Finance's Heavy Metal Beat


Very few finance operations would have been able to jump constructively into nitty-gritty operations decisions like which mining equipment should be bought now and which purchases should be postponed, but unlike traditional treasury and finance operations, Freeport-McMoRan Copper &Gold's is metallic.

Finance leaders are more than competent in traditional skills like accounting, budgeting and forecasting, capital raising and cash management, but where they really stand out is how they tailor financial management to metal extraction and production. Many leading-edge finance operations encourage finance pros to get involved with the business units. At Freeport, the line between finance and production can be hard to find.

One sign of the heavy metal beat is the way internal experience is rewarded. For example, Kathleen Quirk, 47, took her B.S. in accounting from Louisiana State University to Mobil Oil for a brief stint, starting in 1985. Quirk joined Freeport in 1989 and worked through the treasury and finance ranks all the way to executive vice president, CFO and treasurer. Her top treasury lieutenant, Bob Boyce, Freeport's assistant treasurer, has worked at the company for 25 years. Roger Stack, the director of finance, started as a student intern in the finance group in 1991 and has been at Freeport ever since, including a stint at the company's mine in Indonesia. CEO Richard Adkerson has been with Freeport since 1989, after earning his spurs at Arthur Andersen and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"Most of the people here have been with Freeport-McMoRan or Phelps Dodge [which Freeport acquired in 2007] most of their careers," Quirk observes. "We're a quite cohesive group, and we understand the business well. We try to develop from within. Our strength is in how well we understand our business."

Adkerson, Boyce and Stack characterize Quirk's management style as "accessible," "upbeat," "easygoing," and "open to suggestions." Quirk's also "very decisive when she needs to be," Boyce says. "She's able to process a great deal of data without getting bogged down in the details. She's good at taking in a complex situation and then moving to a clear decision and prioritizing what needs to be done. She trusts her staff and delegates easily, but she also works herself hard."

"She doesn't intimidate people, but she takes on tasks with enthusiasm and is willing to do whatever it takes to get results," says Adkerson.

Quirk dislikes a formal reporting hierarchy. "I pick up the phone and call people who don't report to me all the time. And other executives do the same with people who report to me," she says. "You call whomever you need to talk to to get a job done. It's how we work. It allows us to move more quickly and decisively than if we were bureaucratic. We make sure we do our analysis right, but we try to move on to decisions and not overanalyze things."

She encourages her people to get involved with operations groups. "It's good for them to get that exposure, and it's good for us when operations managers get to know us and gain confidence that we can help them. We want to be involved in the decision process, not just the numbers checkers."

The treasury team currently uses a variety of ERP systems for treasury management, although an enterprise implementation of SAP is in progress, and relies on in-house and bank-provided information systems. Despite the company's global footprint, treasury has a streamlined and consolidated cash management structure, which reduces its reliance on complex systems.

The CFO's role at Freeport hasn't changed much in the past five years, but over the long term, the finance chief has taken on more responsibility for business development.

"It's more strategic now. Twenty years ago, it was more about accounting and finance," Quirk says. "You still have to be good at those things, but there's more to the job now."

Financial stress has meant more work and longer hours for most CFOs, but that doesn't bother Quirk, who thrives on work and isn't especially tempted by play. "Work has always been my top priority," she says. "I just enjoy it."

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