Randall Bolten, Author of Painting with Numbers On the CFO Role and Data in the Business World

Interview Randall Bolten, Author of Painting with Numbers, CFO role and data in the business world

Randall Bolten is an author and finance executive. Randall Bolten has 30 years’ experience at high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, including 20 years as CFO, for both public companies and venture-backed private companies, including IPO and several other public transactions.

Randall Bolten is the author of “Painting with Numbers: Presenting Financials and Other Numbers So People Will Understand You” and Other Numbers So People Will Understand You, published in 2012. Randall speaks frequently, and provides workshops and training to Fortune 100 companies in the area of presenting complex numerical information clearly and effectively.

Interview focus

1. An introduction from you – background, overview, education…
2. Career highlights
3. Your company, organisation and focus
4. What are your work priorities
5. Future of Education
6. Goals and how do you see the future of work and the main trends in tech and society
7. With Covid-19 how can you look at this as a way to redesign our society
8. Future

Quotes And Highlights

Evolution of Finance. Information and access to it has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. Oracle introduced a revolution that is not that really well understood but 40 years ago it was incredibly difficult to produce the numbers and took armies of people with calculators to produce financial data so there was little time left to do any real analysis of them. But now, and this is an ongoing trend, the distribution of people in the finance function is shifting from accounting and from treasury into what is called FPN, financial planning and analysis. This is a decentralized focus on finance and one of the most interesting evolutions.

The importance of education. It won’t come as a surprise to you that the part of my education that I value the most is the places where I learned to write and to speak effectively and to form reasonable and logical conclusions from the numbers. I think that that’s going to continue to be true in the future.

About Silicon Valley and its model. I think that there are plenty of Silicon Valleys in the world. I think Silicon Valley and the people that went to Silicon Valley 30 years ago should pat themselves in the back for having created a new approach to business and it is an approach that’s taking hold in London, boston, in Asia, etc. And mostly it is a good thing as it shook a bit the legacy business models we had before.

About metrics and entrepreneurship. I wouldn’t say that there’s a single metric that’s critically important. The important thing when you’re presenting metrics is that you’ve thought about the problem and that you’ve been able to boil down that issue into a relatively small set of numbers. Let me use an investor pitch as an example. One of the slides in every investor pitch is the business model, you know it’s the five-year outlook of the revenues and expenses and profitability. Anyone can produce a spreadsheet that shows that in five years your startup will be a three hundred million dollar company with eighty percent profit margins. That’s just the spreadsheet exercise. What’s important when you are presenting a business model to someone is to show that you have an understanding of how that business makes money, why people buy the product and what it is the cost to deliver that product. So it is not the raw numbers itself but the thought behind those numbers what really matters.

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Randall Bolten Biography

Randall Bolten grew up in Washington, D.C., the son of a CIA intelligence officer and a history professor. He is passionate about the importance of presenting financials and other numerical information in a cogent and effective way, and in his current life is the author of Painting with Numbers: Presenting Financials and Other Numbers So People Will Understand You (John Wiley & Sons, 2012).

He is a seasoned financial executive, with many years directing the financial and other operations of high-technology companies. His experience includes nearly twenty years as a chief financial officer of software companies.

He has held the CFO position at public companies BroadVision and Phoenix Technologies, and at private companies including Arcot Systems, BioCAD, and Teknekron. Before his CFO positions, he held senior financial management positions at Oracle and Tandem Computers.

He received his AB from Princeton University, headed west to earn an MBA at Stanford University, and ended up staying in Silicon Valley.

In addition to writing Painting with Numbers, he currently operates Lucidity, a consulting and executive coaching practice focused on organizing and presenting complex financial information. He divides his work time between Glenbrook, NV and Washington, DC, and maintains an office in Menlo Park, CA.

CEO of Lucidity

Contract CFO and consulting in areas requiring both (a) CFO-level skills and experience and (b) effective, clear, and concise presentation of information.

Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley

Instructor for “Presenting Quantitative Data Effectively,” a course in the U.C. Berkeley Extension’s Finance Program.

CFO of Progknowse, Inc.

Progknowse is an early-stage startup, developing software that will take a novel approach to real-time predictive analytics software to improve health care outcomes for patients, and financial outcomes for hospitals and health systems.

CFO at Arcot Systems

Arcot provided a software security solution ensuring two-factor authentication for users of payment processing and other online applications. The company was acquired by CA Technologies in 2009.

CFO at Phoenix Technologies

Phoenix Technologies provides BIOS, firmware, and other core system software for personal computers and other computing devices.

Corporate Director MarketFirst

MarketFirst develops software and e-marketing solutions that allow companies to build E-marketing campaigns. The company was sold to a larger CRM software company in 2002. Served on compensation and audit committees.

CFO BroadVision

BroadVision was a pioneer in providing software that enables enterprises to design and implement websites offering a one-to-one, personalized experience for customers, employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders of the enterprise. Growth from $0 to $500MM in 5 years.

Author of “Painting with Numbers: Presenting Financials and Other Numbers So People Will Understand You”

“Painting with Numbers” is the first book to teach and treat presenting numbers as a communication skill, not a math skill. It’s a skill that requires knowledge of the rules & grammar, a sense of narrative flow, and respect and compassion for your audience. And it’s a skill that’s critical to professional success for FP&A professionals, financial analysts, accountants, engineers, and professionals in many other disciplines where it’s essential to present complex numerical information clearly and effectively.

Links and sources of information




Randall Bolten: “Painting with Numbers”