Brian Woodall: A “Financial Watchman” for Small Businesses
The founder and CEO of Lamplighter Financial, Brian Woodall started his career as an entrepreneur, riding the dot-com roller coaster after earning a BS in commerce at the University of Virginia. “But then I had to get a real job,” he says, “and went to work for two large consulting firms in internal corporate finance roles.” He earned his CPA while with Grant Thornton’s government consulting group, and then decided to go back to school for an MBA.
Early in his second year at the Graduate School of Management, Professor Brad Barber introduced Woodall to a newly formed private-equity fund in Davis. Woodall joined the Central Valley Fund part time while completing the MBA program, and started full time the Monday after commencement in 2006. “It was the best of both worlds: a startup, but with solid financial backing, and I spent about six years serving as both the CFO and on the deal team. It was a phenomenal learning experience, especially living in the deal world during the 2008–09 financial crisis. I came to realize two things: one, that it was very common with smaller private equity and venture funds for someone from the deal team to take time out from doing deals to manage the fund’s financials and, two, that the vast majority of small businesses underinvest in the finance function. After unsuccessfully exploring ways to outsource the fund’s CFO function and seeing many owners struggle with our advice to ‘go hire a CFO,’ I realized that there were voids in both of these markets. I decided to start Lamplighter Financial to address them.”
In fall 2015 Woodall and his wife, alumna Dana Woodall MBA 07, made a generous match challenge to support the GSM. “Participating in the annual giving campaign is an easy way to reconnect with the School and other graduates,” Brian notes. “Our hope is that it will lead to more alumni giving regularly on an annual basis and expand into greater participation in alumni events. It is a small way for us to give back and to support the school that has given us so much.”
What are you passionate about in your work?
Seeing the difference that our team makes in the small businesses and private-equity funds that we work with on a daily basis motivates me to get out of bed each morning. While small businesses come with unique challenges, it is so much easier to make a change to the business and see the results almost immediately. Our business also revolves around alternative investment fund accounting. It is really interesting to see the variety of investment strategies and fund structures being employed throughout the alternatives ecosystem. Our job is to ensure that we understand those often complex structures and that we are accounting for the various transactions correctly so that investors receive accurate financial information about the performance of the funds. Finally, and maybe most importantly, I’m passionate about the business because of the people I work with, both on our team and at our clients. I get to interact with some really brilliant individuals and teams each day. That’s pretty special and something I don’t take for granted.
How are you a game changer? Or—how are you making a positive impact in the world?
In our industry, we have inserted ourselves into a niche within the network that adds value to all parts of the network (something I learned from Professor Hargadon’s class). That has changed how many companies and private equity funds look at outsourced CFOs—realizing that there are subsets of expertise within that broad category. For our clients, the impact is felt almost immediately: they receive top-notch CFO-level expertise at a fraction of the cost of hiring a full-time CFO in-house. This improves their growth prospects, which means more jobs and more economic activity.
Lamplighter now has a team of 16. While sometimes a little scary, it is ultimately rewarding to know that Lamplighter provides a stable living for our team and their families. As a friend of mine said recently, “Creating good jobs and taking care of your own employees is the social good. Charity starts at home.”
You recently relocated to Cleveland. What prompted the move?
It was a combination of work and personal reasons. [My wife and GSM alumna] Dana was transferred here for her job. For Lamplighter, it provides a great opportunity to gain better access to midwest and northeast private equity funds. On the personal front, it puts us much closer to both of our families.
Where do you see Lamplighter headed in the next year?
Lamplighter continues to grow. I expect our private equity fund administration business to continue adding clients nationwide. We currently work with more than 25 funds that collectively manage almost $2B in assets. I expect those numbers to grow 50–100 percent in 2016. We expect to grow our team by about 40 percent in 2016 to support the client growth that we see on the horizon.
How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?
It’s all about the network. Learning how to network was the ultimate key to my success. I made so many great connections, both in the program and after, that we have had no shortage of opportunities or support at Lamplighter since day one. Credit for the name of the company goes to my wife, Dana, who graduated from the GSM in 2007. Our lawyer, BJ Susich, is a GSM grad. Our CFO, Brian Hoblit, is a GSM grad. One of our first clients, Digital Deployment, was founded by Mac Clemmens, a GSM grad. Mac and his team also did a great job designing our website.
What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?
I married my way-smarter-than-me wife, Dana, who I met at the GSM. Then, in December 2011, we were blessed with our daughter, Cambria. The two of them are absolutely amazing and are the real reason that I do what I do.
Your favorite GSM memory?
Thursday nights at Sophia’s… Networking 101.
Talk about your ongoing involvement in the annual Big Bang! Business Competition—and your commitment to helping aspiring entrepreneurs at UC Davis.
I participated both years that I was at the GSM. I got a lot out of the Big Bang! Business Competition and feel strongly about giving back. Lamplighter Financial has been a sponsor since I started the company in 2011. In addition to monetary support, our team volunteers time to judge the competition, provide feedback to the aspiring entrepreneurs and mentor the finalists. I’m a firm believer that entrepreneurs and small businesses—not the Fortune 500—will drive the U.S. forward. Our team at Lamplighter constantly looks for ways to foster the growth of small businesses. Supporting Big Bang! is one of those ways.
How do you participate in the GSM now? Why is it important to support graduate business education?
Lamplighter Financial became a GSM Business Partner in 2013, in conjunction with our increased sponsorship commitment to the Big Bang! Business Competition. I joined the GSM Alumni Association board of directors in July 2014, and am also a class representative for the annual giving campaign. I feel that it is important to give back because of how much the GSM has given me: Lamplighter wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the connections I made at the School.