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Leavey School of Business alumnus Tim Cabral

Leavey School of Business alumnus Tim Cabral

Leavey Alumni Tim Cabral Helping Firms Understand the Limitations of Emerging Technologies in Finance

For Tim Cabral (B.S Finance ’89, MBA ‘95), curiosity has always been a foundational attribute that has fueled his career in finance.

For Tim Cabral (B.S Finance ’89, MBA ‘95), curiosity has always been a foundational attribute that has fueled his career in finance.

“I love to dig in, ask questions. Understanding business through the lens of numbers has been the primary pursuit of my career. And now I am honored to provide an advisory perspective to business leaders who can learn from my experience.”

Over his 30+ year career, Cabral has seen corporate finance transform in many ways. He describes finance as primarily a support function that drives insight into business performance and improvement opportunities. With technology automating many processes and offering AI-driven analysis, how finance spends their time and adds value has certainly changed. Cabral believes curiosity and decision-making should not be automated, so finance leaders need to be intentional and thoughtful about how they use these tools. The biggest change Mr. Cabral has witnessed is the number of tools and systems that are available to automate non-value-added work and provide more insight and analysis. That said, finance leaders need to keep the ultimate goal of adding value to the business in mind.

“Finance leaders are trying to grapple with more tools than any one finance organization will ever need,” said Cabral. “They need to be very thoughtful and disciplined and selective in which tools to use.”

While AI can automate the processing of large amounts of data, Cabral warns that you should never automate decision-making. “Let the tools, machines, and platforms deliver the input but you need to create the answer.”

Discipline can be easier said than done, especially with so many software companies building new tools and platforms. It can be tempting for finance leaders to implement the next new thing because other companies have used it successfully. But Cabral says there is no blueprint for how a finance organization can drive the most value. Every company is different.

And sometimes it’s about “finding non-obvious value.”  AI systems are great at finding the obvious value. Under the right circumstances, AI can be very powerful and supercharge an organization. But you can’t just switch on AI tools and assume they will all work. You can’t automate intuition and decision making and that is how finance leaders can elevate their contributions to an organization.

Evolution of a Thought Leader

After a successful career in the corporate world, Cabral decided to shift from “a role at one company into an opportunity to add value for many organizations – his “portfolio chapter” where he spends time working on corporate boards, advising companies and other finance leaders, and teaching.

He wanted to give back to students as they enter their professional careers, both as a mentor in the Bronco Network program for student-athletes and in the classroom, bringing industry experience to both undergraduate and graduate students.  His operating and business experience as a public company CFO enables Cabral to be a strong advisor to currently sitting CFO’s, as they begin a similar journey to the one he has completed.

From a board perspective, Cabral believes management teams have a great opportunity to approach their interaction with the board and optimize for one simple question: “What do we need from the Board?”.  He believes thinking about this question beyond the more obvious “What do we want to tell the Board?” creates a better opportunity for valuable advice that leverages the vast experience of the board.

Cabral seeks out management teams that adopt this approach because, “continuing to sell a board is non-value-added activity. We’re here to contribute, so let’s dig into what the challenges are and where the collective experience of the Board can help.”

Cabral has also found a new passion at the forefront of sustainability. With a wider ESG mandate across corporate America, he wants to contribute to the positive impact these companies are making. His curiosity has never waned, which has driven him to take board positions for a range of technology companies with an industry focus from pharma to home services. He is attracted to mission-driven CEOs and is always looking for opportunities where he can both learn and drive value.

A Path Forged at Leavey

Cabral’s drive to hone his craft in finance led him to return to the Leavey School for his MBA four years after he graduated from Santa Clara undergrad. He attended the evening program and found it incredibly beneficial to really learn how to apply business theory. “I would learn something in class on Tuesday night and apply it to my job on Wednesday. I learn by doing so working while I was going to school allowed me to learn more deeply.”

Cabral wasn’t planning to be a finance major at Santa Clara. But sometimes, seemingly small moments can change the direction of our careers and lives. For Cabral, the first one of these moments came in high school when a good friend convinced him to throw in an application to Santa Clara. He was 100% sure he was going to a technical institute for engineering but decided to drive his application to Santa Clara on the last possible day anyway. When he arrived, “it just felt like home, and I really connected with the campus and vibe.”

The second moment came when a professor called him into his office freshman year and questioned if he really wanted to be an engineer.  Cabral laughs, “I don’t even remember his name, but my career trajectory changed because of him. I realized every class in engineering was mapped out. I am a curious person and the inflexibility of engineering didn’t fit for me. Maybe I should look him up and thank him.”

Cabral knew that he was drawn to engineering because he was really strong in math. But that conversation forced him to re-evaluate and understand that “math teaches you a lot more than math – it teaches you reason, process, steps, intuition.” Finance was a logical move where he could leverage his math skills in a more flexible environment that allowed his curiosity to thrive.

Ultimately, he focused on financial planning and analysis (FP&A) and how to engage with business leaders to interpret financial results and drive deep business insights. Cabral moved through the technology industry, starting in hardware, moving to biotech, and then spending most of his career in software, and ending at a cloud-based software company as a public company CFO. 

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