All Blogs

Navigating a Finance Career in Tech: One-on-One Interview with Alex Song VP Finance at Ramp

Navigating a Finance Career in Tech: One-on-One Interview with Alex Song VP Finance at Ramp

Career planning is hard in any industry.  It seems even more true in Strategic Finance, where the path to becoming a tech CFO is not necessarily obvious.

There are different expectations from Tech Finance leaders today and the bar has definitely been raised when it comes to what Tech CFOs are expected to do.

In today's market, things are less certain, and career planning has become even more difficult. To crack this challenge and help aspiring CFOs plan their career path and set themselves apart, we interviewed Alex Song, VP Finance and Capital Markets at Ramp.

Alex plays a crucial role in Ramp's activities and leadership and has a specifically interesting point of view, both as a Finance leader in a fast-growing company and for coming from a non-operational background. 

So without further ado, let's dive into the interview.

Alex, do you agree that you come from a different background? 

Alex: Yes and no. Traditionally, Finance leaders came from accounting or operational finance. However, the landscape has evolved. Nowadays, leaders often have backgrounds in management consulting, investment banking, or private equity. Personally, I spent 13 years in credit investment on Wall Street before transitioning into operations. 

Can we double-click on your background and walk through your journey? 

Alex: I graduated from Stanford during the financial crisis, started at Morgan Stanley trading mortgage-backed securities, and then delved into private credit investing and hedge funds. My focus shifted to fintech investing, and three and a half years ago, I joined Ramp as employee number thirty, transitioning from investing to operations. 

Can you take us through your responsibilities and daily tasks?

Alex: My role involves various aspects like audit, fundraising, team building, and external relationships. Wearing both internal and external leadership hats is crucial, making my role diverse and interesting. 

Let's zoom out and talk about planning. What are your thoughts on when finance folks plan for the path to CFO? 

Alex: Know yourself and prioritize what matters to you in a job. Optimize for the two or three most critical aspects. Jobs are short-lived, but careers are long, so make sure you’re a good person and don’t take yourself too seriously. In my opinion, the company's growth, sector, and profitability matter a lot more than the actual role. 

Do you think there's a preferred path today to a tech CFO? 

Alex: If you're good, your background matters less. Hard work, strong ethics, curiosity, and assertiveness are key. Motivation can come from any background. 

How did expectations from finance leaders change compared to ten years ago? 

Alex: Cross-functional collaboration and tech-savviness are now crucial. Clarity of thought, clarity of structure, and just the ability to ask precise questions and deliver precise answers, are areas that have become much more significant, especially post-COVID.

As VP Finance, how would you distinguish between strategic finance and FP&A? 

Alex: Both are part of the same pod. Strategic finance is more pod-focused and vertical-focused and they serve as subject matter experts in a particular field. FP&A on the other hand, synthesizes information, manages budgets, and maintains an operating model. In a well-functioning, integrated, effective team, these lines will and should blur. 

If someone from a non-Finance background, such as Sales, applies for a Finance role, how can they stand out? 

Alex: Grit, curiosity, and passion matter. Analytical rigor is essential so make sure you still have the technical expertise, but a high-performing salesperson with the right traits can succeed in finance. Understanding the organization's workings is a plus. 

What non-financial qualities make a successful finance leader? 

Alex: Passion and hunger to be right. Successful leaders are relentless in validating decisions, delving deep into details, and becoming industry experts. Identifying and nurturing individuals with these qualities is crucial.