C-Suite Concerns: Kathryn Eskandarian Of Visual Lease On The Top 5 Issues That Keep Executives Up at Night

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Yes — and admittedly, I’ve not always been very good at this — but I am very big on prioritization and time management. I have a type A personality and have always been very quick to respond to emails, dive into projects and make myself available to anyone, any time. I’ve realized that while I thought this behavior was helping me make an impact, it actually contributes to burnout.

When it comes to business leadership, challenges are omnipresent. From rapidly changing market dynamics to technological disruptions, executives today grapple with multifaceted issues that directly impact their decision-making and strategic orientations. What really keeps the leaders of today’s corporate world awake at night? How do they navigate through these turbulent times to ensure the growth and stability of their organizations? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Eskandarian.

As Chief Financial Officer, Kathryn oversees Visual Lease’s financial operations, including corporate financial planning, audit and tax functions, as well as its IT, legal and human resources departments.

Kathryn is experienced in building out accounting and finance functions within high-growth SaaS companies.

Before joining VL, Kathryn served as Controller at iCIMS, where she was heavily involved in building the financial infrastructure to scale and support the business, as well as supporting various equity raises.

Prior to iCIMS, Kathryn served at Geller & Company, where she worked with venture capital companies, special acquisition corps (SPACs), non-profits, as well as public and government entities. She held roles in audit and tax throughout the early part of her career.

Kathryn is a CPA registered in NJ and has a B.S. in Accounting from William Paterson University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity, I am excited to participate and share my experiences with others who might benefit from them.

Early on in my career I spent several years in the tax and audit space where I learned a lot about different industries and how different types of businesses operate. Through that experience, I realized that I wanted to further explore the operational aspects of the accounting and finance function and extend my industry knowledge outside of public accounting.

Once I made that determination, I was able to quickly land a role as an outsourced Controller for a company that supported start-ups, venture capital companies, emerging businesses and special acquisition corps (SPACs). As an outsourced Controller, I was responsible for providing financial services to organizations across multiple industries, including both public and private entities. I led multiple teams that were responsible for helping businesses gain control of financial data, create accurate and timely financial reports, build out internal processes and controls and provide guidance through external audits. The outsourced part was similar to what I did in public accounting, but my role was more focused on the internal financial operations that external tax and audit partners relied on to complete their work.

After five years in that role, an opportunity presented itself where I would be able to focus my efforts toward building and leading an internal Finance team within a private SaaS company, rather than spread my time across multiple companies and industries. I was excited to take the skills and knowledge that I had gained and apply it to a new but challenging opportunity as the Controller of iCIMS. It was in this position — particularly as the organization went through various equity raises and as a result, grew very quickly — that I was able to extend beyond Finance and gain valuable experience across the full operations of the business. It was a roller coaster of a ride during my six years at iCIMS and learning how to be a true leader in a fast-paced, high-growth environment was where my passion for leading others grew exponentially.

In 2017, I joined Visual Lease for a few reasons. Given my background, I immediately understood the unique value that Visual Lease offers by serving as a centralized system of record for organization’s leased and owned assets. Business health is dependent upon the ability to make smart, informed decisions — especially when it comes to leases, which can easily be a company’s second-largest expense just after people-related costs. Because I saw the impact that VL has and will continue to make on organizations, I knew I wanted to help the company recognize its full potential by building and maturing a financial infrastructure that could support their financial and operational goals. Seven years later, I remain committed to ensuring we continue expanding the value we provide to our growing community of customers and partners.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I’ve learned throughout my career that accountability is key to being a great leader and leading successful teams. I’ve experienced firsthand, through great mentors and peers, that taking full responsibility for my performance and the performance of my teams is what has led me to where I am today. Leaders need to take responsibility for outcomes driven by their actions, their leadership and the individual decisions they make. Good or bad, it’s all about accepting the result, learning from it and committing to improve. By doing this as a leader, you are leading by example and teaching those who look up to you or depend on you that it’s OK to make mistakes if you accept your part and learn from them. We are all human and we will always make mistakes, but how we handle an unfavorable outcome separates highly successful people from those who limit their own successes through blame and finger pointing when things don’t go as planned. I live and lead by this rule.

I also believe that clear, direct and transparent communication is one of the most critical parts of leadership. If you can understand how and when to deliver a message, you will connect with internal and external stakeholders in a meaningful way. Communication is the key to building relationships, establishing trust, gaining alignment and making progress against key goals. Regardless of where a leader sits in the business, they must be able to communicate effectively.

Last, but not least, I believe that I am a forward-looking leader. I feel that coaching and developing others to become peers, or even successors, is an important part of leading people and organizations. I am very committed to creating a path for those around me. I’m passionate about helping others — even those who do not report to me — overcome challenges, uncover strengths and grow in their careers. My point of view is that there’s only upside when you champion others. By helping them progress personally and professionally, you’ll empower them to make an even bigger impact on the business. As leaders, we are helping to guide the leaders of tomorrow and they may even surpass us today — and I think that’s OK.

My passion for supporting the growth and development of others, along with my focus on direct and transparent communication, reminds me of a success story from earlier on in my career. In a previous position, I had an entry-level accountant reporting into me who was struggling in his role. While he had gone to school for accounting and was extremely passionate about the field, he had a difficult time applying that knowledge to his day-to-day work.

After giving him the time and resources needed to acclimate, I saw that he was frustrated and not making the kind of progress that he had hoped for — so, I had a very direct conversation with him. I asked him probing questions and let him know that it’s OK to explore different professional opportunities and that not everyone’s path is the same. He was receptive, and we continued the conversation — ultimately, he moved on to find a role that was better suited for him. Today, this individual is a very accomplished financial recruiter, a position that has allowed him to apply his hard and soft skills. And while he has driven his own success, I am happy that I was able to be a part of his journey.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

I believe one of the biggest challenges that leaders face is balancing what is best for their organization with what is best for their employees.

On one hand, as a leader, you have to make strategic decisions that propel the company forward, ensuring its growth, stability and competitiveness in the market. This inevitably involves making tough choices, allocating resources judiciously and sometimes implementing changes that are met with resistance.

On the other hand, fostering a workplace culture that prioritizes the well-being, professional growth and job satisfaction of employees is just as important. As a leader, you must recognize your employee’s contributions and create an environment that encourages innovation, collaboration and a sense of purpose. This entails providing opportunities for skill development, acknowledging achievements and addressing concerns to maintain a motivated and engaged team.

The challenge lies in making decisions that support both areas. Striking this balance requires empathetic leadership, effective communication and a commitment to doing what is best for the greater good. And if that balance is not possible — usually due to unforeseen circumstances like economic trends, global events, etc. — a good leader will make an informed decision to ensure that the business is healthy. I’ve had to make these choices before, and the outcome is never the same, but I’ve found that employees generally appreciate direct communication around how leadership arrived at their decisions.

What do you believe are the top concerns currently preoccupying the minds of C-suite executives, and why?

The first thing that comes to mind is future-proofing organizations through digital transformation — in fact, our most recent analysis from The Visual Lease Data Institute (VLDI) revealed that 40% of senior accounting and finance executives at companies with more than 1,000 employees believe that the ability to drive digital transformation projects that unite data views is a top skill that future finance leaders will need to have over the next five years.

We’ve seen this need for united data views reflected in our community of customers, as well as our partners’ clients — it’s one of the main reasons why organizations seek VL’s platform. And that’s because while lease and owned asset data is inherently complex, investing in the right technology can greatly ease the pain points finance and accounting teams face by creating access to critical information across departments, helping to maintain compliance, as well as highlighting opportunities to trim operational costs, boost revenue and even reduce carbon footprints — all of which add to the strategic value finance and accounting teams can offer to their C-suite and business.

Another leading business concern that remains top of mind is environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting readiness. Over the past few years, ESG has been a huge, global topic of interest, with companies and organizations following suit in prioritizing related goals and initiatives. While new and evolving reporting requirements are intended to help us make progress toward establishing a standardized reporting framework, they are also a cause of concern for many executives — particularly The Office of Finance, as they are responsible for reporting on this complex data.

According to our recent VLDI report, nearly 70% of senior accounting and finance executives say that their organizations are not fully prepared in terms of their ability to track and measure the environmental impact of their leased and owned asset portfolios. In fact, 44% are concerned with their ability to achieve compliance with these new requirements. Despite the concerns, however, it is encouraging to see that 84% of organizations have made stronger lease controls and overall management a higher business priority, thanks to existing (ASC 842, GASB 87 & IFRS 16) and emerging regulatory requirements.

My advice to executives who are feeling pressure related to ESG? Start preparing now. We learned this valuable lesson with the introduction of the lease accounting standards when many organizations underestimated the required effort to centralize, manage and track their lease data. While the data collection process for ESG reporting will be just as crucial, and perhaps even more challenging as it will encompass both leased and owned assets, it is important that I highlight a key difference between complying with environmental reporting requirements versus complying with the new lease accounting standards — finance professionals were familiar with and trained for reporting financial statements; most do not have the same experience with climate-related disclosures and environmental reporting. It’s going to be a learning curve for most, which is why preparing teams now and ensuring the right technology is in place is essential.

Another top concern for executives, which is related to ESG, is how leasing decisions can actually drive — or undermine — their sustainability efforts and larger business goals. Visual Lease found that 99% of senior real estate executives said it’s important that their organization’s future leases help reduce its carbon footprint. Whether this is via increasing the number of LEED-certified buildings in their portfolios or increasing the number of energy-efficient vehicles in their fleets, as examples, it’s clear that executives want to utilize their leased assets in a way that supports their overall sustainability goals. But, where it becomes a concern is that without visibility into these assets’ current environmental impacts, it’s nearly impossible to set accurate and achievable goals that can then be shared and reported to key stakeholders.

I believe that moving forward, we will continue to see an increasing demand for commercial real estate and equipment leases with clear sustainability priorities, as well as more flexible lease termination agreements, in order to allow for shifts based on an organization’s changing ESG goals — but this capability hinges on whether or not C-suite executives prioritize and invest in technology that supports these efforts.

In the face of rapid technological advancements and market shifts, do you find that you need to constantly recalibrate your organizations’ strategies to ensure sustained growth?

Absolutely. In the face of today’s business landscape, a company’s health depends on its ability to adapt to changing circumstances — which is why maintaining control over important financial and non-financial datasets is so critical. When a business knows that its data is accurate and complete, they can use it to make better-informed decisions.

Consider this example — like many other companies, a large finance enterprise earning over $270M in annual revenue has started reevaluating its lease portfolio from a strategic perspective. Rather than hold onto large, unused commercial spaces, they are now prioritizing leases with smaller footprints and longer terms. While they adopted VL for lease accounting compliance, they have since used our reporting capabilities and holistic view of their lease portfolio to make data-informed and financially savvy decisions for their company’s future.

With the emergence of AI, blockchain, and other transformative technologies, how do you determine which tech trends are worth investing in?

When it comes to lease management and AI, specifically, I do believe that there are certain components where the technology could be extremely useful. For example, support in automated data extraction and entry, identifying potential compliance risks in lease agreements, or summarizing dynamic documents are all ways in which I see the technology being an asset to teams.

However, what I think leaders need to remember, especially as new, buzzy technology continues to emerge, is that AI is only as good as the data it’s provided. It is not a solve-all for lease accounting. Leaders must continue to prioritize data management, particularly in high-risk, audit-sensitive areas, to sustain lease accounting compliance.

So, to answer the question, I determine which tech trends are worth investing in by trying to understand the value that the technology can provide to the business — which gaps it can fill, what efficiencies can it create, and where it can better support productivity so that teams can focus on the areas that require their unique expertise and that human component. I also look at the impact on revenue. There is a direct impact on the bottom line when we use technology to increase the efficiency and productivity of our workforce, but it can also create a path to increasing revenue generating opportunities. As a financial leader, return on investments is always front and center in the decision-making process.

As a top executive, how do you manage stress and maintain mental well-being? Do you have any personal practices or routines that help you stay centered?

Yes — and admittedly, I’ve not always been very good at this — but I am very big on prioritization and time management. I have a type A personality and have always been very quick to respond to emails, dive into projects and make myself available to anyone, any time. I’ve realized that while I thought this behavior was helping me make an impact, it actually contributes to burnout.

The reality is that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. You will inevitably be left with a to-do list — and that’s okay! Of course, there will be circumstances and projects that require additional hours and undivided attention, but success lies in discerning what demands immediate action. I’ve learned to prioritize big-ticket items and requests that can’t wait, and shuffle those that can to the following business day.

I also believe it’s important to create balance in your personal and professional lives. For example, when I am away on vacation or with my family, I am not at work and vice versa. This separation has allowed me to be the best version of myself in all areas of my life.

What habits or practices have been most instrumental in your personal and professional growth?

I am a very curious person by nature so if I don’t know or understand something, I will research it until I do. My passion for self-education, combined with my love of reading, allows me to stay up on industry trends and best practices by reading articles and keeping up with different thought leaders. Not only has reading helped me stay in the know, but it’s also further strengthened my written and verbal communication skills.

My love for reading extends into my personal life. I am a big fan of historical non-fiction, which feeds my curiosity and helps me to decompress, but also has an educational aspect as well. This dual appreciation for reading, both as a means of professional development and personal enjoyment, is a big part of my continuous growth.

The business world is evolving faster than ever. How do you ensure you’re constantly updating your knowledge and staying ahead of the curve?

Aside from being a consumer of the news myself, I am a big believer in consulting or hiring a team of experts and trusting them to own their lanes and share knowledge with others.

For example, in 2023, we launched our newest offering, VL ESG Steward™, the first ESG reporting tool of its kind within the lease accounting and administration space, specifically created to help organizations consolidate the records needed to track their carbon footprint across owned and leased commercial real estate, fleet, equipment and more. To ensure that we are all staying up to date with evolving regulatory guidance and news, we identified roles and responsibilities within the cross-departmental group responsible for the product launch, including those who already had a foundational understanding of existing reporting frameworks and were responsible for identifying any need-to-knows.

We also identified opportunities to connect directly with the market. We established a bench of existing VL customers who wanted to be early users of our newest solution, and we worked closely with them to understand exactly what they needed in VL ESG Steward. Their input and feedback were instrumental in our product development process. We also met with industry analysts from IDC, Forrester, Gartner, etc., to share our vision and gain additional outside perspective — all of which has informed and educated our internal team.

We implemented regular check-ins for the entire cross-departmental group to gather and align, and we also had a dedicated chat open and running at any given point in time to allow for urgent requests or updates.

By empowering individuals to step up and own their area of expertise, and providing them with a platform to do it, the entire team benefited by staying ahead of the curve and successfully completed the launch. Within 30 business days following the general availability of the solution, we quickly signed up several of our current customers to implement our ESG platform extension — and interest has continued to expand since.

The importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace has been emphasized more than ever. Do you have any initiatives promoting diversity and inclusion in your organization?

There is so much to be gained by listening to others and considering unique backgrounds and experiences. I believe that as leaders, we have a responsibility to promote an inclusive work environment.

At VL, we have an Employee Resource Group (ERG) dedicated to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion made up of employees from across the organization who gather on a regular basis to share their experiences and viewpoints, and of course, discuss and spearhead related initiatives, such as hosting informative sessions so that the rest of the organization can join in on these meaningful conversations. I belong to this group and have participated in meetings and multiple panel discussions. I am extremely grateful for every opportunity that I’ve had to partake and learn from others.

One initiative that stands out to me is our emphasis on supporting others. We’ve held sessions dedicated to highlighting how employees can serve as allies to various communities in their personal and professional lives. We’ve also introduced a special series of sessions during which different members of the group educate others about a cultural or religious holiday or observance, including Hispanic Heritage Month, Indigenous Peoples Month, Pride Month and Single Working Women’s Day. The ERG’s goal is to drive awareness and positive behavior, which we, as leaders, enforce with our individual teams.

Can you share a piece of feedback or advice you received that significantly altered your leadership approach or philosophy?

Yes. But before I dive into the advice and its impact on my leadership style, I want to share a little context around the story. It’s important to note that historically, there were more men than women in the finance industry. As a result, I had subconsciously developed a competitive mindset early on in my career. I thought that I had to outperform everyone around me to prove my value.

Now, when I worked as an outsourced Controller, I reported into my first female boss, and she taught me that women don’t have to compete against one another. She believed that everyone could be successful in their own right and encouraged her team to knowledge share and support one another. As good leaders do, my boss led by example — she saw potential in me, and she invested her time and energy in training me to understand every facet of her job. She was not threatened by my success — she was encouraged by it. She told me, “Do not create competition where none exists.”

Under her leadership, I not only grew my skillset, but I also learned a very valuable lesson — a rising tide lifts all boats. This realization changed my career and my entire outlook on life. And as a female leader in a male-dominated industry, I am both a product and proponent of this mindset.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It’s all too easy to focus on the aspects of our life that are beyond our control. When you focus on what you can’t control, you can become overwhelmed and unsure of where to place your efforts. On the flip side, we do have control over our mindset — and that’s powerful.

My ideal movement would be what I call “The Positivity Movement,” to challenge ourselves to receive things with a positive outlook. The essence of this movement lies in the acknowledgment that, while external circumstances may be beyond our control, our reactions and perspectives are within our power to shape.

“The Positivity Movement” encourages folks to seek the silver lining in every situation, recognizing that the lens through which we view the world profoundly influences the outcomes we experience. It challenges us to transcend the limitations imposed by external factors and instead, focus on fostering a mindset that cultivates resilience, optimism and a proactive approach to life’s uncertainties.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can learn more about Visual Lease at visuallease.com. They can also check out our blog, as well as our most recent VLDI Report for more helpful insights.

I invite colleagues to reach out to me with any follow up and connect through LinkedIn — Kathryn Eskandarian.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.