October 29, 2020
W.L. Mellon Speaker Series: David Zinsner Is the Made-for-Today CFO
David Zinsner (IM 1991), Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Micron Technology, Inc., spoke on Oct. 5, 2020 as part of the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series.
To be a strong and successful chief financial officer (CFO) in a world of disruption takes more than mastering the numbers game. David Zinsner (IM 1991), Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Micron Technology, Inc., has made a career from taking calculated risks, pivoting eloquently during times of disruption, and looking beyond the data to identify trends and opportunities — beyond the bottom line — that ultimately add value to his company, customers, and stakeholders.
Disruptions to Economies: The Impact of COVID-19 and Emerging Technologies on Business
While COVID-19 wiped out supply chains across the world, brought production centers to a halt, and challenged the traditional methods of how we as a global society conduct business, Micron Technology and Zinsner were able to pivot and adapt, developing a business model that future CFOs will be able to follow to similar success.
To Zinsner, it’s about seeing past short-term wins and creating long-term value for the organization.
“You value the customer, you value the supplier, you value your employees, and the community, and all of this circles back to driving the valuation of the company. You don’t attract the best and brightest employees if you don’t have value, front and center, in your motivations,” he said.
Despite having production and supply chain challenges early on in the pandemic, as well as challenges presented by trade regulations, Micron Technology is seeing growth in some product lines, including cloud computing and laptop computers. Embracing new technologies has helped both Micron Technology’s bottom line and made business easier during this time of transition.
Zinsner used to “fly to New York and meet with investors, then be in Boston the next day meeting with more” and by the time he arrived home, he’d be “completely tapped out.”
“And now it’s amazing how much more efficient we’ve been able to be in terms of meeting with investors using Zoom. We’re able to see international investors without ever leaving the office, which is incredible.”
The emergence of and adaptation to new technologies, such as AI, autonomous driving, and 5G, is something Zinsner believes will continue to change how CFOs manage businesses.
“When I started, it was generally required for you to know how to roll up the numbers and understand accounting roles. Now, I think it’s really about being a strategic partner to business, providing insights, and helping to drive decision-making. You know, it's funny, I find myself spending as much of my time on human resources issues and how to build a good team,” he said.
“We have to be thinking, on the operational front, how to invest in the right technology, not only for business, but also for our products. It’s about leadership, creative thinking, and curiosity, and not getting pigeon-holed into what the numbers tell you,” he continued.
Integrity, Leadership, and the Art of Data: The Makings of a Modern CFO
In addition to embracing new technologies and taking appropriate levels of risk to optimize business, Zinsner encourages business students to, above all else, have integrity. He notes that there have been several times in his career where he has encountered individuals that have pushed him to make decisions that would impact his integrity. He refused.
“Early on in my career, a CFO told me that integrity is the one thing that is so important to your career, and if you lose it, you lose it forever,” Zinsner said. “To be a finance leader, you must maintain your integrity.”
Having strong mentors and leaderships models also contributed to Zinsner’s successful climb to CFO; he now pays it forward to others.
“I’ve had maybe eight different people who were working for me go on to be CEOs or CFOs and I’ve always tried to help them position themselves for that role,” he said. With a laugh, he noted that while it’s bad for him to lose valuable employees, he believes it’s ultimately better to develop people.
He advises students to maintain good relationships with those who can influence their careers, and to “never allow yourself to think that you know everything.”
His approach is a modern take on leadership: the combination of smart business foundations and personal career development that ultimately makes for well-rounded (and successful) companies.
“In general, almost everyone we hire has a degree in data science, or they are that kind of person — someone that understands and can develop answers from the data,” he said. “It’s the art of being able to get that insight from data that makes finance teams valuable.”