Behind the Career: Kevin Coghlan

September 22, 2013

Position: Chief financial officer of Southland Industries, a design-build mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractor based in Dulles.

Kevin Coghlan was raised in a blue-collar family. His father was an iron worker until he became disabled, and his mother was a business manger for a construction company, where Coghlan eventually went to work as a bricklayer. He says his upbringing forced him to have strong work ethic. He started out at an insurance company and worked in the financial department at a few Fortune 25 companies. Now he is taking on the financial department in an industry that takes him back to his roots.

At Ingersoll Rand, you helped grow the company from $400 million in annual revenue to $500 million. What was the smartest move you made as vice president of finance and controller there?

I asked two people to join me in a room for two hours. We talked about our manufacturing footprint. Several years before I joined, the company had made several key investments internationally, but the plans went unrealized. So we developed a two-year program to close some of our Western facilities and move manufacturing to China and India. The result was that we improved our operating income by $25 million. I also got involved in the front end of the business, especially with customers. I helped evaluate and understand our pricing strategies and then develop a process to reconnect at a much higher level with our customer base.

PaperWork Industries was one of your first private equity start-up companies where you built a financial department from scratch. What were some leadership lessons you came away with?

You have to create the knowledge base in your group so they can perform as business partners to the organization. You can always put in time to make it perfect and ensure that you’re reporting in a timely fashion. Easier said than done. Coach your staff and make them business partners. The business leadership of any organization is always going to look for a way to partner with their financial people. They want to ensure that their financial people know what’s going on, have an ability to see what’s in the numbers, look for ways to improve the business and make the people better. For me, that was the challenge. People development is probably the largest challenge a financial leader has for its long term success.

What’s your secret in people development?

Hire good people. When you hire good people, their natural talent and desire to be successful will have an impact on your ability to help the organization. As a leader, the coaching side is to help them understand the key drivers and how to manage them. Keep them focused on the goal, help them to effectively voice what they’re seeing and benchmark that performance so they can understand what to improve.

What is the most underrated aspect of people development?

There’s no magic pill. At the end of the day it’s about hard work. Jump into the trenches with them when you have to but also stay above the fray when it’s appropriate as well.

What books are you reading?

I read the Steve Jobs biography. When he passed, we really lost something. He was probably the greatest marketer we ever saw.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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