CFO helps position Shopify for lasting success
Canada’s CFO of the Year Award finalist Russ Jones
Technological change and the spectacular growth of online shopping have completely transformed the retail sector over the past decade, and Ottawa’s Shopify Inc. has played a pivotal part in this global transformation. The e-commerce platform has become a key disruptor in the retail world, powering over 600,000 businesses in nearly 175 countries.
And 2018 CFO of the Year Award finalist Russ Jones has played a key role in steering the company’s global growth and financial success. Having announced his retirement effective this spring, Russ leaves behind a legacy of success and innovation.
Building a successful, top-performing finance team
Over seven years, Russ has brought together a stellar team of just over 30 finance professionals. Much of the team is dedicated to vital accounting, reporting and regulatory matters, as you’d expect. Yet in the last year, Russ has expanded the team, establishing a network of financial business support staff embedded throughout the enterprise to help business and product managers be more effective.
Shopify’s ongoing focus on growth means that costs aren’t a significant decision driver—at this stage, Russ notes. But that doesn’t mean he and his team don’t keep close watch. As the company has grown, Russ ensured Shopify’s finance team added roles dedicated to tax, treasury, business systems and procurement, and his embedded business support staff are charged with understanding where technology’s being used, ensuring the company gets the best bang for its buck.
Russ notes that companies need the right sort of infrastructure in place to figure out the right solutions for the business. Shopify’s heavy reliance on the cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) helps significantly, he adds. Using the SaaS model is a good way to keep costs under control, especially if terms are negotiated well. “I think that’s an area where we’ve done a good job,” says Russ.
“We’re not afraid to push hard on the terms and set up the deal so that as we grow, it becomes even more cost effective” - Russ Jones, Shopify Inc.
Russ and his team also played a pivotal role in supporting innovative new services such as Shopify Payments. “The original product manager for Shopify Payments is someone I hired,” Russ says with pride, adding that the finance team was heavily involved in getting the right systems and rates in place for that side of the business.
More recently, Russ’ team worked with Export Development Canada to help insure the merchant cash advances provided through the new Shopify Capital offering. “This allowed us to do it with our own balance sheet longer than we could have without insurance, and that helped us keep our risk down,” he says.
Leading a stellar IPO and a return to profitability
In 2015, Russ and his team led the company through its dual listed IPO on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges. It was one of 2015’s most successful technology IPOs—and one of North America’s strongest IPOs of all time. Reportedly over 30 times oversubscribed (where 10 times generally indicates very strong demand), Shopify stock started trading more than 60% above its initial offering price at the bell and the company raised US$131 million. Since its IPO, Shopify has delivered returns of more than 450% and the company’s market value has soared to more than US$12 billion.
“The success of Shopify’s IPO was a remarkable achievement. Going public transformed the organization into one of the best-performing technology companies in the world—and a big part of that accomplishment is thanks to the work of Russ and his finance team.” - Pete Pigott, CEO of FEI Canada.
While Shopify’s revenues continue to grow—by 73% in 2017—Russ is also proud to have helped return the company to profitability. “We finally got back to the point of achieving adjusted operating profitability as a company, which existed prior to me joining,” he says. “As part of my ‘send-off,’ I wanted to return the company to how I’d found it.”
A continued legacy of success
Russ says that being named a finalist for Canada’s CFO of the Year Award is an “unbelievable” honour. “It’s been a great career, and the Shopify experience has been amazing,” he says. “We’re opening up the ability to be an entrepreneur to a larger and larger number of people in the world.”
As he retires from Shopify, he’s confident that he leaves the company in the excellent hands of his hand-picked finance team—and well-positioned for ongoing success. He’s eager to devote more time to his charitable foundation focused on kidney research, the Jones Family Foundation. And in his role on the advisory council for Georgian Partners, he’ll be helping Canadian and US companies get to the next level. “That’s an area where I think I can give back quite a bit,” he says. And if Russ’s track record at Shopify is an indication, he’ll be able to contribute a lot more than that.
About Canada’s CFO of the Year Award
Presented by Financial Executives International (FEI) Canada, PwC Canada, and Robert Half, Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award is given annually to recognize and honour the best in financial leadership.