Success secrets from the Super Bowl champs’ CFO
Dan Crumb, CPA, CGMA, has been CFO of the Kansas City Chiefs for ten seasons, the last of which was the most exciting — the Chiefs won the US National Football League’s Super Bowl championship game earlier this month. Crumb shares insights on taking a simplified approach to innovation, the value of thinking like an owner, and the thrill of hearing a stadium full of loyal, loud fans.
What you’ll learn from this episode:
- Crumb’s view on how technology has changed the role of CFOs.
- Why the team’s recent championship was not the first Super Bowl that Crumb attended.
- How Crumb landed a role as a CFO in professional sports.
- The advice Crumb would give his 25-year-old self.
- The multifaceted approach the Chiefs’ finance team takes to data protection and privacy.
Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:
To comment on this podcast or to suggest an idea for another podcast, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.
Neil Amato: I'd like to welcome the CFO of the Kansas City Chiefs, Dan Crumb, to the podcast. Dan, thank you so much for being here.
Dan Crumb: Neil, thank you for having me. It's my pleasure to be part of this.
Amato: Dan, you're closing in on ten years as CFO with the Chiefs organisation. How is being a 2020s CFO different from being a 2010 CFO?
Crumb: Neil, the real big differences are the explosion of data and technology; we're just able to collect, store, retrieve, and analyse so much more about our customers, suppliers, business relationships, and practices. Technology has enabled us to accomplish more through automation and efficiency, and at the same time, increasing accuracy through pulling data directly from the source, for example.
Amato: Everyone's pursuing innovation these days; it's kind of a buzzword around business as a whole. I guess it's also important to stay firm in the commitment to compliance while doing that. How can you exhibit leadership on that front, balancing innovation and compliance?
Crumb: Innovation really comes down to a few things. It's creating a better process, finding ways to become more efficient, delivering more value to our customers. We are always focused on how we can deliver more value to our fans and partners, along with how we can become more efficient in how we do our jobs. Compliance is part of the job that we all work with; it is a core piece that you can't compromise on. You can be innovative in how you achieve compliance, and we always ask our people to find the most effective and efficient way of doing this. Now, how we exhibit leadership is by providing guidance and the systems, the tools, and the technology to achieve compliance in our organisations.
Amato: So, we're going to get to some of the ways that the finance function maybe helps beyond compliance and expense management in a little bit. I'm going go back to a data question — you mentioned the word "data" and how things have changed in the role. The Chiefs must hold data on tens of thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of customers. How can finance leadership help an organisation capitalise on data while still protecting customers' privacy?
Crumb: Sure. We take protection of our customer data very seriously. We have resources in our IT department, combined with third-party experts that are dedicated to protection of customer data. We work with all the departments and systems that collect, store, and handle data, and have processes and policies in place to protect that data. There's also the newly enacted California Consumer Privacy Act that provides certain protections for customer data. So, combined in total, it's a framework of people, systems, and processes that protect our customer data, and we as finance are leaders in that effort, along with our IT department. So, it's really a combination of the two: It's mainly IT taking the lead, with finance support, so we have that framework in place to protect customer data.
Amato: You mentioned IT. In some previous discussions, we talked about some ways that finance with the Kansas City Chiefs organisation has been able to help with the on-the-field performance. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Crumb: Yes. So, our IT department has a few programmers in it, and one of the things that we had worked on, a number of years ago, is we developed a scouting database system in SharePoint that we custom-made just for our football scouts and football operations and administration department. So it helps them, it gives them the resources necessary to properly scout and also have the database and all the information on players, and the schools, et cetera. As well as, also, all players in the National Football League, in one place, easy to access, and with a platform that's easy to use, and easy to store and retrieve data from.
Amato: Also on kind of the data front, but I guess also a cybersecurity front, that's something you've got to be involved in pretty heavily. How can CFOs lead on cybersecurity?
Crumb: As a CFO with responsibility over IT and risk management, cybersecurity falls within my responsibility. It's one of the most important risks that we protect against, as the impact of a cybersecurity incident can be very high and damaging to the entire organisation in many ways, including reputational damage. The way that we play in is, we identify the various cyber risks and work closely with all the departments in the organisation by providing the resources and processes to mitigate or eliminate these identified risks. And it's our sound principles and practices that we've developed, through working with third-party experts, working internally with all the departments, that helps us to protect against cybersecurity threats.
Amato: In a business such as yours, where TV revenue seems to be growing continuously, is it important for finance to lead in kind of keeping expenses from growing, you know, at the same pace, or more, as the revenue? And if so, how does a CFO lead on this issue, by making sure the organisation spends on the correct initiatives?
Crumb: Sure, so, as financial stewards, we have an obligation to make sure that expense growth does not outpace revenue growth. With that, we know we have to make investments in order to keep growing; it's a matter of where do we invest? We use sound business planning, budgeting, and financial analysis techniques to evaluate where we spend our resources, in order to run the organisation effectively and efficiently, achieve our strategic goals, while being true to our mission.
Amato: Can you be a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs and still do your job professionally?
Crumb: Yes, you sure can, and that's one of the things that is unique about working in a professional sports organisation is the connection to the team that you're working for. We have the privilege of seeing the work we do on display for 70,000 fans on gameday and to see how invested and passionate they are about our team. I can't think of much that equals the feeling of seeing our fans pack Arrowhead Stadium and make it the loudest outdoor stadium in the world. I'm truly privileged to work in this industry, and to work for the Hunt family and the Chiefs organisation. As we embark on postseason and during-the-season and beach season and hopefully postseason, you know, I tell employees how special the experience of working for this organisation is.
And that, if there's ever a time — you hear the phrase "live in the moment," and if there's ever a time to live in the moment, now is the time. Being a fan of the team deepens our connection to our fans and allows us to better deliver those memorable experiences to our fans.
Amato: I guess I'd say you have to be a fan, at a certain level, because in a sense, if you know the game better, you know the business, you know your fans, you're doing your job better.
Crumb: Yes, that's correct, the more we understand what our fans feel and know what they're looking for, that comes from having the deeper connection to our team. And the deeper connection to our team, in turn, gives us a deeper connection to our fans, so that we can understand what they're looking for and being able to provide those experiences for our fans.
Amato: Well, I'm sure it's a lot easier to do your job when your team [record] is, say, 12–4 than 4–12.
Crumb: You know, Neil, every season is different. There's ups and downs within a season and across seasons, but our job basically remains the same regardless of our record. As we do have a connection to the team and our fans, we do feel the emotions of those ups and downs, but we still have the same work to do. And a big part of that job is to be prepared for success. So, regardless of the record, we are always prepared for success and doing the fundamental work that has to be done. We will always work to provide the best experience for our fans, no matter the record.
Amato: So, between working for the Chiefs and the New Orleans franchise in the National Basketball Association, you've been a finance leader for more than 15 years. What have you learned about yourself, in that time?
Crumb: The most important thing that I've learned is, really, that trust is the core foundation upon which you build everything. Building the right culture also is extremely important to success. And you have to be adaptable, you have to be able to adapt and change because things change and you have to be able to adapt.
Amato: What are some examples of the things that have changed, maybe just in the accounting world, for you, from when you started being a CFO to now?
Crumb: Well, it goes back to data, the explosion of data, and the technology, the technology we have today versus what we had many years ago when I first became a CFO is very different. And the speed at which we can do things, the amount of data we can handle, the amount we can store, and how much we can access and how easily we can access it. And it allows us to do things better as far as financial analysis and investment analysis, decision-making — it just enables us to be more accurate, quicker, and to be able to do more than what we were able to do. When you look at the systems, you look at a number of the things that have been introduced over the years, but you look at, more currently, now, more recently, you look at RPA, you know, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning. These were things that weren't around or when I first started in my career many years ago.
These are things that are really starting to take root right now, along with blockchain and things like that. We didn't have those in place, those didn't exist, and now they do. Or if they did exist, they were very limited as far as who had access to those.
Amato: Great point, great point, it has changed a lot over the years. You touched on it with, I think, that “ability to change” comment, earlier, but what would you tell your 25-year-old self now, if you could go back in time?
Crumb: I would say to really be adaptable to change and embrace technology. Those two things are very important. Don't be surprised at how fast things change. Be committed to lifelong learning and innovation. And again, don't let that term "innovation" become more than what it is. What it really is, is finding a better way to do things. So, always try to find the best way to do things. And the last thing I would say is, don't underestimate the importance of building the right culture in the organisation you work for.
Amato: So, those are things you've learned, or would give advice to those younger people. Who have you leaned on for advice or mentorship over the years?
Crumb: I've been blessed, I've had the good fortune of working for some really great people over the years and working with some great people over the years. And it's really the people that I've worked with and worked for that have been great mentors to me over the years. I've learned something — I can say I've learned something at every job that I've had that I've been able to take to the next one, and really, now, the Hunt family have been great mentors. And they've really reinforced a number of things, but they've reinforced how valuable our fans, partners, and employees are to being a successful sports team and just a successful organisation in general. You know, one thing that I also look back at, many years ago, at a company that I worked for, the owner of the company one day told me — we were sitting in his office talking, and he told me that, "You have to think like the owner and that it's your dollar that you're spending."
And that really struck me, and it really made a lot of sense, and I really took that to heart. Because that mentality allows you to have a deeper connection to the business and the decisions you make, if you feel like, "This is my business and it's my dollar that I'm spending. I want to make sure that I'm putting it to its best use."
Amato: So, how neat is it for you that you get to work for a sports organisation? Talking to you some, you know, it's clear that you've been a sports fan growing up.
Crumb: Yeah, so, yeah, I was fortunate enough to really be introduced to sports at a very early age, you know, and I had the — I played sports in grade school and high school, and I always had a connection to it. And, in fact, I actually, when I was in college and grad school, I actually worked in event security at the Superdome. So, I had the ability to — I worked many different sporting events at that venue, New Orleans Saints football games, Tulane University football games, Sugar Bowls, Super Bowl actually, different sporting events. So, I really had been around sports most of my early years, you know, from grade school all the way through college and grad school.
Amato: So, did it just work out, or did you seek out these sports jobs, after you got, you know, a little bit further in your career?
Crumb: Neil, the way that I landed the job with the New Orleans Hornets at the time, was really just a matter of the company that I was working for, our bottling plant had been destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. So, the owners of the company sold the business to a competitor, and so, it was time to start looking for another job. And I actually just reached out to the managing partner at KPMG while I was at KPMG. He and I had kept in touch over the years, so I passed my résumé on to him and I asked him if he knew of anybody that was looking for a CFO. And so, he just happened to be the financial adviser to the owner of the New Orleans Hornets.
And at that time, he said that they were moving back from Oklahoma City to New Orleans, and they needed a CFO. So, he asked me if I would be interested in applying for the job, and so, I said, "Certainly," and he arranged for interviews with the owners and the president. I went through the process, and I was fortunate enough to be offered the job, and that was really my start in professional sports.
Amato: And that, obviously, was your springboard to getting the job with the Chiefs.
Crumb: Correct, yes.
Amato: So, what would you say — this has been an excellent conversation, Dan, and I appreciate your time. To close, what would you say are the challenging aspects of being a leader and then also the most rewarding?
Crumb: So, I would say that the challenging aspects are balance, you know, trying to balance your personal and work life, and also not losing your identity to the job, and not having the job become your identity. Because you do spend so much time on it, and nowadays, with the way that we're so connected to everything to do with work, it's really quite a bit different than when I first started my career. But I would say, maintain that balance is one. And then also leading through change because times are changing so fast and there's so much change and disruption that that's a challenge. But what it really goes back to, as far as how to navigate that change and how to lead through it, it goes back to developing trust and having the people you lead trust that you're going to lead them down the right path.
The most rewarding aspect of leadership is really seeing your team achieve success. That, to me, has always been the most rewarding aspect of being a leader, is seeing your team successful.
Amato: Dan, thank you so much.
Crumb: You're very welcome. My pleasure.