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

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!

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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