On episode 18 we welcome Ronit Bacalu. Ronit began her career as an audit manager at Powerwaterhouse Coopers (PwC) in Israel where she led engagements of public and privately held companies across a range and was relocated to the US in 2003. She spent over 20 years in the finance industry with transverse experience in technology, real estate, and financial services, where she highlighted her specialties in High-Tech Real Estate, Cannabis Agriculture, Private Equity, and the Start-Up environment throughout her career. Among her recent and current clients as Chief Financial Officer are Celsius Network, a leading Blockchain-based P2P lending Platform, Kalyx, a fully integrated real estate development company, leading multi-state provider of commercial and industrial space to the highly regulated cannabis industry and Runway Venture Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm.
Angela– On episode 18, we welcome Ronit, how are you Ronit?
Ronit– I’m good, thank you very much!
Angela– This is our very first Zoom podcast!
Ronit– Oh wow!
Angela– Ronit began her career as an associate at PowerWaterhouse Coopers in Israel where she led engagements of public and privately held companies across a range and was relocated to the US in 2003. She spent over 20 years in the finance industry with transverse experience in technology, real estate, and financial services, where she highlighted her specialties in High-Tech Real Estate, Cannabis Agriculture, Private Equity, and the Start-Up environment throughout her career. Among her recent and current clients as Chief Financial Officer are Celsius Network, a leading Blockchain-based P2P lending Platform, Kalyx, a fully integrated real estate development company, leading multi-state provider of commercial and industrial space to the highly regulated cannabis industry and Runway Venture Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm. Wow, that’s amazing!
Ronit– So just one thing, I was an overseas, not anymore!
Angela– So, you started your career at PWC Israel in 1999, and then relocated to the U.S. in 2003. Can you describe your experience there?
Ronit– Yes, my overall experience overall in the U.S. is a great experience, but the move was not as easy as any relocation. There are some difficulties in relocation but most of my career, I have been here in the U.S. for a while. I came here not knowing what was going to happen because I came in with a 2 years contract and I was supposed to go back to the community scene and I ended up staying here and developing my whole career both in PwC. and in other companies and other industries and it was a great experience! In the beginning, it was a little bit of a shock and hard.
Angela– There’s definitely a culture shock!
Ronit– Overall, it was a good experience!
Angela– So, you work for the same company but in two different countries? What was the hardest thing in the first initial phase?
Ronit– So, in the first initial period it actually took a few months. The hardest thing was probably the cultural differences and language barriers. I come from Israel and even though I worked with U.S. companies, it’s not the same thing! I was sitting with teammates at PwC and they’re all talking in English and it took me time to catch up on conversation and be here like “Mhmm!” It took time to really get on with the conversation, and get over the language barrier even though we came to PwC with few of our mates, which did make the transition easier. There were a few of us coming to the U.S. from Israel, there were maybe 6 of us and it was great because we had one another. They had experienced the same difficulties that I had experienced also. Some of the work methodologies is a bit different and some of the ways you do business, the way you talk to customers, so it’s great big fun! So that would be the cultural shock, but I’m glad to say that I overcame it!
Angela– Of course you did! So, going from 4 accounting firms to a startup, how did that exactly happen? What led you into startups?
Ronit– So, PwC was one of the biggest accounting firms, I was always the part of the tech department. That was back in the year 2000 and there were a lot of startups, so I was in the engagement of both startup and public companies, so I was able to learn both the startup environment and also the big company environment, and somehow my career led me to see both environments and I’m always excited to be a part of something that’s growing and part of something that is developing. Startups have always been my passion so somehow opportunities presented itself to me to be in a startup. So that’s how I ended up where I am now. It’s not very different, even though I wasn’t working with a big corporate, I was working sometimes in a startup and accompanying them, advising them, helping them with their finances, and accounting.
Angela– So they go hand in hand somehow?
Ronit– Yes of course!
Angela– Would you recommend people to work in a small business environment, in startups? What are some pros and cons to them?
Ronit– So, I was really lucky to be able to work with big companies and startups, and at some point, I was a part of a big conglomerate, that was in Israel, but they wanted to open their shop here in the U.S. so it was kind of like a start-up. Both environment there’s pro’s and con’s, it’s very individual on what a person would like. Some people would like to be a part of a big corporate and have all these processes and procedures, and some people would like to take risks by being in startups. Even though you can take some risks in start-ups, your impact on the small business may be much stronger. You can go hand in hand in management and impact on strategy, and the direction the business is going, that’s something that cannot happen in big companies. You will be reporting to a manager that reports to another manager, managing their record, and so on. So, it depends on the individual, also in startups in one hand, you can move up very quickly because it’s a small environment. On the other hand, the promotion might be slower because there might not be as many persuasions available so it’s dependent on your personal preferences.
Angela– So you worked in the world of the finance industry for over 15 years, what are some things you learned along the way, and what was the biggest lesson that you took from it?
Ronit– I learned so many things throughout the years and every day all of us, we keep developing every day. So, a day that I’m not learning something new is not a good day for me. To point out what I have learned, I learned personal skills and professional skills. I moved from tech to real estate, and other industries as well. The finance industry makes you tougher and you learn so many things, so I don’t know if I can point in one thing that I’ve learned.
Angela– So, based on your accounting background, what advice would you give to businesses experiencing financial hurdles? Especially startups?
Ronit– If you’re referring to right now, with what’s going on with Covid-19, it really depends on the kind of business and each company is very different than the other. But basically, everyone is very busy with cash triaging. You have to really see how to manage your cash flow and plan, plan for the future, plan for the next few months to see where your cash flow will be going and where your cash will be coming from. You have to differentiate from what’s essential expenses and less essential expenses. A lot of companies have cut a lot of expenses, for example, the Marketing expenses, recreational expenses, which is still very important but maybe not when the business is having financial hurdles. They may need to shift some things around in order to make the team and the operation stronger, but again it’s very specific to each different company- what they want to do and how they can grow.
Angela– Great advice!
Ronit– One of the things is basically to look at the reporting and be on top of every expense that is going on, on top of every income that is coming in now.
Angela– One of your specialty is cannabis? Can you elaborate on that?
Ronit– Yes, well I got into cannabis through my expertise in real estate, because I joined an early stage Wheat. Wheat is a real estate investment trust, and they were investing in cannabis properties. Which means they bought properties nationally where it is legal to grow cannabis in states. They were looking for a finance person to come on board and I was so excited because the combination of real estate and cannabis was really appealing to me. Cannabis was a really emerging industry, and I saw more and more states regulate it and it was really exciting to see. I think it’s still a developing industry with potentially billions of dollars to still grow, and we will probably see more in the future more and more states will regulate it.
Angela– What would you suggest when people are entering the stock market under the current landscape? What is some advice that you can give us?
Ronit– People and investors should be worried about the stock market right now as it is right now. The stock market is essentially the fourth indicator and each individual should really consider what is prudent to them. You should invest the money that you don’t need right now, and also don’t expect to need it in the near future. You only want to invest your reserves and the cash you don’t really need right now. People who want to get into the stock market right now because there might be some good opportunities there right now! They should assess their risk and their emergency funds very carefully, they need to be careful from their industry that got hit really hard (ex: travel, hospitality, etc.) On the other hand, they might be able to buy stock from these companies with substantial discounts, it would be a great opportunity. Each person should ask themselves what is good for him, and where their funds are going. Another thing that is very important to remember about the stock market right now, is that I don’t know the effect of the recent COVID-19. The big meltdown was from the beginning and mid-March.
Angela– And then everything went back to “normal”.
Ronit– Yes, but the companies that were hit, they were hit in their Q2, which is April, May and June, and those reports will not come out until July. That’s where we’re going to see more dramatic differences, so those are definitely things to remember.
Angela– So, when you were the CFO of the Sapir Organization, you sold 11 Madison Avenue for $2.6 billion, and that was the largest New York Real Estate transaction to date. So, congratulations on that and how was that experience like?
Ronit– Yeah, it was the biggest transaction, and it was great! It was great working on that with all the teams and the coordination. With a deal like that there needs to be a lot of coordination from the buyers and the seller’s side. It was a really great experience!
Angela– I can imagine! Well, for the last question could you tell us an interesting thing about you?
Ronit– Well, I am a mother of three!
Angela– I’m a mother of two here!
Ronit– With this work from home thing, it’s always so difficult to juggle. It’s always difficult for moms to juggle between their careers and their homes. But now, it’s two times harder because they’re all home, and we haven’t left our house for the last 2 months or so, and this remote learning is a bit challenging. It’s nice too, it has some good things to it as well!
Angela– I think it’s a positive thing for them (the children). They never get to see mommy and daddy home this much. But thank you so much Ronit, it was a pleasure!
Ronit– Thank you for having me!