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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 15, 2016 3 years ago

Top of the world

The top financial executive of a massive live entertainment business has a supersize to-do list. Good thing he's a planner.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Keith Senglaub, a top executive with one of the largest family entertainment companies in the world, might have the toughest gig in show business — and he never gets on stage.

Senglaub is a senior vice president and CFO of Feld Entertainment, which has a global production headquarters in Ellenton, in northeast Manatee County. The company has more than 550 full-time employees in the region, and at least 30 million people attend one of Feld's 5,000 live entertainment shows every year. That's hundreds of millions a year in revenues.

Senglaub, 56, has to deliver up-to-date financial metrics to other senior leaders and decision makers at Feld, which on any given weekend has 35 performances worldwide, each its own traveling city. Senglaub also has to maintain a forward attack plan at the ready for any acquisition opportunity Feld has to buy another entertainment operation, where millions of dollars are at stake.

Senglaub's success at Feld, and a key takeaway for financial executives at any large enterprise, can mostly be traced to a combination of his approach on three Ps: process, people and planning. Senglaub makes a point to keep the finance department nimble, even with the sometimes-overwhelming size of the business.

“You have to be ready for something to change all the time, and you have to be very adaptive,” says Senglaub, who has been with Feld's finances department since 2004 and CFO since 2009. “In this business, the show must go on no matter what.”

Process has shaped a chunk of Senglaub's career. That goes back to the late 1980s, when he was CFO for U.S. News & World Report magazine. “It wasn't performing at peak financial efficiency,” says Senglaub.

There weren't one or two large weaknesses at the magazine, Senglaub says, more like several small ones. First he changed the reporting structures and deadlines for audits and other metrics, to add a level of consistency and expectations. Next came training. Then he created a culture where everyone in the department was held accountable for underperforming.
“You have to set new standards,” he says, “and guide people on how to get there.”

After several other financial management jobs around metro Washington, D.C., in 2004 Senglaub, through networking, came up for a job at Feld, which has a corporate office in Vienna, Va. Feld also had some numbers issues back then. Reports weren't coming in on time, and audits, Senglaub says, were a “bit messy.”

“It had some financial challenges,” he adds. “The company was growing, but it was poised to grow much faster.”

Senglaub, now based in Manatee County, reset some goals and reporting structures at Feld. He also hired more people for his department, which has about 125 employees and includes IT and several other functions.

A crucial step Senglaub took at Feld was to expand the tour financial manager program, where every Feld performance has someone from the finance department there, in person on the road. This allows for on-the-ground decisions about spending, for any number of calamities in live entertainment. Even better: The traveling tour managers, usually by the Monday after the weekend performances, files a complete profit and loss report of the show for top executives.

Senglaub says the work, and the constant pace of change at Feld, is a motivator, not at an obstacle. “I spend a lot of time looking at how we will grow,” he says. “I spend very little time looking in my rearview mirror about how we did.”

At a glance
Keith Senglaub

Company: Feld Entertainment

Title: CFO

Education: Accounting degree from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.; M.B.A. in corporate finance from Virginia Tech.

Experience: Started career with Pricewaterhouse in 1981, in accounting. Worked on media and publishing accounts, and was part of the audit team at Gannett Co. behind the debut of USA Today. Also held senior financial roles with publishing companies, magazines and AARP.

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon

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