October 21, 2022

What ex-Quora CFO Kelly Battles believes all economic downturns have in common


Kelly Battles joins Alex Song on Recession-Proof this week to discuss how exceptional finance leaders can help their executive teams make the tough decisions that can increase the likelihood of growth during a recession. 

Kelly is currently a Board Member and Audit Committee Chair for DataStax, Arista Networks, Genesys, Alpha Medical, Clari, and Plex. Kelly has a thirty-plus-year career in finance through various leadership roles at companies like Quora, Bracket Computing, Wikimedia Foundation, Host Analytics, IronPort Systems, and HP.

Kelly and Alex discuss:

  • Quora's mission of sharing and growing the world's knowledge base
  • Why all full time executives should seek board positions
  • How great finance leaders help their executive teams make the best decisions
  • The role of a CFO in setting the right company culture during economic growth and downturn

Key takeaways

  • When choosing a new company to join, Kelly focuses on culture, market opportunity, product-market fit, and her role in that company. This is what drew Kelly to her role as CFO of Quora. Quora's mission is to share and grow the world's knowledge base through quality content that aims to help people. Quora is also an example of what makes an online platform succeed through clear policies and processes that match its mission, a great product, community, and team.

    “I was watching what was happening in some social media companies and thinking there's so much power for good in these companies, and there are so many missteps. And I believe in a hundred years when people look back at the internet, they will see some bad actors. History is not gonna treat some of these companies well. And I think Quora and Wikipedia are two examples of where history will treat them very well as examples of the power of the internet for good.”

  • Whether discussing the current recession, the great financial crisis of 2008, or the dot-com bubble, Kelly recognizes a pattern that she calls the “overreaction to the fear-greed cycle”. The best companies are disciplined during the greed cycles and then emerge with strength from the fear cycle.

    “Companies that have been raising so much money in the last couple of years because it was so plentiful and didn't spend it will be able to come out with strong balance sheets in an environment where it's gonna be easier to hire, cheaper to take share, and easier to buy assets than companies that didn't raise the money or raised it and spent it.”

  • The finance function exists to help executives overcome obstacles and challenges especially during a downturn. CFO’s must learn from these challenges, take those lessons, and apply them to the future. Finance also has a significant role in setting the right spending culture to ensure the company is disciplined during the good times and conservative during hard times.

    “As a CFO, joining the CEO in the future and understanding the past, understanding what you can learn from it, understanding current performance, what it means for the future, what you need to do differently in the future, or what you need to double down on or stop doing, to me, that is how you do this right.”

Learn more about Kelly:

Episode resources:

Check out the full transcript here.

For more episodes from Recession-Proof, check us out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and our RSS or your favorite podcast player.

Instructions on how to follow, rate, and review Recession-Proof are here.

Don't miss these

Liz Christo of Stage 2 Capital shares how your GTM strategy should shift during a recession
How Keith Masuda of Modern Treasury is managing spend during the downturn
Anup Singh on how to think about IPOs and M&As during a downturn