New at the top: A passion for turning an idea into a viable, successful company

March 10, 2013

Throughout my career, I have gravitated toward areas where there is an unmet need in the marketplace and where innovation is an important component to a business plan.

I love technology.

I grew up in Silicon Valley. Although my approach has been from a finance angle, the technology is what I’m passionate about.

I started at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the audit and transaction group doing mergers, acquisitions and [initial public offerings] for biotech companies.

It was an incredible time in the nation’s economy. There was a tremendous amount of energy and money being put behind ideas. I was captivated by the prospects of taking a company from an idea to having it on every street corner and in every market, so I ended up working for several emerging technology companies. I found myself pitching them to venture capitalists and other investors, explaining why we were going to be successful, why we were different and why the market would be interesting.

All the companies had significant growth. For the $100 million that we raised, we returned more than $5 billion in capital to the stakeholders.

The key is relationships. I discovered that a financing transaction or investment is not a single event. It’s the start of a relationship. Typically that relationship has twists and turns. The business plan you start out with might not be the one you end up with, and having a partner who understands that is important.

At one of the companies, MobileAccess, our private equity partner Harbourvest was the same firm that funded a previous company I was associated with. What made them a great partner is that they were a long institutional investor. When the business plan took us longer than anticipated, they gave us the runway to execute.

Having a partner that had the ability to make additional funding as the business changed was crucial. They were there for us and ultimately reaped the rewards. We had a company that was profitable and eventually got sold.

I’ve also learned in my career that people always want good ideas. There’s plenty of ideas but there’s a shortage of game-changing ideas.

When I started, there were 75 venture capitalists all on Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley. Now there are hundreds and hundreds of venture capitalists, but good ideas are still hard to come by.

If you can have a good idea, you’re halfway there. Those ideas that are game-changers, they get funded in good or bad times.

In evaluating ideas, I use myself as a litmus test. I view myself as a consumer. It’s hard to sell what you don’t believe in. I like things that I can touch, see and understand.

Finance has a significant role to play in scaling any company. I look forward to doing the strategy and planning, installing the control environment and reporting to make course corrections for Contact Solutions.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

Michael Southworth

Position: Chief financial officer of Contact Solutions, a tech company based in Reston.


Career highlights:
 Senior vice president, Global Wireless Solutions, Corning; chief operating officer and chief financial officer, MobileAccess Networks; chief financial officer, Metro Optical Networking Group, Lucent Technologies; corporate controller, Chromatis Networks; group controller, The X-Stream Network; manager, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Age: 40

Education: BS, University of California, Berkeley.

Personal: Lives in Great Falls with Dawn Price and three children, Tyler, 10, Sydney, 10, Caden, 6.

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