When Mike Sicoli was growing up, his father teased him, calling him Alex P. Keaton, the Michael J. Fox character from the TV show “Family Ties.” Like Keaton, Sicoli was passionate about business and making money from a young age. He went to William and Mary to play baseball and study economics and then took a job with Andersen (later Accenture). His first chief financial officer position was at the cable firm RCN. When RCN was bought and split into two businesses, Sicoli became the chief executive of the commercial services business, later renamed Sidera. He ran the company for three years before selling it. After working as a consultant for a couple of years, Sicoli joined the cloud networking company GTT Communications in April as its CFO.
Q. You played baseball for four years in college. How has that experience served you during your career?
A. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Being a Division I college athlete does require a significant time commitment. I’ve always enjoyed situations where I don’t have a lot of free time. It really forces you to prioritize and be efficient. Then on top of that, baseball is more a thinking person’s game. It’s a game of managing failure. Even the best hitters get out seven out of 10 times.
When you graduated, did you want to work for a consulting firm?
I just wanted to get the best job I could get that would give me as much experience and a good foundation for whatever I wanted to do later, and therefore consulting was a great choice. It teaches you further that time management piece. It teaches you project management. It teaches you a level of professionalism and relationship management, which is really important to being successful. The other thing that was interesting at Andersen — I don’t know if they still do this — but they made all the entry-level consultants learn how to code. That teaches you another level of structured analytical thought.
What made you leave Andersen and get your MBA?
It occurred to me that the partner track at any of these large firms becomes much more of a sales role, and I actually liked the problem-solving and the delivery part.
You eventually found your way to the mobile phone company Nextel. What attracted you?
I was open to an opportunity to jump onto the client side. As a consultant, it is a little bit less than fulfilling because you’re always a third party. You can recommend. You can even be on an implementation team, but at the end of the day you’re influencing, suggesting and recommending. You’re not actually doing. I was definitely hungry to jump in and own problems and solutions.
You became the CFO at RCN. Did moving more toward the financial side appeal to you?
Not really. I’m not a finance guy. I’m a business guy who happens to have worn the finance hat more often than not. What was interesting to me was really getting a C-level role and partnering with the CEO, the board and the rest of the team to transform the company. By the time I left RCN, I had the IT group, engineering and a few business functions in addition to finance. That’s what enabled me to transition to a CEO role at Sidera.
What did you take from your experience as a CEO?
I think it just further cements that I’m just not a finance guy.
Which is interesting since I’m talking to you about your new job as a CFO.
This is what CFOs are today. The most successful CFOs are business leaders. They are successor candidates to the CEO.
What do you hope to achieve in your new role?
I think this can and should be a billion-dollar revenue company in five years or less. I would define success as getting the company to the 10 percent growth rate sustained and adding the right pieces through [mergers and acquisitions] to get us to a billion dollars.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?
Early in my career, I had a little bit of the smartest-guy-in-the-room syndrome. I didn’t quite understand how to play things politically or just from a change management standpoint. At Nextel, I was a young finance executive, and I was a little bit of a bull in a china shop. Tim Donahue and Tom Kelly, two leaders at the time, were instrumental in pulling me aside and saying, ‘Hey even though you’re smart and you probably are right, this is never going to get done if you keep playing it that way.’ They helped me step back, settle down a little bit and approach things a little bit differently, and I’ve carried that forward.
— Interview with Kathy Orton
Position: Chief financial officer, GTT Communications, a McLean-based cloud networking provider
Career highlights: Principal, MTS Solutions; CEO, Sidera Networks; CFO, RCN; vice president and assistant treasurer, Nextel.
Education: MBA, University of Virginia; BA, economics, William and Mary.