Rick Attilio of Apptis: What it takes to be a successful CFO

In the 2 ½ years that Rick Attilio has been with Apptis, he’s been helping the Chantilly, Va.-based company define its strategic vision. Attilio brings a wealth of background to his position as chief financial officer, having spent 22 years beforehand at Unisys — the last five as vice president of finance responsible for the company’s federal and global public sector business. Recently Attilio sat down with ExecutiveBiz to talk about his background, and what it takes to be a successful CFO in today’s challenging business environment.

What’s your major focus for next year?

Rick Attilio: Our focus for 2008 has been on defining the company’s strategic vision. In the 2008 planning process, which began in the late third quarter of 2007, we segmented the company into two distinct operating divisions – Apptis Technology Solutions, the value added reseller solutions division and Apptis, the programmatic services division. For 2008 and beyond, our objective was to develop completely transparent reporting and operating metrics for the two units. This is critical because they’re very different businesses that utilize different go-to market strategies and execution in their respective market segments. For the programmatic services unit, our objective is to grow the top line revenues at double or triple the market rate.  In the solutions reseller operation, we’re focused on a lower top line growth rate with more emphasis on re-engineering our sourcing and delivery model to drive greater bottom-line growth.
What is your biggest challenge in business right now?

Rick Attilio:
Brand and name recognition. If you think of Apptis and its predecessor companies most of the brand recognition in the market is generally associated with the value added reseller part of our business.  We have great qualifications on the services front and we are finally getting the recognition we deserve outside of our immediate client base.  We’re delivering best in class service engagements to a number of our clients like DISA, FAA and the Department of State, to name a few. Some of these clients we’ve had for decades and the reason we’ve been successful is because of our performance. The challenge is to expand our base and bring the recognition of our capabilities to a much larger population of clients and partners.  Other than that, it’s just a matter of focus and execution.

What does it take to be a successful CFO?

Rick Attilio: A CFO in today’s world has to be more than just your textbook accountant and financial person.  You have to be a well-rounded leader who has his or her hands in many, many disciplines and is ultimately responsible for value.

Another key ingredient to being a successful CFO today is your ability to partner with the leadership team to drive the company’s vision and value. I spend many days with our C level team talking about emerging technologies and how we can convert them into bona fide business plans to drive revenue, earnings and cash.  Also, I constantly work closely with our division operating leaders to drive improvements and efficiencies in our business. You get involved in things that aren’t necessarily your conventional financial type disciplines. It’s about continually asking some basic questions: where is the business today, where do you want it to go, what are the opportunities and challenges facing us, and what do I need to modify or add to my finance infrastructure to enable the sales and delivery drivers of our business to go further.

Now Apptis is partly owned by private equity?

Rick Attilio: Yes. New Mountain Capital is our financial sponsor.

Any unique challenges or opportunities that you have as the CFO?

Rick Attilio: There are always challenges whether the company is public or private.  One of the major differences in the private versus the public arena is in the area of SOX and other SEC type requirements.  Being owned by private equity I have found provides an ability to make quicker decisions.  Basically, it makes you more nimble, more agile for quicker reaction. Our leadership team has a very good working relationship with our private equity sponsor where we can present opportunities and get to decision points much quicker than I’ve seen in my prior experience on the public side.  If anything, I believe it affords more opportunity for growth.

What is something most people don’t know about you personally?

Rick Attilio:
I’m an avid audio video enthusiast.  By that I mean that I have a great passion for movies and music, primarily the reproduction of recorded music.  I am actually an aficionado of the old genre for reproducing recorded music.  My preferences are: vinyl, records, for source material and tubes for electronics.

How big is your collection?

Rick Attilio: I have about 700 albums and about 400 digital recordings on CD, DVD and other formats.

That’s a big collection.

Rick Attilio:
Yes it is.  I’ve enjoyed accumulating it over the years. At the end of a long week I find it very relaxing to sit down with a nice glass of Pinot and put on an LP and just listen to the artists at their work.
What’s your favorite restaurant? 

Rick Attilio:  That’s a hard one because there are so many great ones in this area. I guess to select one, I would choose the Palm in Tysons Corner. The food and service is always top rate.

What’s the last book you read?

Rick Attilio: I’m a history buff. The book I just finished is Augustus: The Life of Rome’s First Emperor by Anthony Everitt.

What’s your favorite news site?

Rick Attilio: I really don’t have one. I tend to bounce around to a number of them. The two most common that I visit are Yahoo and CNN.

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