Kayla Davis’ role as vice president of mergers and acquisitions at ABM Industries, a leader in facility solutions and a Fortune 500 company, has provided her with a fresh perspective. “When I worked in corporate financial planning and analysis (FP&A), my day-to-day focus was on the company’s short-term strategy for earnings and investors,” she said. “Now, as part of the strategy team, my focus has shifted to long-term growth and prioritizing initiatives that will drive the most value over the long-term, including inorganic growth. Having both of these perspectives helps frame how I advise on capital allocation in balancing short-term and long-term priorities — and it creates a strong partnership between strategy and finance.”
In her nearly nine years with ABM, Davis has progressed through a variety of roles that have included accounting, FP&A, and business strategy. A common theme throughout her career has been the appropriate use of data and information, a topic she spoke about at AFP 2020 with Megan Weis in the session: Data-Driven Decision-Making. “Leveraging data can be a significant advantage,” said Davis. “Being a data-driven organization can help us better understand where our weak points are (in capabilities and markets) so that we target where we want to be.”
I recently caught up with Davis, the newest member of AFP’s North American FP&A Advisory Council and the AFP 2021 Planning Task Force, to chat about her background and how FP&A plays a role in planning.
Lapidus: You were the director of FP&A and are now the head of M&A. How does this fit into your overall career plan?
Davis: Looking back at how I have approached my career goals, I would say that I have pursued a breadth of experience in various finance roles, and then developed depth in those roles. Finance is the toolset I use as I pursue my personal passion: to have a lasting, positive impact in everything I do and on every person with whom I interact. While I grew up in finance, I have been fortunate to step out of the CFO organization to be a part of our strategy team, which opened up opportunities to solve complex business challenges by partnering with our operations team. I applied my finance skills and gained some new ones while expanding my understanding of how we operate.
How does your FP&A background help you in your new role?
In the FP&A role, I learned a great deal about what impacts our bottom line and how business decisions impact shareholder returns. Analysis of financial results gave me a deep understanding of how different parts of the business contribute to our overall performance, and what the areas of opportunities are.
What else (besides FP&A skills) would someone need to get up to speed in this role?
Working as part of the strategy team, I am gaining a better understanding of the needs of our operations team, including what will help them make better decisions and how to deliver real value to our clients. Combining both perspectives helps to screen companies and evaluate a good fit for us. It is not only about the numbers; it is also about enhancing our capabilities to deliver on that value.
FP&A is often involved in the post-M&A integration; what can be put in place at the start of the process to make this easier down the road?
There are two opposing forces at work in M&A: change takes time, but everyone has a strong desire to realize value as soon as possible. The way to balance this is to start thinking about integration early in the process, before the deal has closed. Early in the process, we work closely with our FP&A team to understand the synergy potential so we can refine our assumptions along the deal lifecycle and start to create specific plans that we can execute when the papers are signed.
There is a lot of literature about how hard it is to create value through M&A; what advice do you have for getting this right?
A critical early step is to understand what it is that you are buying and how it fits into your overall strategic vision. Creating value through M&A is about having the ability to continue to grow the acquired business, and that determination cannot be done in isolation. Having a cross-functional team engaged throughout the lifecycle of a deal should help ensure you are investing in the right type of business, and lock in the anticipated gains.
For more information on building a career plan, download AFP’s Guide to Career Pathing.