Cimpress and its subsidiary Vistaprint are pioneers of mass customization. In this episode, industry analyst, Michael Krigsman, speaks with the Chief Financial Officer of Cimpress, Sean Quinn, to learn about mass customization strategy from a Chief Financial Officer perspective. The conversation also covers innovation and the scope of CFO responsibilities in day-to-day operations.

Sean Quinn has responsibility for the Cimpress capital allocation process, accounting and control, corporate-level strategy, M&A, financial planning and analysis, investor relations, tax, treasury, communications, and internal audit. Additionally, Sean oversees the Cimpress Global Procurement team, one of the select strategic capabilities into which the company centrally invests.

Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited.

Introduction

Michael Krigsman:  Mass customization, what does that mean? We're speaking with Sean Quinn. He is the Chief Financial Officer of Cimpress. Sean, tell us about Cimpress.

Sean Quinn: Cimpress is the name of the publicly traded parent company, and Cimpress invests in and grows mass customization businesses that leverage the scale of the combined businesses that we have. Many of you wouldn't recognize Cimpress as a name itself because we don't go to market with that name. We have 15 or so businesses underneath Cimpress, one of which is Vistaprint. To make that tangible, our businesses provide things like custom marketing products and signage, apparel or promotional products, packaging, and a lot of other custom items to small and medium businesses and also to consumers.

Michael Krigsman:  Can you give a scope of the company, give us your size, your revenue, whatever you feel comfortable with?

Sean Quinn: I'm the Chief Financial Officer of Cimpress, the parent company. I also am in the role of Chief Financial Officer of our largest operating business, which is Vistaprint, as mentioned. I joined the company in 2009.

To put it in perspective, we had roughly $500 million of revenue back then and roughly $50 million of free cash flow. Now, in the calendar year 2019, so the year that just ended, we had just under $3 billion, so about $2.8 billion of revenue all around the world. We had about $300 million or approaching $300 million of free cash flow.

We've grown quite a bit both organically and inorganically. Interestingly, we also have about half the amount of shares we had outstanding back then, ten years ago, so we've done a lot over the last decade, as is evident through those numbers.

The other thing I should say about the company is that we are founder-led. In 2015, Robert, our CEO and Founder, was on CXO and had a great time doing that with Michael. The company is founder-led, it's very long-term focused, and we've been fortunate that we've been able to attract shareholders that equally have a long-term focus and so we do that in partnership with them. But we're still investing a lot and so, in many ways, it's almost like a large startup with this long-term focus and founder who leads us every day.

What is Mass Customization?

Sean Quinn: Mass customization basically allows the production of small quantities of custom things with the unit economics of mass production. Basically, it breaks the traditional tradeoff that we have between price and volume that traditionally says that small quantities of custom things have a high unit cost. There are countless examples of that. It could be a bespoke suit is a lot more expensive than a suit at a large box retailer. It breaks that tradeoff.

With mass customization, small volume orders become economically feasible because we can aggregate and product those small orders together. Then we amortize the setup, the labor, production, and technology costs across those many orders.

I'll just give you a very specific example in our Vistaprint business, which products billions of business cards per year for millions of small business customers around the world. The prepress operations, so the things that happen before we actually print those business cards, the actual production, the finishing, the packaging, all those processes, they're highly automated and so much so that the labor for those cards is as little as about $0.10 per package despite the fact that we have operations running almost 24/7 in very large facilities. But it reduces that unit cost down to a level that becomes very acceptable and attractive.

There are a lot of other benefits that come with mass customization, so it's not just the economic benefits but also when you produce in that way and you use technology and these very structured process and workflows, it means that speed can be faster for our customers. It means that the personal relevance of these products is very high because they're each custom. It means that we can offer a lot more product choice and it also means that quality can be a lot higher despite, again, the fact that these are small orders and they're each unique.

Michael Krigsman:  All of your businesses are based on this principle of mass customization.

Sean Quinn: Correct. Correct and each in different ways. They may serve different customer segments. They may go to market a bit different. But mass customization is at the heart of each of the businesses. For the most part, they're also through an e-commerce interface, although that's not 100% the case but, for most of our businesses, that is the case.

Is Cimpress  / Vistaprint a Technology Company?

Michael Krigsman:  This is all based on various kinds of technologies that you've purchased or developed. When you view the business, do you see it primarily through the lens of you're a technology company or you're a business card company? What are you?

Sean Quinn: There's a broad selection of products that we offer our customers even though, at our roots, if you go back maybe 12, 13, 14 years ago, people knew Vistaprint as a small business card company. No, it's very much not the business card company.

I always think about it as, we are, at the heart of it, a technology company and the output of much of that technology is that we ultimately are producing or printing something for our customers. It's the orchestration. In all of our businesses, it's the orchestration of a lot of different things. Again, printing is oftentimes the output of that, but it's technology, it's marketing, it's using data. Technology is at the root of almost everything that we do.

Michael Krigsman:  Do you have a common platform that serves your various businesses?

Sean Quinn: We do. We have evolved a lot organizationally, and that has also included evolving our approach to developing technology and having a platform that serves all of our businesses.

I think it was in 2015 that you interviewed Robert who, as I mentioned, is our CEO. Since then, we've changed actually quite a bit. We've also acquired a number of other businesses as well, but we've moved the company to a very decentralized organizational structure.

There are a number of things that then hold these companies together to make them more valuable than they would be if they were on their own. I can get into what those are, but one of those is technology. We are centrally developing technology every year in what we call our mass customization platform to allow our businesses to interact. Just to use a specific example that, over the platform, two of our businesses are able to access the production capabilities of the other one by routing orders where it makes sense over that platform in a very seamless way.

We're also developing, centrally, technology that is relevant for each of our businesses but might be used in different ways. When that technology is developed, it's done in small, bite-sized pieces so that it could be orchestrated in different ways by each of our businesses. The advantage there is that, if you think about one of these businesses on their own—if it was, let's say, $20 million, $30 million, or $50 million in revenue—it wouldn't be able to allocate as much capital to technology development as we can and so we do that centrally. Then the unit cost of that development is less because we can sort of amortize that or get the benefit of that over many of our businesses.

Role of Organizational Structure

Michael Krigsman:  We have a question from Wayne Anderson who asks, "When you look at the leverage of scale and mass customization at Cimpress, have you been able to leverage that automation experience for internal employee experience, customization in some way?"

Sean Quinn: In terms of employee impact for these things, as I said before, we've moved to this very decentralized organizational structure and we're developing a lot of technology and other things centrally for the benefit of all of our businesses. We're constantly thinking about how we can develop new technology, innovate, have more focused production capabilities, improve production capabilities.

Our team members around the world who may be in a production facility, they may be in a facility that is speaking to customers every day, it could be dealing with design, it could be dealing with marketing but, in some way, all of them are having an impact on this and, ultimately, this ability to bring mass customization out to the market through these products. It really does run throughout everything we do.

I'm not sure if that gets to the question but, again, just correct me if you want anything else.

Michael Krigsman:  David Dalka makes the point. We were talking about organizational structure and he says that, from his point of view, businesses around the world do not yet have the right kind of advisors to create that change in organizational structure that you were describing.

Sean Quinn: If I look back over the last three or four years, it's one of the biggest changes that we've made. Just for context, we started out as just Vistaprint, so Cimpress was once Vistaprint. The whole company was Vistaprint. The company grew very quickly and then we started to acquire other businesses.

One of the things that made Vistaprint so great, and it goes back to the unit economics of mass customization I talked about before, was the ability to drive massive scale through these centralized operations that, if you think about it, we were pumping millions of transactions, that were each heterogeneous, through these highly centralized, highly structured production facilities and processes. That was great for Vistaprint and so we started to acquire businesses.

We used the same mindset, which was, "Hey, we're going to centralize everything, fully integrate, and make it hyper-efficient."

What we found was, we were acquiring these businesses that we acquired because we thought they were great businesses. They were entrepreneurial. They were moving quickly. They were nimble.

That time and integration effort was basically crushing some of the reason that we bought them and they were becoming less nimble, becoming more complex. It was taking longer to make decisions. Ultimately, as we were starting to see that creep up and creep up, we came to the decision of, we actually need to do this very differently, and so we intentionally made the tradeoff of efficiency in many cases for speed, nimbleness, being closer to the customer.

We moved to this very decentralized organizational structure. We did have some outside help when we went through that change. It was a really big change for the company and one that was really tough to go through.

Now, I can say that, three years later—we're just a little bit over three years from that change—it's really helped us and it's helped us move a lot quicker. It's simplified our structure. It's allowed us to be closer to our customers. Really, especially for me in my role, it's helped to evaluate accountability because it is super clear what our results are, where we're allocating capital, and we can make judgments based on that that were a little bit foggy before because things were so integrated and it was tough to assign responsibility or accountability to one person or function.

Scale and Centralization in Mass Customization

Michael Krigsman:  Would it be accurate to say that scale and centralization are the two pillars, two core pillars, or is that not quite right?

Sean Quinn: Scale, absolutely. Centralization, not so much. Scale is critical to this business. If I go back to the Vistaprint example, the average order value for a Vistaprint customer might be something like $50. The business itself is highly capital intensive.

If you went into one of our production facilities in Winsor, Ontario, in Venlo in the Netherlands, or just outside of Melbourne in Australia, for Vistaprint, you would walk into a large facility that has a lot of what looks like very industrial equipment and a lot of people. We have large centers in Jamaica, Tunisia, Berlin, and Manilla with thousands of people that are serving our customers every day.

We have large marketing teams. We spend a lot on advertising, a lot on technology.

There's a lot of scale that's needed to make sure the orchestration of those things is leading to economic unit costs that make sense. Scale absolutely is critical to the business.

Centralization is one that plays a role. I think the question is, at what level is it required? As I said before, we thought when we were starting to buy other companies that we should centralize everything. What we found was that that actually wasn't the right choice because we were optimizing for one thing but sub-optimizing for a lot of other things that we felt like, on balance, were more valuable.

Today in Vistaprint or today in some of our businesses in Europe, Pixartprinting for example or National Pen, they themselves have highly centralized production operations for their business but we don't do that at the Cimpress level. We do it at the kind of per business level. We do it where it makes sense. Then we're able to connect all these businesses through other things, whether that's technology, as we talked about before, whether it's procurement and getting the benefit of scale, as you talked about scale, but doing that while still giving these businesses the autonomy to serve their customers the way they think they should.

We do it through things like talent infrastructure. We built up a talent infrastructure in India, so all these businesses can tap into that for accessing talent, which exists in a huge way in India, whether it's for software development or other things. But again, to do it in a way where they still lead that team. That team feels part of their business but we take care of everything else for them. There's a role for each. The centralization thing is where we didn't get that right initially and so we had to make some adjustments on exactly where that fit in.

What is the Chief Financial Officer Role in Innovation

Michael Krigsman:  We have a question from Jason Averbook asks, "How do you do both at the same time?" which is to say to operate and to innovate.

Sean Quinn: There are a number of pieces to it. One is, I think that, at least for us, we are very comfortable both taking risks and recognizing that we're going to fail on some of the things that we do. That's where I think some innovation and operation can go hand-in-hand where it's okay if not everything is going to work. If everything goes well, we're probably not pushing hard enough.

Being okay with failure and, of course, you want to do that fast and you want to do it in small ways. Do it where the cost of that failure is not going to be high. That's where I think, every day in some way in our operations, we could be testing, learning, and innovating. Now, that's at a small scale.

I think, on a larger scale, it's about having the right horizon. For us, we try and really force ourselves to think with a long-term mindset and not be afraid of investing in the operations today even if it either has a near term negative consequence or requires more resource or slows us down, whatever it might be, if we think that that's the right thing, the right innovation, or the right investment for the long-term.

We've really tried to wire that into how we do everything at the company. That's not an easy thing to do. I'm not saying we've done that perfectly. Again, I think that they kind of go hand-in-hand, the operations and the innovation.

Michael Krigsman:  Chelsea Ryan asks, "What advice would you give to other finance leaders who want to have a bigger role in innovation?"

Sean Quinn: I think there are a few things. One is that, increasingly, and this is not unique to our business, of course, today, I think data is absolutely critical. I think if you're in a finance role, being able to more smartly leverage data to inform innovation for the business, I think, is hugely critical, whether that is the finance organization taking ownership for some of that data and analytics or working in close partnership with the folks that do that. When you can speak through data and to have a more informed opinion on these things, then I think that that's critical.

I think the other one is that I think the finance function in any company plays a role in making sure that the framework that's being used for making decisions, including innovation, is an appropriate one. That also is going to differ from company-to-company. It's based on what your goals are and, ultimately, your objectives. It's also based on what your shareholders expect. Nonetheless, finance should be at the lead of that. I think that also goes hand-in-hand with innovation as well.

Then I'd say the last thing, I was at a CFO event; I think it was back in November. There were a lot of great companies represented there. Actually, Michael Dell happened to be one of the speakers. He had said that he looks at the role of the CFO and I would broaden this out to say even the finance function. I think he used the words, "The constant agitator for progress." I thought that was great.

I think that also hooks into this concept of innovation as well where, if the CFO or the finance function is the constant agitator for progress, you're always pushing things, testing things, using data, and that doesn't necessarily happen in a straight line but, in the end, pushing the business forward, pushing your function forward. For the person that asked the question, I would encourage them to use that as a framework.

Michael Krigsman:  Danielle Capers asks, "What are some of the unique challenges of being CFO in a company like Cimpress that cuts across traditional manufacturing and e-commerce?" Let me just append. I was just going to ask you to tell us the difference between what Cimpress does and traditional manufacturing. Maybe this is a good way to weave both of those together.

Sean Quinn: In terms of the difference between what we do and what may be a traditional manufacturer would do, it goes back to this notion of mass customization and leveraging technology, marketing, process, and all these other things to be able to drive large volumes of heterogeneous orders of things through homogeneous workflows, process, and technology, and then chopping them up into these small, individual orders and sending them out. That's the thing that's unique is that we are, at scale, driving huge volumes through our businesses but each are very small orders that themselves are unique.

Contrast that to, let's say, a car manufacturer that might be doing 20,000 units of the exact same thing. If you put that into a printing context, contrast that with, let's say, a company that might be doing a run of 100,000 units of the exact same thing. What we're doing is also that huge volume but each of the orders are very small and each unique.

I think that's the big difference.

Relating it back to the first question, which is, "Well, what are some of the unique challenges or how do you do that?" one, it's far more technology-intensive. We are trying to be on the cutting edge of technology that's unique for our industry or for our businesses. At the same time, leverage things that are commercially available for best in class technology, be it data storage, be it security, be it basic e-commerce functionality.

We have both that challenge plus the scale of production challenge. Then also the challenge of being a global business. It's really, really interesting to be in my role and hopefully for all of our team members. It's really, really interesting to have both the e-commerce, technology side of things, have a global business where you're interacting with people from all over the world but, at the same time, have large production where you have all the challenges of production and have customer care centers with thousands of people that are talking to our customers every day.

If you think about it, all of that stuff orchestrated together is resulting in these oftentimes very small businesses coming to us to get 100 business cards that they designed, getting 50 flyers for something that they're going to do in their community, or getting one sign for the farmers market that they may be going to this weekend. All in support of their own lifestyle and their life.

It's a really cool interplay when you put all that stuff together. I think it's pretty unique today where you don't often have that mix of technology and making things, especially making things for small businesses in order for them to hopefully live their dreams.

Michael Krigsman:  Getting then back to the other part of Danielle's question, that then is the intersection of manufacturing, this mass customization manufacturing, and e-commerce.

Sean Quinn: Exactly. Yeah, that's right. That's right. Then you put it into the context of my role or our team. One, my team itself is broad in terms of the functions that it covers. But then even in the financial world, you have to have people that are great in the manufacturing side of things. You have to have people that are great in the marketing side of things. There are a lot of different skill sets that are required and also need to be orchestrated together in the right way.

Michael Krigsman:  When you're building this strategy for this kind of business, what is the role of finance, both in helping develop that strategy and also in developing the innovation strategy? What's the role of finance in this?

Sean Quinn: At our company, of course, finance can mean different things to different companies. There is the role for the bean counters and a very important role, I should say as well. In our company, my team is actually quite broad and we work very collaboratively together. It can range from all the finance functions like FB&A, the controllership function, treasury, investor relationship, and our tax team, but also human resources, communications, our procurement team, which is very strategic and working across all of our businesses, our legal team, and our business development team. There are a lot of different functions and we work collaboratively across to really deliver everything that you just mentioned.

I think, for us specifically, there are a lot of things that we need to focus on. One is making sure that, in this decentralized structure that I mentioned, we're doing the right things financially and we have enough of an understanding of and control of what's happening despite this decentralized structure. Then within each of our businesses, to make sure that we have finance partners that are right next to our business leaders every day, being a lens and a guide for the decisions that get made, including for innovation.

We really try and push our businesses to think maybe differently than many traditional businesses would think. Even recently, we've made a lot of changes and we've been explicit with some of our businesses that revenue is not the key thing that we're trying to drive. Revenue has to be an outcome, for example, of innovation, of investment, attracting great customers, serving those customers well, and great operational focus.

That's not always obvious for people, and so it's important that we in the finance function, but those other functions I mentioned too, are really pushing the whole business forward and making sure that we're focused on the right things. I really think that if you get that done well, one, it's kind of good hygiene, table stakes. But if you get that done well, it can have a massive impact.

We oftentimes talk about just making constant progress and we have shareholders and board members that give us that consistent feedback as well. I think the finance function is the one that should be the real driver of that.

Financial Engineering for Mass Customization

Michael Krigsman:  In your business particularly where scale is so crucial, it seems that—financial engineering, financial planning—I'm not sure what the right term is—that financial role is of particularly great importance because, without the scale, you can't operate your company.

Sean Quinn: That's correct. Yeah, and so that comes down to a lot of different aspects, one of which is, as anyone that follows us can see, we invest a lot of capital every year and we want to continue to be able to invest a lot of capital every year. We've gone through periods where that means acquiring other businesses. We've gone through periods where that means a lot of organic investment in our businesses. We've gone through periods where that may mean buying back a lot of our shares or paying down debt and other things.

Because of our ambitions but also because of investments to achieve scale and to continue to push on technology and some of the other things we've talked about so far in our discussions, you need capital and capital availability. We're regularly looking at our capital structure. We obviously want to make that efficient, but we also want to make sure it's flexible so that we can continue to push forward in all these areas. There'll be different mixes each year and different levels each year, but we want to make sure that that opportunity is there for us.

Michael Krigsman:  I'm assuming also that as the company has developed and refined its business model that you as the representative of finance has been really intimately involved in that aspect of it.

Sean Quinn: Correct. Yeah, and that is, I think, no matter what the scope of a CFO role is. Again, it's different company-to-company. I described a little bit about what's in ours. That part of it is absolutely crucial and it's table stakes. We obviously have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders first and foremost, but that need to have the ability to continue to invest, have that flexibility has to be job number one and so we focus on that regularly.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we evolved our capital structure again. We do it on a regular basis. That's not just me. There are a tremendous amount of people on the team that are highly talented and are doing that every weekday looking at the necessary things and making sure that we're doing the right things to allow for that flexibility but also for our shareholders.

Michael Krigsman:  Are there things that you've had to do differently at Cimpress from a finance standpoint because of the nature of the type of business and this mass customization business model, differently than one might expect to see in another kind of business or another manufacturing business?

Sean Quinn: I'm not sure it's necessarily so different other than just thinking about, especially now that we have a group of businesses, making sure that we've set up the right framework to think about where we invest every year, how that investment gets deployed, and making sure that we have a framework also for thinking about the tradeoffs of investing further in our businesses that we have versus maybe acquiring another business or doing other things. I think that's probably the biggest thing that's unique and some of that uniqueness is not even necessarily our business model as such but, rather, kind of the company structure and the fact that Cimpress is more or less a holding company with 13 or so businesses underneath it.

What's the best framework to use to make sure we're doing the right things? I think that's the thing that's most unique but it does require investment across a lot of different areas: advertising, capital in our plants, continue to expand headcount where that's necessary, and a lot of other things. I think that's a little bit unique, too, because there's quite a bit of diversity of things that we're covering every year that maybe some companies, that don't have both that technology focus and the production focus, don't have to deal with that.

Changing Role of Finance

Michael Krigsman:  As the company has grown and scaled, has the role of finance had to change or evolve at all?

Sean Quinn: Absolutely, it has. I think part of that goes hand-in-hand with—I referenced it a few times—this change from a very centralized business to an organizational structure that's highly decentralized. There are just a lot of changes in the operating system. I use that term broadly but, the operating system, you need to run that sort of decentralized operations and I think finance plays a huge role in that. I think that's certainly one.

Also, as we've gotten larger, as we've continued to expand globally, all while still investing in our businesses in a fairly significant way, finance plays a huge role in making sure that there's objectivity in evaluating those investments, their success, making sure that we have feedback loops to understand whether things played out the way we thought they would or not and then can learn from that. Yeah, I think it's definitely evolved. I think finance is critical to that.

Actually, even in our Vistaprint business specifically, we've made changes to get finance deeper into the organization and really invest there because we think it's critical to what we're doing. I'll link that back into, you mentioned innovation a few times too. The need to make sure that we're leveraging data in a smart way as well, and I think finance has a big role to play there to push.

Michael Krigsman:  What kind of data?

Sean Quinn: It can be anything. It can be customer data in terms of just making sure that, over time, we can have a more personalized experience for customers when they come to the site or the products that we recommend to them or even emails that we send to them. We have a lot more we can do that.

It can be employee data, making sure we're being smart about what we can learn from that in terms of trends and hiring patterns and so on. It can be data in supply chain and making sure that we're being smart in how we're procuring and understanding what's being bought in each of these decentralized businesses such that we can optimize that and work with our suppliers around the world to do that in an organized fashion to leverage our scale. I could go on. Data is everywhere now and we need to leverage that smartly.

Michael Krigsman:  I think, next time you come back on CXOTalk, we should talk in-depth about the kinds of data because it's so important these days.

Sean Quinn: It's critical. As a reference point and, after I say what I'm going to say, you'll probably just interview this person. In our Vistaprint business, we just hired a chief data officer, actually. It's the first time we've had that role.

That person is looking after both data and analytics, both so we can be more structured about data but also develop data products that we can leverage throughout our business to be able to be more efficient, smarter and, ultimately, to help our customers better as well.

Michael Krigsman:  A lot of the emphasis is on using data, not just for financial metrics and so forth or financial insight and understanding, but to directly benefit your customers.

Sean Quinn: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Cimpress Operations

Michael Krigsman:  Let's talk about Coronavirus.

Sean Quinn: We have businesses all over the world. We have over 14,000 team members around the world. Yeah, I think every company, in some way, is thinking about this, is planning around this, and reacting to this. I think, first and foremost, this is a people and human issue, and so I think we have to make sure we focus on that first, making sure that all of our team members around the world are safe and that we're being planful about that, being decisive, and making sure that we're staying out ahead of that as well.

There's a lot of thought going into that. Each of our businesses is coordinating that as well. That's first and foremost.

We do have a business in northern Italy, for example, and Pixartprinting, an unbelievable business, and their operations there continue but they're being planful and communicating with and organizing with their team members there. Increasing basic things like making sure that sanitary conditions, handwashing, and some of that stuff that health organizations and the CDC and others are advising, and so promoting that. We're following that, leveraging whatever we can learn from that. I think that's on the people side of it.

We do have a small business in China and those people have not been in the office for some time. They're starting to come back to work now. It's a small business for us but, nonetheless, we're staying close to that.

That's on the people side of it and I expect that that will continue to be fluid. We have a responsibility to be planful, making sure that we're protecting our people and also be measured. I think we want to be on the right side of aggressive but also be measured.

On the financial side of it, of course, there are any number of things that we need to continue to evaluate. It's really tough to say what impact there will be. We had some supply chain in China, mostly for our National Pen business and, to date, there hasn't been any material disruption to that. We continue to watch that.

Otherwise, demand impacts for locations that have quarantines on a larger scale or lockdowns I think is something that we'll continue to watch, and just any other broader impacts. It's really difficult to know. We're watching closely as it evolves. I think we have a duty to make sure that, again, we're planning in a very diligent way. I hope that things progress in a positive direction from here, both for the company but even more so for the human element of it, which of course is most critical.

Michael Krigsman:  You used the terms planful and planning quite a number of times.

Sean Quinn: When you have a situation where there are so many unknowns, I think what you have to do is plan and think ahead. You want to be able to react if you need to. You can only do so much, but you plan as best you can. That means if there is ever a supply chain disruption or if there was a location where we had an office and people couldn't come to work or any of these things, you want to understand what you would do if that ever came up. Again, you hope these things don't arise but these are all possible and so you plan for them. You hope they never come to fruition.

Michael Krigsman:  There's another question from Twitter. This is from Calvin Chan. It's got a number of favorites, likes on Twitter, so I think a number of people are interested in this question, which is going back to the finance function. "What are some of the challenges to adopting new technology in finance that you see?"

Sean Quinn: One of the challenges is that sometimes in financial technology there's as much of a benefit to flexibility as there is a benefit to a stable environment. Sometimes there's a real cost to switching some of these things.

As a company, I think we've always been on the progressive end of adopting new technologies, in general, but also on the finance front. There are a number of SaaS solutions that are point solutions that I would say we're on the more progressive side of.

Of course, when it comes to some of the things that just have to be done 100% right every day, every month, every quarter, that's where you have to balance the extent of change and the desire to be progressive with also a cost consciousness but also a need to make sure that that's stable and accurate. I think that's the challenge and the balance. But, in general, we've always tried to be on the more progressive end to make sure that we have flexibility and we can allow our team members to focus their time on what's most important and leverage technology where that's available.

Michael Krigsman:  Of course, in your case, your business technology is the foundation for everything you do, that platform.

Sean Quinn: It is and I think the more that we can integrate some of that financial technology, the technology that's driving the operations, both the more efficient we can get but also the smarter we can get in terms of making better decisions and being more analytical and rigorous. There's benefit there, too. Those two things go hand-in-hand. As that technology has gotten more flexible, it allows us to be more deeply integrated with the business and allow the business to be, in a more self-service way, smarter about the decisions that they make.

Michael Krigsman:  Advice that you have for people who are in finance who want to become a CFO, how do they get there?

Sean Quinn: There were so many people in my career that I was fortunate to interact with or have as mentors, managers, or whatever it was that I firmly believe allowed me to have the opportunity to take that role. Those were past CFOs here, partners at KPMG that I worked with, but also Robert, our CEO, who I think was willing to take a bet on me. We had a good relationship and I am forever grateful for that.

In terms of any advice that I would give, I think one is that my role, fortunately, here at Cimpress, because we've evolved so much and grown so much—I think that's so core to how we operate. We change all the time—my role changed a lot as well. The times that I advanced the most and learned the most were the times where the roles where I was the most uncomfortable.

My first part of advice would be, get uncomfortable because if you're not uncomfortable, you're probably not growing and expanding at a pace that is going to allow you to get to that. And so, get uncomfortable is one.

I would say, two, learn everywhere you can. That could be reading. It could be in anything you do, making sure that you're trying to absorb as much information as possible.

Then I would say three is, try and get close to the business and really understand the business. No matter what role you're in, ultimately, if you're in the CFO role, you have a lot of responsibilities but you have to understand the business. You have to be close to the business. You have to have a point of view. If you don't have a point of view, then you're not going to be that constant agitator for progress that I mentioned before.

Those are just a few things. Get out and talk to people. Learn from people that have done it. Don't be bashful about that.

Michael Krigsman:  All right. Well, unfortunately, we are out of time but it's been a very, very fast 30 minutes. Sean, thank you so much for taking time to be with us today on CXOTalk.

Sean Quinn: This was great. Thanks a lot for your time, Michael. I look forward to my continued subscription of your series. Thanks a lot for having me. I appreciate it.

Michael Krigsman:  Awesome. Everybody, thank you for watching. Before you go, please subscribe on YouTube and hit the subscribe button at the top of our website to get our newsletter.

Next week, we are speaking with the chief technology officer who is also the chief information officer for Deloitte. It's one of the very largest consulting organizations on the face of the planet. That'll be a pretty interesting show.

Thanks so much, everybody. I hope you have a great day and we will see you again soon. Bye-bye.​

This transcript has been lightly edited.

Introduction

Michael Krigsman:  Mass customization, what does that mean? We're speaking with Sean Quinn. He is the Chief Financial Officer of Cimpress. Sean, tell us about Cimpress.

Sean Quinn: Cimpress is the name of the publicly traded parent company, and Cimpress invests in and grows mass customization businesses that leverage the scale of the combined businesses that we have. Many of you wouldn't recognize Cimpress as a name itself because we don't go to market with that name. We have 15 or so businesses underneath Cimpress, one of which is Vistaprint. To make that tangible, our businesses provide things like custom marketing products and signage, apparel or promotional products, packaging, and a lot of other custom items to small and medium businesses and also to consumers.

Michael Krigsman:  Can you give a scope of the company, give us your size, your revenue, whatever you feel comfortable with?

Sean Quinn: I'm the Chief Financial Officer of Cimpress, the parent company. I also am in the role of Chief Financial Officer of our largest operating business, which is Vistaprint, as mentioned. I joined the company in 2009.

To put it in perspective, we had roughly $500 million of revenue back then and roughly $50 million of free cash flow. Now, in the calendar year 2019, so the year that just ended, we had just under $3 billion, so about $2.8 billion of revenue all around the world. We had about $300 million or approaching $300 million of free cash flow.

We've grown quite a bit both organically and inorganically. Interestingly, we also have about half the amount of shares we had outstanding back then, ten years ago, so we've done a lot over the last decade, as is evident through those numbers.

The other thing I should say about the company is that we are founder-led. In 2015, Robert, our CEO and Founder, was on CXO and had a great time doing that with Michael. The company is founder-led, it's very long-term focused, and we've been fortunate that we've been able to attract shareholders that equally have a long-term focus and so we do that in partnership with them. But we're still investing a lot and so, in many ways, it's almost like a large startup with this long-term focus and founder who leads us every day.

What is Mass Customization?

Sean Quinn: Mass customization basically allows the production of small quantities of custom things with the unit economics of mass production. Basically, it breaks the traditional tradeoff that we have between price and volume that traditionally says that small quantities of custom things have a high unit cost. There are countless examples of that. It could be a bespoke suit is a lot more expensive than a suit at a large box retailer. It breaks that tradeoff.

With mass customization, small volume orders become economically feasible because we can aggregate and product those small orders together. Then we amortize the setup, the labor, production, and technology costs across those many orders.

I'll just give you a very specific example in our Vistaprint business, which products billions of business cards per year for millions of small business customers around the world. The prepress operations, so the things that happen before we actually print those business cards, the actual production, the finishing, the packaging, all those processes, they're highly automated and so much so that the labor for those cards is as little as about $0.10 per package despite the fact that we have operations running almost 24/7 in very large facilities. But it reduces that unit cost down to a level that becomes very acceptable and attractive.

There are a lot of other benefits that come with mass customization, so it's not just the economic benefits but also when you produce in that way and you use technology and these very structured process and workflows, it means that speed can be faster for our customers. It means that the personal relevance of these products is very high because they're each custom. It means that we can offer a lot more product choice and it also means that quality can be a lot higher despite, again, the fact that these are small orders and they're each unique.

Michael Krigsman:  All of your businesses are based on this principle of mass customization.

Sean Quinn: Correct. Correct and each in different ways. They may serve different customer segments. They may go to market a bit different. But mass customization is at the heart of each of the businesses. For the most part, they're also through an e-commerce interface, although that's not 100% the case but, for most of our businesses, that is the case.

Is Cimpress  / Vistaprint a Technology Company?

Michael Krigsman:  This is all based on various kinds of technologies that you've purchased or developed. When you view the business, do you see it primarily through the lens of you're a technology company or you're a business card company? What are you?

Sean Quinn: There's a broad selection of products that we offer our customers even though, at our roots, if you go back maybe 12, 13, 14 years ago, people knew Vistaprint as a small business card company. No, it's very much not the business card company.

I always think about it as, we are, at the heart of it, a technology company and the output of much of that technology is that we ultimately are producing or printing something for our customers. It's the orchestration. In all of our businesses, it's the orchestration of a lot of different things. Again, printing is oftentimes the output of that, but it's technology, it's marketing, it's using data. Technology is at the root of almost everything that we do.

Michael Krigsman:  Do you have a common platform that serves your various businesses?

Sean Quinn: We do. We have evolved a lot organizationally, and that has also included evolving our approach to developing technology and having a platform that serves all of our businesses.

I think it was in 2015 that you interviewed Robert who, as I mentioned, is our CEO. Since then, we've changed actually quite a bit. We've also acquired a number of other businesses as well, but we've moved the company to a very decentralized organizational structure.

There are a number of things that then hold these companies together to make them more valuable than they would be if they were on their own. I can get into what those are, but one of those is technology. We are centrally developing technology every year in what we call our mass customization platform to allow our businesses to interact. Just to use a specific example that, over the platform, two of our businesses are able to access the production capabilities of the other one by routing orders where it makes sense over that platform in a very seamless way.

We're also developing, centrally, technology that is relevant for each of our businesses but might be used in different ways. When that technology is developed, it's done in small, bite-sized pieces so that it could be orchestrated in different ways by each of our businesses. The advantage there is that, if you think about one of these businesses on their own—if it was, let's say, $20 million, $30 million, or $50 million in revenue—it wouldn't be able to allocate as much capital to technology development as we can and so we do that centrally. Then the unit cost of that development is less because we can sort of amortize that or get the benefit of that over many of our businesses.

Role of Organizational Structure

Michael Krigsman:  We have a question from Wayne Anderson who asks, "When you look at the leverage of scale and mass customization at Cimpress, have you been able to leverage that automation experience for internal employee experience, customization in some way?"

Sean Quinn: In terms of employee impact for these things, as I said before, we've moved to this very decentralized organizational structure and we're developing a lot of technology and other things centrally for the benefit of all of our businesses. We're constantly thinking about how we can develop new technology, innovate, have more focused production capabilities, improve production capabilities.

Our team members around the world who may be in a production facility, they may be in a facility that is speaking to customers every day, it could be dealing with design, it could be dealing with marketing but, in some way, all of them are having an impact on this and, ultimately, this ability to bring mass customization out to the market through these products. It really does run throughout everything we do.

I'm not sure if that gets to the question but, again, just correct me if you want anything else.

Michael Krigsman:  David Dalka makes the point. We were talking about organizational structure and he says that, from his point of view, businesses around the world do not yet have the right kind of advisors to create that change in organizational structure that you were describing.

Sean Quinn: If I look back over the last three or four years, it's one of the biggest changes that we've made. Just for context, we started out as just Vistaprint, so Cimpress was once Vistaprint. The whole company was Vistaprint. The company grew very quickly and then we started to acquire other businesses.

One of the things that made Vistaprint so great, and it goes back to the unit economics of mass customization I talked about before, was the ability to drive massive scale through these centralized operations that, if you think about it, we were pumping millions of transactions, that were each heterogeneous, through these highly centralized, highly structured production facilities and processes. That was great for Vistaprint and so we started to acquire businesses.

We used the same mindset, which was, "Hey, we're going to centralize everything, fully integrate, and make it hyper-efficient."

What we found was, we were acquiring these businesses that we acquired because we thought they were great businesses. They were entrepreneurial. They were moving quickly. They were nimble.

That time and integration effort was basically crushing some of the reason that we bought them and they were becoming less nimble, becoming more complex. It was taking longer to make decisions. Ultimately, as we were starting to see that creep up and creep up, we came to the decision of, we actually need to do this very differently, and so we intentionally made the tradeoff of efficiency in many cases for speed, nimbleness, being closer to the customer.

We moved to this very decentralized organizational structure. We did have some outside help when we went through that change. It was a really big change for the company and one that was really tough to go through.

Now, I can say that, three years later—we're just a little bit over three years from that change—it's really helped us and it's helped us move a lot quicker. It's simplified our structure. It's allowed us to be closer to our customers. Really, especially for me in my role, it's helped to evaluate accountability because it is super clear what our results are, where we're allocating capital, and we can make judgments based on that that were a little bit foggy before because things were so integrated and it was tough to assign responsibility or accountability to one person or function.

Scale and Centralization in Mass Customization

Michael Krigsman:  Would it be accurate to say that scale and centralization are the two pillars, two core pillars, or is that not quite right?

Sean Quinn: Scale, absolutely. Centralization, not so much. Scale is critical to this business. If I go back to the Vistaprint example, the average order value for a Vistaprint customer might be something like $50. The business itself is highly capital intensive.

If you went into one of our production facilities in Winsor, Ontario, in Venlo in the Netherlands, or just outside of Melbourne in Australia, for Vistaprint, you would walk into a large facility that has a lot of what looks like very industrial equipment and a lot of people. We have large centers in Jamaica, Tunisia, Berlin, and Manilla with thousands of people that are serving our customers every day.

We have large marketing teams. We spend a lot on advertising, a lot on technology.

There's a lot of scale that's needed to make sure the orchestration of those things is leading to economic unit costs that make sense. Scale absolutely is critical to the business.

Centralization is one that plays a role. I think the question is, at what level is it required? As I said before, we thought when we were starting to buy other companies that we should centralize everything. What we found was that that actually wasn't the right choice because we were optimizing for one thing but sub-optimizing for a lot of other things that we felt like, on balance, were more valuable.

Today in Vistaprint or today in some of our businesses in Europe, Pixartprinting for example or National Pen, they themselves have highly centralized production operations for their business but we don't do that at the Cimpress level. We do it at the kind of per business level. We do it where it makes sense. Then we're able to connect all these businesses through other things, whether that's technology, as we talked about before, whether it's procurement and getting the benefit of scale, as you talked about scale, but doing that while still giving these businesses the autonomy to serve their customers the way they think they should.

We do it through things like talent infrastructure. We built up a talent infrastructure in India, so all these businesses can tap into that for accessing talent, which exists in a huge way in India, whether it's for software development or other things. But again, to do it in a way where they still lead that team. That team feels part of their business but we take care of everything else for them. There's a role for each. The centralization thing is where we didn't get that right initially and so we had to make some adjustments on exactly where that fit in.

What is the Chief Financial Officer Role in Innovation

Michael Krigsman:  We have a question from Jason Averbook asks, "How do you do both at the same time?" which is to say to operate and to innovate.

Sean Quinn: There are a number of pieces to it. One is, I think that, at least for us, we are very comfortable both taking risks and recognizing that we're going to fail on some of the things that we do. That's where I think some innovation and operation can go hand-in-hand where it's okay if not everything is going to work. If everything goes well, we're probably not pushing hard enough.

Being okay with failure and, of course, you want to do that fast and you want to do it in small ways. Do it where the cost of that failure is not going to be high. That's where I think, every day in some way in our operations, we could be testing, learning, and innovating. Now, that's at a small scale.

I think, on a larger scale, it's about having the right horizon. For us, we try and really force ourselves to think with a long-term mindset and not be afraid of investing in the operations today even if it either has a near term negative consequence or requires more resource or slows us down, whatever it might be, if we think that that's the right thing, the right innovation, or the right investment for the long-term.

We've really tried to wire that into how we do everything at the company. That's not an easy thing to do. I'm not saying we've done that perfectly. Again, I think that they kind of go hand-in-hand, the operations and the innovation.

Michael Krigsman:  Chelsea Ryan asks, "What advice would you give to other finance leaders who want to have a bigger role in innovation?"

Sean Quinn: I think there are a few things. One is that, increasingly, and this is not unique to our business, of course, today, I think data is absolutely critical. I think if you're in a finance role, being able to more smartly leverage data to inform innovation for the business, I think, is hugely critical, whether that is the finance organization taking ownership for some of that data and analytics or working in close partnership with the folks that do that. When you can speak through data and to have a more informed opinion on these things, then I think that that's critical.

I think the other one is that I think the finance function in any company plays a role in making sure that the framework that's being used for making decisions, including innovation, is an appropriate one. That also is going to differ from company-to-company. It's based on what your goals are and, ultimately, your objectives. It's also based on what your shareholders expect. Nonetheless, finance should be at the lead of that. I think that also goes hand-in-hand with innovation as well.

Then I'd say the last thing, I was at a CFO event; I think it was back in November. There were a lot of great companies represented there. Actually, Michael Dell happened to be one of the speakers. He had said that he looks at the role of the CFO and I would broaden this out to say even the finance function. I think he used the words, "The constant agitator for progress." I thought that was great.

I think that also hooks into this concept of innovation as well where, if the CFO or the finance function is the constant agitator for progress, you're always pushing things, testing things, using data, and that doesn't necessarily happen in a straight line but, in the end, pushing the business forward, pushing your function forward. For the person that asked the question, I would encourage them to use that as a framework.

Michael Krigsman:  Danielle Capers asks, "What are some of the unique challenges of being CFO in a company like Cimpress that cuts across traditional manufacturing and e-commerce?" Let me just append. I was just going to ask you to tell us the difference between what Cimpress does and traditional manufacturing. Maybe this is a good way to weave both of those together.

Sean Quinn: In terms of the difference between what we do and what may be a traditional manufacturer would do, it goes back to this notion of mass customization and leveraging technology, marketing, process, and all these other things to be able to drive large volumes of heterogeneous orders of things through homogeneous workflows, process, and technology, and then chopping them up into these small, individual orders and sending them out. That's the thing that's unique is that we are, at scale, driving huge volumes through our businesses but each are very small orders that themselves are unique.

Contrast that to, let's say, a car manufacturer that might be doing 20,000 units of the exact same thing. If you put that into a printing context, contrast that with, let's say, a company that might be doing a run of 100,000 units of the exact same thing. What we're doing is also that huge volume but each of the orders are very small and each unique.

I think that's the big difference.

Relating it back to the first question, which is, "Well, what are some of the unique challenges or how do you do that?" one, it's far more technology-intensive. We are trying to be on the cutting edge of technology that's unique for our industry or for our businesses. At the same time, leverage things that are commercially available for best in class technology, be it data storage, be it security, be it basic e-commerce functionality.

We have both that challenge plus the scale of production challenge. Then also the challenge of being a global business. It's really, really interesting to be in my role and hopefully for all of our team members. It's really, really interesting to have both the e-commerce, technology side of things, have a global business where you're interacting with people from all over the world but, at the same time, have large production where you have all the challenges of production and have customer care centers with thousands of people that are talking to our customers every day.

If you think about it, all of that stuff orchestrated together is resulting in these oftentimes very small businesses coming to us to get 100 business cards that they designed, getting 50 flyers for something that they're going to do in their community, or getting one sign for the farmers market that they may be going to this weekend. All in support of their own lifestyle and their life.

It's a really cool interplay when you put all that stuff together. I think it's pretty unique today where you don't often have that mix of technology and making things, especially making things for small businesses in order for them to hopefully live their dreams.

Michael Krigsman:  Getting then back to the other part of Danielle's question, that then is the intersection of manufacturing, this mass customization manufacturing, and e-commerce.

Sean Quinn: Exactly. Yeah, that's right. That's right. Then you put it into the context of my role or our team. One, my team itself is broad in terms of the functions that it covers. But then even in the financial world, you have to have people that are great in the manufacturing side of things. You have to have people that are great in the marketing side of things. There are a lot of different skill sets that are required and also need to be orchestrated together in the right way.

Michael Krigsman:  When you're building this strategy for this kind of business, what is the role of finance, both in helping develop that strategy and also in developing the innovation strategy? What's the role of finance in this?

Sean Quinn: At our company, of course, finance can mean different things to different companies. There is the role for the bean counters and a very important role, I should say as well. In our company, my team is actually quite broad and we work very collaboratively together. It can range from all the finance functions like FB&A, the controllership function, treasury, investor relationship, and our tax team, but also human resources, communications, our procurement team, which is very strategic and working across all of our businesses, our legal team, and our business development team. There are a lot of different functions and we work collaboratively across to really deliver everything that you just mentioned.

I think, for us specifically, there are a lot of things that we need to focus on. One is making sure that, in this decentralized structure that I mentioned, we're doing the right things financially and we have enough of an understanding of and control of what's happening despite this decentralized structure. Then within each of our businesses, to make sure that we have finance partners that are right next to our business leaders every day, being a lens and a guide for the decisions that get made, including for innovation.

We really try and push our businesses to think maybe differently than many traditional businesses would think. Even recently, we've made a lot of changes and we've been explicit with some of our businesses that revenue is not the key thing that we're trying to drive. Revenue has to be an outcome, for example, of innovation, of investment, attracting great customers, serving those customers well, and great operational focus.

That's not always obvious for people, and so it's important that we in the finance function, but those other functions I mentioned too, are really pushing the whole business forward and making sure that we're focused on the right things. I really think that if you get that done well, one, it's kind of good hygiene, table stakes. But if you get that done well, it can have a massive impact.

We oftentimes talk about just making constant progress and we have shareholders and board members that give us that consistent feedback as well. I think the finance function is the one that should be the real driver of that.

Financial Engineering for Mass Customization

Michael Krigsman:  In your business particularly where scale is so crucial, it seems that—financial engineering, financial planning—I'm not sure what the right term is—that financial role is of particularly great importance because, without the scale, you can't operate your company.

Sean Quinn: That's correct. Yeah, and so that comes down to a lot of different aspects, one of which is, as anyone that follows us can see, we invest a lot of capital every year and we want to continue to be able to invest a lot of capital every year. We've gone through periods where that means acquiring other businesses. We've gone through periods where that means a lot of organic investment in our businesses. We've gone through periods where that may mean buying back a lot of our shares or paying down debt and other things.

Because of our ambitions but also because of investments to achieve scale and to continue to push on technology and some of the other things we've talked about so far in our discussions, you need capital and capital availability. We're regularly looking at our capital structure. We obviously want to make that efficient, but we also want to make sure it's flexible so that we can continue to push forward in all these areas. There'll be different mixes each year and different levels each year, but we want to make sure that that opportunity is there for us.

Michael Krigsman:  I'm assuming also that as the company has developed and refined its business model that you as the representative of finance has been really intimately involved in that aspect of it.

Sean Quinn: Correct. Yeah, and that is, I think, no matter what the scope of a CFO role is. Again, it's different company-to-company. I described a little bit about what's in ours. That part of it is absolutely crucial and it's table stakes. We obviously have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders first and foremost, but that need to have the ability to continue to invest, have that flexibility has to be job number one and so we focus on that regularly.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we evolved our capital structure again. We do it on a regular basis. That's not just me. There are a tremendous amount of people on the team that are highly talented and are doing that every weekday looking at the necessary things and making sure that we're doing the right things to allow for that flexibility but also for our shareholders.

Michael Krigsman:  Are there things that you've had to do differently at Cimpress from a finance standpoint because of the nature of the type of business and this mass customization business model, differently than one might expect to see in another kind of business or another manufacturing business?

Sean Quinn: I'm not sure it's necessarily so different other than just thinking about, especially now that we have a group of businesses, making sure that we've set up the right framework to think about where we invest every year, how that investment gets deployed, and making sure that we have a framework also for thinking about the tradeoffs of investing further in our businesses that we have versus maybe acquiring another business or doing other things. I think that's probably the biggest thing that's unique and some of that uniqueness is not even necessarily our business model as such but, rather, kind of the company structure and the fact that Cimpress is more or less a holding company with 13 or so businesses underneath it.

What's the best framework to use to make sure we're doing the right things? I think that's the thing that's most unique but it does require investment across a lot of different areas: advertising, capital in our plants, continue to expand headcount where that's necessary, and a lot of other things. I think that's a little bit unique, too, because there's quite a bit of diversity of things that we're covering every year that maybe some companies, that don't have both that technology focus and the production focus, don't have to deal with that.

Changing Role of Finance

Michael Krigsman:  As the company has grown and scaled, has the role of finance had to change or evolve at all?

Sean Quinn: Absolutely, it has. I think part of that goes hand-in-hand with—I referenced it a few times—this change from a very centralized business to an organizational structure that's highly decentralized. There are just a lot of changes in the operating system. I use that term broadly but, the operating system, you need to run that sort of decentralized operations and I think finance plays a huge role in that. I think that's certainly one.

Also, as we've gotten larger, as we've continued to expand globally, all while still investing in our businesses in a fairly significant way, finance plays a huge role in making sure that there's objectivity in evaluating those investments, their success, making sure that we have feedback loops to understand whether things played out the way we thought they would or not and then can learn from that. Yeah, I think it's definitely evolved. I think finance is critical to that.

Actually, even in our Vistaprint business specifically, we've made changes to get finance deeper into the organization and really invest there because we think it's critical to what we're doing. I'll link that back into, you mentioned innovation a few times too. The need to make sure that we're leveraging data in a smart way as well, and I think finance has a big role to play there to push.

Michael Krigsman:  What kind of data?

Sean Quinn: It can be anything. It can be customer data in terms of just making sure that, over time, we can have a more personalized experience for customers when they come to the site or the products that we recommend to them or even emails that we send to them. We have a lot more we can do that.

It can be employee data, making sure we're being smart about what we can learn from that in terms of trends and hiring patterns and so on. It can be data in supply chain and making sure that we're being smart in how we're procuring and understanding what's being bought in each of these decentralized businesses such that we can optimize that and work with our suppliers around the world to do that in an organized fashion to leverage our scale. I could go on. Data is everywhere now and we need to leverage that smartly.

Michael Krigsman:  I think, next time you come back on CXOTalk, we should talk in-depth about the kinds of data because it's so important these days.

Sean Quinn: It's critical. As a reference point and, after I say what I'm going to say, you'll probably just interview this person. In our Vistaprint business, we just hired a chief data officer, actually. It's the first time we've had that role.

That person is looking after both data and analytics, both so we can be more structured about data but also develop data products that we can leverage throughout our business to be able to be more efficient, smarter and, ultimately, to help our customers better as well.

Michael Krigsman:  A lot of the emphasis is on using data, not just for financial metrics and so forth or financial insight and understanding, but to directly benefit your customers.

Sean Quinn: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Cimpress Operations

Michael Krigsman:  Let's talk about Coronavirus.

Sean Quinn: We have businesses all over the world. We have over 14,000 team members around the world. Yeah, I think every company, in some way, is thinking about this, is planning around this, and reacting to this. I think, first and foremost, this is a people and human issue, and so I think we have to make sure we focus on that first, making sure that all of our team members around the world are safe and that we're being planful about that, being decisive, and making sure that we're staying out ahead of that as well.

There's a lot of thought going into that. Each of our businesses is coordinating that as well. That's first and foremost.

We do have a business in northern Italy, for example, and Pixartprinting, an unbelievable business, and their operations there continue but they're being planful and communicating with and organizing with their team members there. Increasing basic things like making sure that sanitary conditions, handwashing, and some of that stuff that health organizations and the CDC and others are advising, and so promoting that. We're following that, leveraging whatever we can learn from that. I think that's on the people side of it.

We do have a small business in China and those people have not been in the office for some time. They're starting to come back to work now. It's a small business for us but, nonetheless, we're staying close to that.

That's on the people side of it and I expect that that will continue to be fluid. We have a responsibility to be planful, making sure that we're protecting our people and also be measured. I think we want to be on the right side of aggressive but also be measured.

On the financial side of it, of course, there are any number of things that we need to continue to evaluate. It's really tough to say what impact there will be. We had some supply chain in China, mostly for our National Pen business and, to date, there hasn't been any material disruption to that. We continue to watch that.

Otherwise, demand impacts for locations that have quarantines on a larger scale or lockdowns I think is something that we'll continue to watch, and just any other broader impacts. It's really difficult to know. We're watching closely as it evolves. I think we have a duty to make sure that, again, we're planning in a very diligent way. I hope that things progress in a positive direction from here, both for the company but even more so for the human element of it, which of course is most critical.

Michael Krigsman:  You used the terms planful and planning quite a number of times.

Sean Quinn: When you have a situation where there are so many unknowns, I think what you have to do is plan and think ahead. You want to be able to react if you need to. You can only do so much, but you plan as best you can. That means if there is ever a supply chain disruption or if there was a location where we had an office and people couldn't come to work or any of these things, you want to understand what you would do if that ever came up. Again, you hope these things don't arise but these are all possible and so you plan for them. You hope they never come to fruition.

Michael Krigsman:  There's another question from Twitter. This is from Calvin Chan. It's got a number of favorites, likes on Twitter, so I think a number of people are interested in this question, which is going back to the finance function. "What are some of the challenges to adopting new technology in finance that you see?"

Sean Quinn: One of the challenges is that sometimes in financial technology there's as much of a benefit to flexibility as there is a benefit to a stable environment. Sometimes there's a real cost to switching some of these things.

As a company, I think we've always been on the progressive end of adopting new technologies, in general, but also on the finance front. There are a number of SaaS solutions that are point solutions that I would say we're on the more progressive side of.

Of course, when it comes to some of the things that just have to be done 100% right every day, every month, every quarter, that's where you have to balance the extent of change and the desire to be progressive with also a cost consciousness but also a need to make sure that that's stable and accurate. I think that's the challenge and the balance. But, in general, we've always tried to be on the more progressive end to make sure that we have flexibility and we can allow our team members to focus their time on what's most important and leverage technology where that's available.

Michael Krigsman:  Of course, in your case, your business technology is the foundation for everything you do, that platform.

Sean Quinn: It is and I think the more that we can integrate some of that financial technology, the technology that's driving the operations, both the more efficient we can get but also the smarter we can get in terms of making better decisions and being more analytical and rigorous. There's benefit there, too. Those two things go hand-in-hand. As that technology has gotten more flexible, it allows us to be more deeply integrated with the business and allow the business to be, in a more self-service way, smarter about the decisions that they make.

Michael Krigsman:  Advice that you have for people who are in finance who want to become a CFO, how do they get there?

Sean Quinn: There were so many people in my career that I was fortunate to interact with or have as mentors, managers, or whatever it was that I firmly believe allowed me to have the opportunity to take that role. Those were past CFOs here, partners at KPMG that I worked with, but also Robert, our CEO, who I think was willing to take a bet on me. We had a good relationship and I am forever grateful for that.

In terms of any advice that I would give, I think one is that my role, fortunately, here at Cimpress, because we've evolved so much and grown so much—I think that's so core to how we operate. We change all the time—my role changed a lot as well. The times that I advanced the most and learned the most were the times where the roles where I was the most uncomfortable.

My first part of advice would be, get uncomfortable because if you're not uncomfortable, you're probably not growing and expanding at a pace that is going to allow you to get to that. And so, get uncomfortable is one.

I would say, two, learn everywhere you can. That could be reading. It could be in anything you do, making sure that you're trying to absorb as much information as possible.

Then I would say three is, try and get close to the business and really understand the business. No matter what role you're in, ultimately, if you're in the CFO role, you have a lot of responsibilities but you have to understand the business. You have to be close to the business. You have to have a point of view. If you don't have a point of view, then you're not going to be that constant agitator for progress that I mentioned before.

Those are just a few things. Get out and talk to people. Learn from people that have done it. Don't be bashful about that.

Michael Krigsman:  All right. Well, unfortunately, we are out of time but it's been a very, very fast 30 minutes. Sean, thank you so much for taking time to be with us today on CXOTalk.

Sean Quinn: This was great. Thanks a lot for your time, Michael. I look forward to my continued subscription of your series. Thanks a lot for having me. I appreciate it.

Michael Krigsman:  Awesome. Everybody, thank you for watching. Before you go, please subscribe on YouTube and hit the subscribe button at the top of our website to get our newsletter.

Next week, we are speaking with the chief technology officer who is also the chief information officer for Deloitte. It's one of the very largest consulting organizations on the face of the planet. That'll be a pretty interesting show.

Thanks so much, everybody. I hope you have a great day and we will see you again soon. Bye-bye.​