Ep. 134: Karri Callahan - Preparing Finance Leaders for Success

August 02, 2021 | 17 Minutes

Karri Callahan, CFO at global real estate company RE/MAX, joins Count Me In to share some tips and strategies for CFOs and Finance leaders to prepare themselves for the demands of today's business environment. Karri oversees all finance, accounting, tax, treasury, investor relations, legal, compliance and risk management functions at RE/MAX Holdings, Inc. and its affiliated companies, including RE/MAX, LLC and Motto Franchising, LLC. As part of the executive leadership team, She plays a key role in the development and execution of major strategic initiatives. In this episode, she explains how aspiring leaders can position themselves to share strategic insights, how to upskill with technology, and how to build inclusive environments. Download and listen now!

Contact Karri Callahan: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karri-callahan-5219676a/

Mitch (00:00):
Hey everyone. Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and this is episode 134 of our series. In today's conversation, you will hear from Karri Callahan, CFO of global real estate company, Remax. Karri spoke with my co-host Adam about the role of the CFO and shared some tips for finance leaders. From strategy and technology to diversity, equity and inclusion, Karri has great perspective on many topics business leaders should be aware of. So to hear more, keep listening as we head over to their conversation now.
Adam (00:47):
So Karri, thanks so much for joining us and as you know, the role of the CFO is become very multifaceted and how can aspiring finance leaders better prepare themselves for providing a strategy and insight?
Karri (01:00):
Great, thanks so much for having me Adam, I appreciate it. And I think there's a couple of things to consider. First and foremost, I think it's important that you always keep learning, making sure that you continue to build your network, connect with peers and think about joining the right organization for you so that you can hear from different speakers and industry leaders on a regular basis, I think is really helpful. Some organizations that you can consider and that I've found helpful include Financial Executives International or FEI, and also the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, so the AICPA. Since I've been the CFO of a publicly traded company for the last five years or so, I've also found, NIRI or the National Investor Relations Institute, a great resource, they offer some fantastic certification courses and trainings and have just a tremendous library of events and programs that they offer. So I think that's also another resource for you. And then of course, last but not least, IMA definitely I know you all have a lot of resources to help professionals. I think the last thing I would say is just read things that are of interest to you, so that you can stay current either on recent economic trends, trends that might be impacting your business or your industry, or just business leadership in general. But I think some of the best advice I've gotten is that it's important and critical to really be intentional about how you spend your time. Your time is truly invaluable and making sure that you get the most out of every minute is critical, but if you keep really absorbing information, learning from others, the better prepared you're going to be as life and your profession throw you curve balls.
Adam (02:53):
Yeah, definitely. So, you know, speaking of time, we know that time, technology takes a lot of our time and technology has changed how finance and accounting operate with how, many routine tasks or many, many routine tasks are now automated, freeing up professionals to focus on higher level tasks. How well acquainted should today's accounting and finance professionals be with technology like intelligent automation or RPA?
Karri (03:21):
Yeah. So it's a great question. Remax LLC, president Nick Bailey, who I work closely with, he oftentimes tells our agents that if you know that technology won't put real estate agents out of business, but agents who don't embrace technology will put themselves out of business. And I think that advice is applicable to so many other professions, including mine and accounting and finance. And so I think as you think about technology and as all professionals really think about technology, it's important that we're always learning and evaluating and studying new trends from a technology perspective, that makes sense for your company and the finance and accounting operations within your organization. Our teams are constantly evaluating how to incorporate new technologies and software into our routine accounting and finance processes and the reason why that's so critical is because it frees up our team's time to really help analyze trends within the business, evaluate business opportunities and really work strategically with other leaders within our organization so that we're contributing to strategic growth initiatives. And so technology is a key point to that, you know, as part of that transformation within our business, our company now has more in-house technology expertise and firepower than we ever have. We have now about 50% of our workforce that's directly involved in technology and we've recently announced an organizational change to really create one technology team comprised of all of those professionals so that we can really maximize collaboration, focus on our customer and end user experience and operate with purpose, passion, and excellence from a technology perspective. And I think what that does over time is, you know, we expect it really will benefit the entire corporate team, including everyone from an accounting and finance perspective, as well as other services function by really enhancing the delivery and supportive technology and data to all areas of the business so that we can continue to drive the business forward.
Adam (05:28):
Definitely. It sounds like Remax is doing some wonderful things to, be a leader in the industry. So what do you do to stay ahead on the technology curve?
Karri (05:39):
Yeah, great question. So I think, you know, fortunately the piece of change in the real estate industry, it's incredibly exciting and incredibly dynamic and because of that, our leadership team has really a front row seat to the latest technologies as we implement our MNA strategies as well as just continue to focus on our organic growth as well. For example, you know, despite a global pandemic in September of last year, we announced the acquisitions of Gadberry Group and Weenlow. Gaderry Group specializes in building best in class products that help clients solve geospatial challenges through accurate and precise location data. Weenlow is a Florida based startup that is reshaping the mortgage loan processing, process within the mortgage brokerage channel and they have developed the first service cloud for mortgage brokers effectively combining third-party loan processing with an all-in-one digital platform. And so those are just two really exciting opportunities that we have been able to execute upon as we really look to stay ahead of that technology curve. You know, we're always assessing the latest technologies and innovative companies with in, in the space and in our business pursuits because we are the worldwide leader and we want to make sure that Remax, stays in that position from a real estate technology perspective is clear. That mission is hugely beneficial to my knowledge of what's currently out there and what the space is, is truly lacking. It sounds simple, but another way to stay ahead of the curve is really by surrounding myself with a healthy mix of like-minded individuals and people who really stretched me beyond my own constraints. We have a fantastic network of about 140,000 real estate agents, more than 600 headquarter employees, and we operate in over 110 countries and territories globally and I'm so fortunate to be able to work with and network alongside people who have very similar core values and yet challenge each other to continuously improve and innovate. And I think that collaboration really transcends across our headquarters organization because I think staying connected with leaders on the technology side is really important. I have a standing weekly meeting with our chief operating officer who oversees all of our technology and am integrated with other leaders across our product and engineering teams as well. And I think that's really helpful because getting their perspective helps me stay ahead and stay current in terms of what's happening from a technology perspective.
Adam (08:27):
So to shift gears a little bit. Recently, business leaders have become more attuned to the need to actively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, not just because of public pressure and what's been happening just in society in general, but because there are also tangible business benefits, how has Remax supported DE&I broadly and staff members who are women and or people of color?
Karri (08:49):
Thanks, Adam. I think this is a great question and part of the reason I think that it's important and one of the things that I think is critical to note in response to this, is that at our core, our business is a business that builds businesses. We provide a platform for entrepreneurs of all different backgrounds and more than 110 countries and territories, to be as successful as they want to be. And our approach to supporting entrepreneurship across all of those different dimensions has really been ingrained of the fabric of our company for nearly 50 years now. However, specifically over the last year or so, we've built on this cultural foundation and taken steps to promote actionable change both at our corporate level, as a franchisor and through our network of independently owned and operated franchisees across the globe. So from a corporate perspective, we've done a number of things. First, we conducted a 10 week racial equity and social justice challenge open to all of our teammates to build more effective social justice habits, particularly those dealing with issues of race, bias, and privilege, and really by having an open dialogue around these very difficult issues. It's our hope that we can each find ways to be part of the solution. I was excited to participate in it and I found the dialogue and the engagement very satisfying from a personal perspective. We also held multiple listening sessions across our employee base to hear from teammates on these topics, including their feelings on what we're doing well, what we can improve on, and what actions they'd like to see from our company on a go-forward basis. We've also enlisted an outside consultant to help us take an inventory of what we do around social governance that spans the spectrum in terms of our sustainability efforts, diversity, philanthropy, and our governance and what we do well and what we can improve upon. And then a couple of other things that are just single points in time. We did take a stand and issued a statement in the wake of the George Floyd killing last year, we closed our headquarters on Juneteenth, both in 2020 and again this year, and then our motto mortgage division also dedicated the month of April to advance homeownership fairness with their product, "one motto, one vision", which was an educational campaign that was focused on efforts to advance equality in mortgage lending and increase awareness of these issues within our motto mortgage network, as well as the consumers that they work with. In terms of our franchisee networks, we've also done a lot in this area, not only in the last year, but really throughout our history. We've been actively promoting, the national association of realtors at home with diversity training to our membership in all of our weekly communication that goes out to our network of real estate agents and this course addresses issues of diversity, fair housing, and cultural differences. Last year in August at our spring convention, we also announced the introduction of some additional training, which is through the National Association of Realtors, which is a fair haven training through our Remax university platform. And that's a course that really tests all agents on all things, fair housing. We continue to promote diversity and inclusion at our large scale events, including securing diverse group, a diverse group of speakers. One example of that was Baratunde Thurston who gave a popular Ted Talk at our franchisee owner conference in August of last year and the topic was, "how to deconstruct racism one headline at a time". And then we also use social media channels to champion diversity and also leverage a lot of relationships that we have across the real estate industry with housing advocacy groups, like the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, or NAHREP, the National Association of Black Real Estate Brokers, or NAREB. And then the Asian Real Estate Association of America, AREAA and the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance, and we offer a lot of trainings to our franchisees and agents on our platform in support of those programs as well.
Adam (13:25):
That's really great. Again, just sounds like Remax is doing some great things to be a leader in the community, to stand up and to make sure that there is change in our society, which has been needed for a long time. So that's just wonderful to hear.
Karri (13:40):
It's very exciting and I think for me as a leader, it's something that I'm just really proud of in terms of being associated with an amazing brand and an amazing company like Remax, both professionally and personally.
Adam (13:53):
So as a female CFO, I know that CFOs, to be a female CFO, hasn't always been a trend, for many, many years in the accounting profession. Have you ever experienced gender bias and what did you do to overcome those challenges?
Karri (14:11):
Yeah, it's a great question and I think from a Remax perspective, we are so fortunate because Remax was co-founded by Gail Liniger and historically gender bias is just not something that we've seen at this company. I think the gender diversity at Remax makes us stand out even more so because it's truly ingrained in who we are. In 1973, Dave and Gail Liniger, who are co-founders, they were two very ambitious professionals and they set out to build a new company that would truly operate differently than the competitors who existed at the time and ultimately disrupt the entire real estate industry as a whole. But central to that disruption was the fact that Remax was truly built on the back of female entrepreneurs with Gail Liniger at the forefront and really because at the time female real estate agents struggled to have a prominent role in the industry before Remax was introduced to today. So if you fast forward to today and you look across the Remax franchisee and agent network, we're close to 50/50 in terms of the male/female split amongst our real estate agents and franchisees who own franchises across our networks. Two of our five executives are female and 40% of our board members are female. So we don't really talk about it being important, I think we demonstrate just in those statistics, that it truly is important. And our proven track record of elevating women to leadership positions across the company, really combined with some progressive maternity and parental leave benefits is really highlighted because Forbes recently ranked Remax at number 11 on its list of America's best employers for women. And so in general, I do think that there can be a stigma and a lack of credibility associated with female leaders. I feel extremely fortunate that I haven't experienced this in my current role, but I am always intentional about establishing myself and my credibility because I know it's something that other female leaders have had to overcome in their workplaces.
Closing (16:27):
This has been Count Me In. IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA’s website at www.imanet.org.