Kelly Schmitt is thankful that Excel was around by the time she started her career in finance. She can remember growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan, and she can still picture her parents sitting at the end of the kitchen table, pencils in hand and large sheets of ledger paper strewn about, balancing the family finances on a clunky adding machine.
However taxing it looked, the activity sparked in Schmitt an interest in numbers, which eventually led her to SMART Technologies, a producer of disruptive-education and business solutions. She joined the Calgary-based company in 2008, starting as treasurer before ultimately becoming CFO. Here’s a look at the stats behind SMART’s history and Schmitt’s climb to the top there.
After graduating from university and spending three years in the workforce, Schmitt still hadn’t settled on a firm career path. Then, while working as a treasury analyst at Encana Corporation, a large energy company, Schmitt had the opportunity to work on debt financing. In her first two years, she helped raise $3 billion, and from then on, she knew she wanted to pursue opportunities in corporate finance and treasury.
Schmitt progressed through a number of treasury roles, including positions in the oil and gas industry, and in 2008, she saw a job open up at SMART, which, at the time, was a private company with plans to go public. “I jumped at the opportunity to work for an exciting technology company and the opportunity to work on the IPO,” Schmitt says. “But what sealed the deal was coming in and interviewing with the founder and seeing her passion and vision for the company.”
SMART was founded in 1987 with the vision of using technology to improve collaboration, but it wasn’t until 1991 that it produced its flagship product, the SMART Board. The interactive whiteboard was the first of its kind, allowing users to write directly over standard Microsoft Windows applications and to manipulate computer application controls by hand. SMART’s product suite has changed significantly since then, but the company continues to leverage technology to enable collaboration.
50 million students & teachers
For much of SMART’s more-than-20-year history, the K–12 educational sector has helped the company remain a market leader. The company offers a variety of SMART Boards, including interactive displays, interactive flat panels, and interactive projectors, and its products are being used in about 2.5 million classrooms by more than 50 million students and teachers.
SMART launched its $660 million IPO on July 15, 2010. Having grown to almost $800 million in revenue purely through organic growth, the company wanted better access to capital. Schmitt worked on the project seven days a week for eight months, and it ultimately accelerated her move to the CFO position.
In 2010, education spending in the United States began getting dramatically pulled back, and because that’s SMART’s largest market, the company faced its first decline ever. While the IPO share price started around $17, it eventually fell to about $1. This led to a major restructuring and refocusing of the company, including a 25 percent reduction of its workforce in late 2012. Schmitt helped the company carry out this contraction as carefully as possible.
2 business units
The streamlined SMART now has two separate business units: one continuing to serve education and the other turning to enterprise. The company now has a full product suite tailored to enterprise customers, and it’s paying off. The company’s first fiscal year under new management ended on March 31, 2014, and the first six months of it were more profitable than the entire previous year was. “Change and evolution are essential to continued success because markets and customers change,” Schmitt says. “We’ve had a couple of tough years, but we’re back on the upturn.”
To get itself back on its feet, SMART also implemented a new capital structure that included a sale and leaseback of the company’s headquarters and a refinancing of the company’s term debt with a $125 million term loan and a $50 million asset-based loan.
The refinancing was a challenge, given the company’s two years of revenue decline, but the lease back of SMART’s headquarters generated $77 million in cash, and Schmitt was able to use that, along with cash built up from the balance sheet, to reduce the company’s outstanding bank debt by nearly 60 percent. The measure helped SMART seal a four-and-a-half-year deal to repay the rest of its debt, giving the company the leeway it needs to move back to growth so that it can continue to improve the way the world works and learns.
THE BOTTOM LINE
VP of finance & CFO
Years in the business
Where did you start your career?
Bain & Company in Toronto.
Describe yourself in three words
Driven, dedicated, fun.
Advice to those just starting in finance
Build good working relationships with colleagues at all levels in your company, from the C-suite to the mail room.