CFO 2016 celebrating Contorno

Family and friends cheered for Marana Unified School District CFO Dan Contorno, who won both the government/education award as well as the prestigious CFO of the Year Award.

While most diehard baseball fans remained glued to their TV screens on Wednesday, Nov. 2, the Tucson financial community courageously gathered to celebrate the best and brightest who do more than spend their days sifting through invoices, receipts and spreadsheets – the chief financial officer.

Whether large or small, or non-profit, the financial officers of a wide variety of organizations were recognized for their hard work and dedication at the fourth annual CFO Awards hosted by Inside Tucson Business at Casino del Sol Resort with the help of sponsors Beach Fleischman, Financial Executives Affiliates of Tucson (FEAT) and Quarles & Brady.

Divided into five categories to an overall CFO of the Year Award, financial officers were recognized for the work they do every day to keep their companies and nonprofit organizations moving to achieve brighter tomorrows.

“We understand that the business climate in Tucson has been challenging and we feel it, too,” said Steve Pope, publisher of Inside Tucson Business and Tucson Local Media. “It’s getting better, which is a great thing, but it’s not getting better as quickly as we’d like. Despite that, these men and women we’re honoring tonight have shown the ability to overcome the financial climate, take on a large workload for the organizations they work for and in the community at large because above all they help employers not only get by – but excel.” 

While the work any organization does may differ greatly from one to the other, the role of chief financial officer varies little from business to business, and the impact is significant – often being felt well outside of spreadsheets.

“I know there are some people, the ones who don’t understand finances think that all 

we do is count beans but we are no longer bean counters,” said Lorena Witty, VP of finance for Securaplane Technologies and the winner in the large company category. “We are partners, we are the backbone of the company, we provide guidance and we create partnership. I think that our careers have changed over the years and there is more recognition of the value that we bring as financial professionals, which is great.”

The ability to be both a partner and a leader within an organization was a point touched upon by each of the five individuals recognized, though for Andrea Randall, CFO/COO at The Lodge at Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club and winner of the small/medium company category, the role of the CFO has changed philosophically over the years.

Randall said that when she first began in finance she worked for a Fortune 500 company and was told by the CFO at the time that as finance managers, they were only there “to report the numbers and tell the business whether they did a good job or not,” not tell the business what to do with its money.

When told that, Randall said those words didn’t quite sit well; she told the crowd that she wondered if she had chosen the wrong career. Fortunately for her, a few years she said that while working for General Electric she was provided a different perspective of the CFO’s responsibilities.

“We should be ahead of our business leaders communicating the risks and opportunities, we should be challenging the status quo and we should be focused on leading, not sitting behind,” she said.

Each of the professionals honored at the awards, whether they won in their category or not, were perfect examples of how a financial officer should handle their business. 

Over the course of the peer nomination process Inside Tucson Business received nearly 40 names. After judges from FEAT dove into the involved process of finding the winners one individual was chosen above the rest to hold the coveted CFO of the Year award.

This year’s winner was Marana Unified School District CFO Dan Contorno, who also won within the government/education category.

Though he was honored for his individual accomplishments Contorno, like all the other winners, said that the award belonged to all of the employees within the organization.

“In Marana I have the fortune of working daily with people who have great ideas,” he said “In Arizona, school finance a district really doesn’t have any control over the revenue side of the budget; we do control the expenditures though. We put our minds together as a team to implement many out-of-the-box initiatives.”

Inside Tucson Business also honored youth members of the community who had set their sights on a professional career within finance or business by providing a $1,000 scholarship: this year’s winners were Alexis Kissinger, a senior at Sunnyside High School with plans on attending NAU for business, and Daniella Arellano, a Senior at Marana High School with a goal to attend San Diego State University.