October 14, 2020

Q&A with Leslie Gunn - FaverGray's Vice President of Finance and Accounting

Leslie Gunn, FaverGray’s Vice President of Finance and Accounting, holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Louisville. Her 29-year career is highlighted with rapid advancement from staff accountant, manager, and the lead on various accounting functions. The majority of her experience has been in the construction, real estate, and property management industries.

Leslie has controller experience with privately-held general contractors engaged in the construction of luxury homes, retail and office complexes, and single and multi-family communities.

Leslie has been with FaverGray since its inception in 2005. At the beginning of her role, Leslie selected and implemented the firm’s accounting system, organized the initial business set up, and researched and procured business and professional licensure for multi-state operations. She maintains FaverGray’s accounting records for projects ranging up to $470 million and a projected annual revenue between $300 to $400 million over the next three years.

As FaverGray’s Vice President of Finance and Accounting, Leslie directs all aspects of accounting, finance, payroll, licensing, and reporting. She establishes policies, procedures, and internal controls to assure effective and efficient systems. Supervising the accounts payable and receivable functions, Leslie directs and supports both the project accountants and project managers, to ensure accurate, on-time payments of invoices and receivables. Her responsibilities also include meeting with clients, auditors, bankers, insurers, vendors, subcontractors, and consultants to the firm.

Read our Q&A with Leslie specifically on the topic of adapting technology in the office during the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. How has FaverGray adapted technology to keep the business running smoothly during the pandemic, particularly when it comes to financial systems? What changes, programs or new processes did you put into place?

As a general contractor for commercial projects, we sub out all of our construction work and have a company of almost entirely management. Nearly the entire company travels at some point for their job. We started out ahead technologically because most of our employees already had laptops, cell phones, and iPads connected to our network. And through necessity, we were already prepared for remote management and functionality. By early March, only Pennsylvania had shut down construction; and even then only residential construction. So, our biggest obstacle was going to be keeping the administrative and accounting functions running smoothly. By the middle of February, we began ordering laptops, printers, and extra office supplies, and verifying all employees would have access to high-speed internet at their homes. We sent employees home to test their equipment and had each affected employee work for a full day at home to be sure they could anticipate any potential problems. This went smoothly during the test period. We ran into employees whose home internet became slow once the shutdown actually occurred. That took care of itself within the first week or so. Had that not happened, we were prepared to order business internet through Comcast for anyone whose service was too slow. In addition, we decided to add a VPN to increase our network security. We arranged our Office Manager to come into the office to keep documents flowing. She met the postman, UPS, and FedEx drivers, then would open the mail and scan it to each employee needing that. We felt secure in the lack of COVID risk for her because she was the only one in the office most of the time,

2. Technological changes may pose challenges and new risks. What were your biggest concerns in regards to cybersecurity?

Our biggest concern and the new risk were in having the accounting function switch to remote work. We had our IT Company set up a VPN to increase the security of our network. While this does slow the remote access down somewhat, the risk is worth the slower speeds. When the entire company is not working remotely, the speed is not as much an issue. The security of communications with banks and insurers were already being addressed by those companies through online portals and secure email sites. We could use those to send and receive our documents directly.

3. How else has FaverGray been innovative throughout COVID-19, and what have you learned from that process?

One challenging issue has been resolving how to push paperwork through the process. We have been able to utilize tools in our software, along with email and phone calls, to push the paper through its track. We developed a plan and timeline to push processes forward if the stream stops. For example, if an invoice has not been approved within a certain timeframe, the Project Accountant has a list of steps to bring it back into the flow and assure progress. Usually, this involves adding additional contact with the appropriate person and/or getting multiple people involved who can assist with getting the paperwork flow back on schedule. We have also added additional “checks” along the way for almost every procedure within a process to ensure forward progress as quickly as possible. For example, we have an audit trail in our software that can track which Project Accountant has entered an invoice into accounts payable. If the invoice has not been approved for payment within the required time, management has the means to go back to the PA to ask them specifically to go back and push the approval and documentation process along. The PA’s have a way to review invoices on each contract to ensure there is not an unexpected “gap” in the invoice dates. They can then go to the particular Project Manager to start or restart the invoice process.

4. No one knows how long this current situation will continue: How prepared is FaverGray if there is another government shutdown?

We are quite prepared for any situation that may arise regarding lockdowns or remaining open in the corporate office. Our first “test” went very smoothly; there was little, if any, interruption to our business office during the first shutdown. If the government were to shut down construction projects or stop issuing permits, performing inspections, etc, our job sites would not be able to continue. There is no way to build a project if employees and subcontractors cannot be on the job site itself. We have clauses in our contracts that protect us from a shutdown due to governmental or natural force majeure. Adding specific language regarding causes, such as “pandemic, epidemic or diseases” is under consideration to add strength to potential claims situations. A mandated shut down by the government would not be a difficult argument, but we see holes that could become problems, such as if we shut down a job site because we felt too many people had contracted or were exposed to COVID. In order to mitigate any effects of a shutdown, whether governmental or otherwise, we adhere to safety and sanitation protocols that we had in effect before and have placed into effect after the pandemic first began. We have shut down one of our job sites in order to test everyone there; we believed there was a chance many people had been exposed to the virus and didn’t want to take any chances. We have handwashing stations and signs reminding people to wash or sanitize their hands, keep themselves apart, not to share tools or equipment, etc. As part of our weekly safety meetings with the subcontractors and owners, our superintendents emphasize these measures and poll the subcontractors to determine if we have possible exposures that need to be addressed. While our processes and management of risk are always evolving, we are trying to look ahead as much as possible to prepare for any new situations that may arise.

5. Company culture is more important now than ever and can be very difficult to keep on top of during this time. What are you doing to keep employees engaged?

I know I am not the first to say that company culture starts with hiring the right people and I believe that is true. Within our company, we have a group of people with very diverse backgrounds. We all are able to use the strengths of others’ backgrounds to improve on our own strengths and weaknesses. Though there are 78 people that work for the company, there are about 40-50 at any one time who may only see one or two other FaverGray employees in a week or even month, because they are on a job site. We have always needed to be able to keep our employees engaged with each other. We have had company events for everyone within the company invited to participate. The company will set up an event and bring employees to a particular location to ensure everyone can participate and mingle as a group. We try to include those remote employees at least 3-4 times each year. We usually have a very large event around the holidays that brings the entire company together. While we haven’t been and don’t expect to be able to do that this year; upper management has been making a concerted effort to engage each employee directly throughout the pandemic – by phone, email, text, or sometimes onsite visits. When travel is feasible, upper management gathers the employees at a job site together for food and socializing. We have a company newsletter that is distributed monthly to all employees by email. We have tried to make the newsletter more personally relatable over the last few months, adding employee insights, congrats or birthday messages, and sending challenges to the employees to encourage competition and interaction on a fun level. We have been able to bring some groups of employees into the office for meetings and then socializing.