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Monthly forum helps CFOs to get their money’s worth

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The Chief Financial Officer Forum, created by Manufacturers Resource Center last May, is intent on helping eastern Pennsylvania businesses save an extraordinary amount of money each year.

Just ask Samuel Aul, CFO for Windkits LLC, a Fogelsville company that builds industrial windmill blades.

“I have good insight that we are going to be able to save a quarter-million dollars over the course of the next couple of years, and a significant component of that is the renegotiation of energy contracts,” said Aul, who received tips on commercial energy savings from experts at a CFO Forum meeting.

A regular participant at the CFO Forum – held the second Tuesday of each month at MRC offices in Hanover Township, Lehigh County – Aul said the forum also helped him realize big savings in sales taxes.

Aul’s success story is what organizers were striving for when the CFO Forum took root last spring after Jack Pfunder, president and CEO of MRC, contacted Gary Bender, founder and CEO of The Manufacturer’s Advantage.

Pfunder enlisted Bender to start a forum for CFOs in manufacturing. But soon the forum was expanded to also include senior financial executives at all companies throughout eastern Pennsylvania.

According to Pfunder, the focus of the forum is to bring together senior financial executives so they could problem-solve and learn about trends and best practices.

“It is hard for senior levels at a company to keep track of trends,” he said. “We needed a place where people can learn from each other.”

Pfunder said that typically 10-15 participants attend monthly meetings, held from 8 a.m.-10:30 a.m. at the offices of MRC, a nonprofit.

The sessions are organized so that part of the time is spent talking and the other half is spent on education on a particular topic.

Topics are chosen by forum members, and discussions run the gamut.

Subjects already covered include commercial savings on phone bills, electric bills, garbage expenses, health care, sales tax, property tax and export costs.

Bender, who has extensive experience on many business topics, said that Pfunder came to him seeking to help companies survive and succeed.

“He said, ‘Can you share the things you know?” said Bender, citing Pfunder’s dedication to finding the right panelists to discuss a specific topic.

Bender cited an example of a panel of experts brought in for a monthly meeting to discuss expense reduction via contingency-based partners.

“What that means is that companies need to know that they can negotiate their electricity bills,” he said. “A factory may have a $50,000 power bill and not know that they are exempt from sales tax. So we brought in contingency experts.”

There are so many things that senior financial executives are not privy to when it comes to cost savings, Bender said.

“The panelists are recognized as best-practice providers. You have international banking experts, experts on exporting compliance issues, risk management,” Bender said. “We have brought in bankers from Philadelphia and New York and federal and state export authorities.”

Joe Montesano, CFO and vice president of Beck Packaging Corp. in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, is another forum participant who has benefited from the group. He said that he has learned about insurance premium savings.

“I spoke to an [insurance] agent … and I expect to save on premiums in the future,” Montesano said.

Participants are from enterprises that range from pre-revenue startups to those making $500 million a year in revenue.

According to Bender, the program – which costs $950 a year – is not for job searching and networking.

Pfunder said he views the forum as informative and educational.

“It is about giving leaders the ability to see what has changed and have a great experience,” he said. “The world today is all about doing more with less people. That is the nature of the beast, and competition comes from everywhere.”

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