Accountants are often referred to as “bean counters,” relegated to the back office, far away from the limelight. While CFOs may not be the face of their organizations, their day-to-day decisions can have a major influence on whether they succeed or fail. Such is the case with Fernando Gutierrez, CFO for the American Red Cross’ Greater Richmond Chapter. Thousands of people — most in the midst of major crises — depend on Gutierrez’s bean-counting abilities each year.
“I worked in the commercial world before [coming to the Red Cross 25 years ago], and although the business system is based on profit, it can lead to a negative feeling when the only thing you think about is the dollar,” says Gutierrez.
The Greater Richmond Chapter had revenue of $3.58 million last year. But Gutierrez’s work at the Red Cross isn’t just about dollars and cents; it’s about helping others. “It’s helping individuals so the whole world does not come to an end for them,” he says, “It’s a warm feeling.”
Because revenue for the Red Cross has a direct impact on others’ lives, “I have to make sure we use the resources in an ethical way. We depend on the donated dollar, and we have limited resources. We have to constantly think about what’s going to happen a year from now, five years from now; so we have to be very sophisticated about how we plan for the future,” says Gutierrez.
In addition to overseeing the finances of the Greater Richmond chapter, Gutierrez maintains the books for five other chapters in the commonwealth. Soon, that number will quadruple since the Greater Richmond chapter was selected as one of only 45 nationwide to act as a business operations center. When that change takes effect, Gutierrez’s office will manage budgets totaling more than $18 million. These new responsibilities will generate additional revenue for the Greater Richmond chapter.
“Our work product has been of such a caliber that the national organization felt that we could manage and guide the back office work for about 20 other chapters. It’s a testament to him and his staff,” says Reggie Gordon, CEO of the Greater Richmond chapter.
The Red Cross has twice honored Gutierrez for his work and dedication. In 1989, he received the Tiffany Award, the highest recognition given to a Red Cross employee for performance. And in 2001, he was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation.
Gutierrez also has served his country. When he arrived in the U.S., Gutierrez was drafted into the Army even before he was given citizenship. A few months later, he went to Vietnam where he was awarded two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Medals and a Silver Star. He celebrates his birthday on the anniversary of becoming an American citizen.
“Fernando is a really great role model for whatever skill you have, you can really have an impact on your community,” says Gordon. “Here he is a CFO, and he’s helping us change our community for the better.”
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