insightsoftware partner, Satriun, is an expert in the Corporate Performance Management (CPM) field, where they provide independent advice, design and implementation services to a wide range of clients. Satriun recently spoke with Gunnar Wiedenfels, Chief Financial Officer at Discovery Inc., on their Calling Corporates Podcast, where they talked about Wiedenfels’ experience at Discovery, his relationship with Satriun, and his team’s use of CXO Software from insightsoftware.
Discovery Inc. is a global leader in multimedia entertainment, reaching viewers on all television screens – cable, live broadcast, and streaming. The Silver Spring, MD headquartered company operates multiple divisions through 13 offices in 5 countries. Each year ~10,000 employees work to produce over 8,000 hours of original programming in 50 languages, broadcast to an audience of 3 billion viewers across 220 countries.
A Fresh Perspective on Long-Running Challenges
Wiedenfels was still settling into his role when a $15 billion acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive was finalized. A deal that would clear a runway for many years of growth and value creation throughout multiple divisions of the company. The size and challenge of the acquisition signaled an opportunity to evaluate the company’s core financial processes. Wiedenfels was invited by CEO David Zaslav to give an unbiased perspective on what was working, and what could be improved. Wiedenfels, in turn, determined that Discovery Inc. had to be perfectly set up for cash management to deliver the upsides from the Scripps acquisition.
At the time, Discovery’s financial system focused reporting efforts on two disconnected outputs: SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) and external financial reporting, and high-level P&L metrics. There was no middle ground that tied to two areas together, nor was there an instrument that allowed management to focus on cash flow. Bringing cash flow front and center offers a crucial perspective that Wiedenfels feels a lot of companies fail to see, because as he puts it, “Cash never lies.”
Bridging the Reporting Gap
With cashflow in mind and a fresh acquisition in the mix, Discovery Inc. kicked off an ambitious digital management reporting project. Wiedenfels and team landed on a decision to work with CPM consulting experts, Satriun, to implement a CPM solution, along with CXO, from insightsoftware, for reporting. But the reporting system overhaul was not without trepidation, “there’s always the risk of lifting and shifting your existing core processes into another system and then you haven’t won anything,” said Wiedenfels. Fortunately, Discovery’s implementation of CXO was transformative, going from paper and PDFs, to enjoying all the benefits of a digital financial reporting tool. “What I really like about CXO is the ability to go to one version of the truth. Get everyone on the same system, no versioning,” said Wiedenfels.
It also addressed what Wiedenfels calls a “disjointed” approach to note keeping, which plagues finance operations in every industry. According to Wiedenfels, connecting management commentary (notes) to financial data is inefficient. As he explained it, “You have your table, and you have a PowerPoint presentation to go along with it. It’s a waste of time to keep those two types of data separate, because someone puts energy into the commentary and then it’s gone.” He goes onto explain how CXO combines these two elements together. “With CXO, the commentary is an integral part of the data model. So, we can go back a year and see the discussion we had last year and refresh everyone’s memory. And it’s all there, and it’s all available at the click of button.”
Throughout his career, Wiedenfels has held a highly regarded role as an active participant in strategic direction. A credit that he tries to down play, instead describing himself as a “decision supporter.” “I think the best way to describe it (CFO position), is to help the CEO make the best, fact-based and rational decisions. I really view myself as a decision supporter,” he said. CXO also demonstrates how Wiedenfels can exercise a hands-on approach to leadership within the finance team. He describes situations where he can quickly drill down into key metrics that are related to the discussion at hand. There is no delay or handoff to a data specialist because he can access the data himself.
A Snapshot of Success With CXO
For Discovery, Inc. the implementation of CXO is marked by tangible reporting improvements:
- A single source of truth – “Get everyone on the same system, no versioning.”
- Continuity – a continuous record of financial reports and accompanying notes.
- Hands on access – reporting cockpit that grants users with direct access to key metrics.
CXO gave Gunnar Wiedenfels and Discovery, Inc. the insight to financial data needed to implement a sizable acquisition and lay the ground work for his tenure as CFO, “it’s all there, and it’s all available at the click of button.”
Listen to the full interview on the Satriun Podcast below: