Making the Math Work: Inside the Head of CFO Steve Berk

Posted by Erin Quigley, Corporate Communications Director on February 29, 2016 at 10:00 AM
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Steve_Berk_h.jpgMarsh & McLennan Agency Western Region CFO, Steve Berk, has spent the last three decades (and counting) with the same company. If words like “predictable” or “uneventful” come to mind when you hear about his long-term tenure with the firm, you don’t know Steve very well. We recently sat down with him to discuss his CFO journey, an unexpected detour into sales, and what he sees as the most important business opportunities CFOs need to navigate today.

After starting his career as a CPA with Deloitte & Touche, Steve joined Marsh where he held various finance roles, ultimately becoming Western Regional CFO in 1992. He enjoyed his years in finance but after the heartbreaking loss of a number of his colleagues in the World Trade Center in 2001 and growing weary of ongoing travel, in 2005, Steve declared a need for a change.

Unwilling to lose a dynamic leader, Marsh asked Steve to run the sales division in Portland. The request seemed unconventional at first, but with his experience as CFO, Steve knew exactly what kept prospects up at night. With his CFO insider knowledge and extroverted personality, Steve proved to be the perfect candidate to reenergize sales. Soon, Steve was made head of sales for Marsh’s Western Region.

Fast forward to Steve’s relocation to San Diego in 2009, his career would soon come full circle. In 2014, Marsh & McLennan Agency acquired Barney & Barney and folded in much of Steve’s Marsh office a year later. With CEO Paul Hering and COO/President Hal Dunning’s roles expanding, Steve was the perfect addition to the team – once again as CFO.

We sat down with Steve to get some insight on his experience as CFO.

How does your sales experience help you in your role as CFO?

Working in sales, I learned how sales people think. I’ve developed a pretty good sense of what’s achievable—of how to set ourselves up to succeed. I know when we need to temper down or increase a forecasted number. At the end of the day, it’s just a math equation. You have to make the math work, get leadership to buy in and motivate folks to help you reach that number.

What are the top concerns that CFOs have today?

High level, I think CFOs need to understand how they can proactively support the growth of the organization. On a micro level, CFOs should focus on developing the talent pool in their finance departments.

My top four:

  1. Continuously improving the ways performance is measured and monitored. What metrics are we using? Are we focusing on top line growth? Controlling expenses? Should our focus change?
  2. Providing input on growth strategy. Whether it’s organic or through acquisitions, CFOs need to help identify opportunities for the company to grow.
  3. Identifying, developing and retaining finance group talent. CFOs shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of developing their team, and building career paths.
  4. Optimizing the planning, budgeting and forecasting process. Like most companies, we start compiling our plan for the following year five months before the next year even starts, which means we have to forecast seventeen months out. This requires ongoing proactive communication with sales directors to look at client retention, which accounts are in jeopardy, and opportunities in our pipeline.

What advice do you have for other CFOs?

When I was first starting out, I was told I could never achieve the corporate title Managing Director because, I wasn’t involved in a main function of the business – insurance or sales. Yet, the accounting and finance department is the bloodstream of an organization. In most organizations, the accounting professionals are historically diligent, motivated, over-worked and at capacity. It’s important that we focus on recognizing and rewarding these individuals because without them, there would be no business. These folks are our next generation of CFOs and business leaders.


Interested in meeting dynamic CFOs like Steve Berk who are making San Diego a thriving business community? MMA is a proud title sponsor of the San Diego Business Journal’s CFO of the Year Awards on March, 16, 2017

Topics: Inside B&B, Associate Spotlight, Culture

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