for having insight and visibility into just about every important decision we need to make as a business. It is important that finance professionals have a place around the table because you cannot be an effective financial partner for your business partners otherwise. If you understand where the business wants or needs to go, you can better anticipate future needs and opportunities. In the second quarter of last year, we launched a new growth strategy focused on executing two key strategic priorities: expanding our inventory and modernizing our market. Whenever you improve your inventory offerings, as we have done with our new low-discount offer inventory list option, you need to assess the multitude of factors that can impact your business and integrate constantly new data points and results in your model. In other words, this is our version of “test and learn”.
Before deciding to launch our Offers product, we had to ask ourselves the right questions, for example: what does ultimate success look like? How do we measure our progress towards our goals? What are the tradeoffs? What are the short and long term impacts on our market, financial or otherwise? Ultimately, we believed that a larger supply would unlock more demand over time and our test markets showed that to be the case, as we saw a high single-digit increase in billings and a small increase. two-digit units. I’m proud of how we’ve balanced the need for good judgment with the need to move really fast as we seek to capture more of our $ 1,000 billion addressable market.
Thomas: As an undergraduate you studied both accounting and computer information systems which sounds premonitory as we experience the digital transformation of accounting and finance. What’s your take on enabling technology and automating routine and repetitive tasks? Are you optimistic about the ability of accounting and finance professionals to leverage technology to add value to the business? What do you think undergraduate accounting and finance students should focus on to best position them for longevity and career growth? Is this an opportunity for them to improve their data science and data analysis skills, or are you considering outsourcing this activity outside of finance?
Thomas: I am very optimistic about the use of technology not only to add value to the business, but also to boost employee engagement and job satisfaction. The more we can automate routine, repetitive, and data-driven tasks, the more time our professionals have to devote to what they do best: investing time in supporting new business initiatives, finding new and better ways to do it. ” evaluate products and processes, and better understand the drivers of our business performance. This allows us to make smarter decisions faster, and with more of our employees involved in the decision-making process and understanding their role in our success. This is a benefit for everyone involved. Today’s undergraduate accounting and finance students should definitely consider the role of technology and data science in their future career goals.
While I wouldn’t expect finance professionals to ever replace dedicated data science and analytics teams, these roles and responsibilities will be inextricably linked. I think it is possible to improve skills in these areas while recognizing the limits and understanding where you are or can be the subject matter expert. To today’s students, my recommendation is to be pragmatic in acquiring skills – whether in technology and data science or elsewhere – that differentiate you from your peers and allow you to easily demonstrate how your unique abilities can be of benefit to the organization. And, as always, the best way to position yourself for longevity and career growth is to be passionate about what you do. At Groupon, we have countless professionals who come to work every day excited about what they do and eager to be a part of our story, and that makes all the difference.
This article has been edited and condensed.