2012 CFO of the Year and CFO of the Year

2012 CFO OF THE YEAR: Bill Brunner

November 28, 2012
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Top Honoree, Private Companies (revenue over $100 million)

Founded in 1989, Carmel-based J.D. Byrider is the nation’s leading used-car sales and finance company, with 122 franchised and 31 company-owned used car dealerships in 31 states. But it wasn’t always so. In 2008 the then family-owned business decided it needed an extensive capital infusion from new ownership to fuel expansion. Which meant they needed a well-heeled buyer. Which is where its CFO, Bill Brunner, came in.

Hired after an extensive search, Brunner was chosen for his strong expertise in mergers and acquisitions. But the timing—he joined Byrider in 2008, on the cusp of the Great Recession—couldn’t have been worse. Acquisition plans were put on hold while Brunner tackled the far more urgent task of helping the company weather the economic tsunami.

He took over management of all company-owned stores, instilling greater financial accountability and stronger cost controls, and honing the company’s talent management efforts. He says that one of the central facts about the Byrider business model helped it survive. The company’s target market, in his own words, “struggles in good times as well as bad, and our product is designed to help the customer out in all times.”
 

Age: 53

Family: wife Sara; son Phillip, 17; daughter Madeline, 15

Hometown: St. Cloud, Minn.

Education: bachelor’s degree in economics, St. Cloud State University; MBA in finance, Georgia State University

Civic Involvement: Served for nine years in various capacities on the board of the Children’s Bureau Inc. Also sits on the board of directors of the Little Star Center, dedicated to theeducationandtrainingofchildren with autism.

Hobbies: Spending time at the family’s northern Indiana lake home.

In other words, a guy who needs a car but isn’t rolling in cash doesn’t stop needing that car just because the economy tanks. Today the company has matched some 950,000 consumers to vehicles, and its franchisees service approximately $1 billion in contracts.

“I learned many things during the downturn: to stay close to the basics and not let your principles down; easier underwriting to keep sales up; and, if needed, reduce costs and ride it out,” Brunner said. “Another lesson was to diversify your capital base. During the financial crises, we were fully dependent on the commercial banks for our funding. We were very lucky that all of them survived, but it could have been very different. Some competitors were dependent on the securitization (bond) market that froze up for almost a year. Our response has been to enter the securitization market in May of 2012 but to also retain our traditional banking relationships.”

His goal of finding a quality buyer for J.D. Byrider was finally realized when Altamont Capital purchased the company in May of 2011. Not surprisingly, Byrider went on an expansion tear, opening 12 new stores in 2011 and 10 this year. And in 2011 Brunner found capital for even more growth by securing a $150 million line of credit with Bank of America. He also orchestrated the company’s first asset-backed security offering of $145 million in 2012.

“In 2013, we look to open 15 additional franchise locations and two to four new company- owned stores,” Brunner said. “We will also continue to look for strategic opportunities to acquire existing Byrider franchisees. On the general economy, I see the same as most economists: slow growth with limited improvement in the employment situation.”

He wants J.D. Byrider to continue focusing on increased personal accountability. He’s also revamped the company’s talent development process, instituting strategies to snag new employees while also improving staff retention and performance. In fact, he thinks one of his biggest challenges in 2012—and going forward—is to attract the talent necessary to expand the company at a fast clip.

“The longer I’m in business and the greater varieties of business I’m around, the more I recognize that the challenges are the same,” he said. “The primary challenge and opportunity is in people. Finding good talent, training, motivating and, most of all, keeping the team aligned on a few specific goals.”

Thanks to Brunner’s efforts, employee retention has increased and the staff performs at much higher levels. He’s recently taken the talent-grooming process a step further, working to hire a vice president of talent development who will focus on recruiting, training, and creating clear career paths for employees. Another major project was hiring one of J.D. Byrider’s most successful franchisees as the company’s new COO. He’ll use his field-proven strategies to improve operations at both franchised and company-owned locations.

“Bill possesses numerous leadership qualities, and his employees appreciate his focused, passionate direction,” said J.D. Byrider CEO Steve Wedding. “I see Bill being my partner in leading J.D. Byrider for many years to come.”•

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