The Changing Role of the CFO – Scott Brill & Mark Tjernagel – Part 1

“They asked me to lead a small group of people to do some ministry outreach in Norway.  And I was thinking some of these people don’t even speak English. I’m in college. I’ve never led anything. Why in the world are you making me the leader of this?” -Mark Tjernagle

[00:00:00] Scott Brill: The great recession. I had to actually take a leadership role in reduction in our workforce at Target. And I don’t get too worked up about dollar decisions, blending decisions, all of those things. Sometimes they go the wrong way.  It doesn’t bother me at all. The really test of my mettle is the weight, the impact that this is having on people, not just themselves, but their families, and so that was one of the hardest things, having to sit there as people walked into a room knowing that they were about to learn that they did not have a job anymore.


[00:00:36] Tommy Thomas: In our quest to pass something useful along to the next generation of nonprofit leaders over the course of the past 90 episodes, we’ve had conversations with nonprofit Chief Executive Officers, Chief Development Officers, Chief Communications Officers, but we haven’t spoken with any Chief Financial Officers.

That’s about to change. Our guests today are Scott Brill, the Chief Financial Officer at Young Life, and Mark Tjernagel, the Chief Financial Officer at Cru. So, gentlemen, welcome to NextGen Nonprofit Leadership. 

[00:01:14] Mark Tjernagel: Thanks, Tommy. It’s great to be here. 

[00:01:17] Tommy Thomas: Before you came on, Mark, I asked Scott. He said he’s been at Young Life for five years. How many years have you been at Cru?

[00:01:23] Mark Tjernagel: Thirty-two years now. 

[00:01:27] Tommy Thomas: Wow. You must have written the book there on finance.

[00:01:31] Mark Tjernagel: Yeah. I’m pretty sure on this stat that I was the youngest CFO Cru ever had. And I’m now the longest-tenured CFO Cru has ever had, so I might be due to do something else now.  I don’t know. 

[00:01:44] Tommy Thomas: I’ll keep that in mind next time I get a strong CFO search. So, before we dive too deep into your professional career, I want to go back maybe to your childhood or your upbringing. I’m always curious about things that happened to people along the way that made them who they are today.

[00:02:00] Tommy Thomas: Scott, we’ll start with you. What two or three things do you remember about your childhood that you think were formative in your development? 

[00:02:08] Scott Brill: Yeah, so I grew up in West Michigan and I think the biggest formative things for my childhood were church, grandparents, campground, and then school.

And school became a pivotal moment when I moved from the public school after eighth grade and switched to a Christian school. And that was a big formative event in my childhood. But it was based on strong family and church values.

[00:02:37] Tommy Thomas: What about you Mark? 

[00:02:41] Mark Tjernagel: I grew up in a faith-based home, but not a practicing, what you might think of today as a practicing evangelical type home.

My parents loved each other. Great upbringing. One of the things I remember most about my childhood was our house was the house everybody came to. My friends would come over to my house, even when I wasn’t there, just to hang out with my parents. So, my parents were great and everybody loved them. I loved them too.

And yeah, it was the weirdest thing one time when my friend said, hey, I’m going to go over to your house for dinner. I said I’m not going to be there. He said that’s okay. I’ll go hang out with your mom and dad. So it was fun. My parents loved people. People loved them. I learned a lot from them.

I think the other big thing I learned from them is they entrusted things to me at a pretty young age. And so, they gave me a lot of responsibility and held me accountable. And I think that served me well when I got older and went off to college and started work. So, I learned a lot from my parents. They were great. 

[00:03:43] Tommy Thomas: So, what was high school like for y’all?

[00:03:49] Scott Brill: High school was great for me. As I said, I switched schools after eighth grade.  And then I played football and got connected right away with friends from the football team. And it was actually quite a positive experience. 

[00:04:05] Mark Tjernagel: I played football as well. Maybe there’s a common theme here that you know sports or something like that will lead you to be competitive and be a CFO.

I don’t know but yeah, high school was all about academics and athletics and it was great. I went to a public school. I grew up in San Antonio, Texas a wonderful place to grow up. A real cultural city. I loved it. High school was awesome. High school is also where I came to faith. My faith really became personal to me and started walking with the Lord right before my senior year of high school.  High school was a real eventful time for me in my life. 

[00:04:44] Tommy Thomas:  When you got to college how did you decide your major? 

[00:04:50] Scott Brill: I decided to major in engineering because that’s what all of what I viewed as my smarter friends were doing and I started out engineering.  And then a year and a half in, I started to get information about what that meant from what I was going to do for a job. And so, I actually switched. And I got my Bachelor of Science in Accounting. The reason I did that was because engineering was a science program and I was at a liberal arts school, Calvin College at the time, now Calvin University.

And so all of my science credits and those calculus classes, etc. applied much more favorably to engineering,  bachelor’s science, and accounting than they would have to a business degree.

[00:05:36] Mark Tjernagel: Yeah. I went to Texas A&M and Scott, at A&M, we used to call the engineering school pre-business because so many people started taking all the math and thought, maybe business would be a better major than engineering. But Tommy, when I was in high school, I don’t remember if it was my junior or senior year that we had to take an elective and one of the electives that was out there, I didn’t really know what to take, but it was accounting.

[00:06:04] Mark Tjernagel: I thought I’ll try that out and just see what it is. And I loved it. I thought, man this actually totally makes sense to me. And so since it made so much sense to me and I knew there there would be good career opportunities in accounting. I was one of those few, I think that declared my major as accounting right from the start and stuck with it.


[00:06:24] Tommy Thomas: You graduated from college, you got a first job, and then somewhere along the way you had a chance to manage people. Scott, reflect back on that. What do you remember about that job? 

[00:06:35] Scott Brill: I went to the University of Michigan and did my master’s in business administration after my first job.

Target Corporation – that’s where I got my first job really leading a team.  And I just remember messing it up. I remember more of the things I did wrong than anything I actually did right.

[00:06:40] Scott Brill: And so I left there and went to Target Corporation, and that’s where I got my first job really leading a team.  And I just remember messing it up. I remember more of the things I did wrong than anything I actually did right. I learned a lot more about reactions to things that I was not doing right than I would have if I just had gotten it right the first time.

[00:07:12] Mark Tjernagel: Yeah, I think, I go back a little bit before, before graduation and I’ve just found it seemed like multiple opportunities where I was put in a position to give leadership to people that I didn’t ask for. I don’t think I really even earned it. It was thrust upon me, like at A&M, I, as a student, became the director of the Cru ministry, the Student Director of the Cru ministry my last semester I think it was because I was still there.

I was the one that was left. I’d gone on a mission trip with a group called Operation Mobilization, a wonderful global ministry. I went on it as a college student, even though I was involved in Cru. I did a trip with OM, but that was okay. And while we were there, they asked me to lead a small group of people to do some ministry outreach in Norway.

And I was thinking some of these people don’t even speak English. I’m in college. I’ve never led anything. Why in the world are you making me the leader of this? 

They asked me to lead a small group of people to do some ministry outreach in Norway.  And I was thinking some of these people don’t even speak English. I’m in college. I’ve never led anything. Why in the world are you making me the leader of this?

And so it was just thrust upon me. And then when I graduated, I came straight to work with Cru. And so all of my leadership experience really from a work standpoint has been at Cru and like Scott said, I look back when I was a younger leader and I think, man, I’m so thankful I got the opportunities, but wow, I didn’t know what I was doing, and it was hard.

[00:08:32] Mark Tjernagel: I didn’t communicate well. I tend to be more of a quiet person. Especially when work gets busy and hard, I just put my head down and get work done. And I had to learn, no, you actually have to check in with people and see how they’re doing, and I slowly learned the importance of being able to communicate with people and checking in with them regularly. But it was a rough go at the beginning, that’s for sure. 

[00:08:54] Tommy Thomas: So let me switch over to the role of a mentor. Did either of you have anybody that came alongside you and either formally or informally mentored you?

[00:09:02] Mark Tjernagel:  Yeah, certainly. I did a little talk one time. I won’t remember all of the stats from it, but I went through several of the bosses that I had.  And I wrote down a word or a theme or a thing that I had learned from each of them. One of them was the importance of communication and interacting with people and another one, I remember it was about the importance of Information Technology.  He was really big on systems and how all of the systems played into the work that we were doing with finance.

I learned so much about kind of crossing functional barriers and not just being a finance guy. Yeah, I had several people that really mentored me. One that really stands out was a board member of Cru, a gentleman by the name of Bruce Buner. I believe he was the very first CFO Cru ever had, but he did that for a short time and then he went out into the business world and was very successful.

But he spent a lot of time helping me think about how to put together, it sounds simple, but writing a memo, trying to create an argument, so to speak, not an argument, like a fight, but to make a case, how to think like an executive leader, how to connect in the community, he was a wonderful man and a great mentor.  I learned a lot from him.

[00:10:18] Scott Brill: Yeah, similarly, it was a long string of different people who were engaged in my career in development. And it changed as I moved around into different roles and functions. But there are people who are consistently there to help and give me advice. And really help me stay out of my own way on some things, especially the same things Mark’s talking about.

[00:10:44] That’s why I like him so much. Same issues on, hey, you can probably communicate a little more and share what you’re thinking more readily. And that’s been the biggest thing that they’ve helped do with a lot over the years in leadership.


[00:10:57] Tommy Thomas: Scott, I remember when I recruited Atul Tanden to World Vision from Citibank, and he was an Indian fella, and he had this clipped British accent, and after about six months of being on the job, he called me one day, and, he says, Tommy, he says, if we’d have had this many meetings at Citibank, we wouldn’t have had a bank.

[00:11:17] Tommy Thomas: What was your biggest shock as you left the private sector and came to Young Life? 

[00:11:25] Scott Brill: I still have a lot of meetings. And it was funny because I felt like it was a lot less, a lot fewer meetings. Like I had a lot more free time than they did in the private sector. Yet my peers all felt like, how are we adding all these meetings?

And we’re spending so much time in meetings. And so, for me, it was that your relative position makes a big difference. I felt like I was being freed from a fair amount of meetings, while they felt like they were spending too much time in meetings. 

[00:11:54] Tommy Thomas: What they didn’t know… 

[00:11:56] Scott Brill: Exactly. Grass is always greener. 

[00:11:58] Tommy Thomas: You pick who goes first on this one, but tell me about a time in your life where you, in the southern vernacular, a situation tested your metal, and how did you come out of it?

[00:12:17] Mark Tjernagel: This is a challenging question. I’ll go first. The list is numerous. What’s going on in my head is, how do you pick one?  I’ve been the CFO now since 2005. You’re tested constantly.

[00:12:34] People don’t always agree with you and that’s fine. You can deal with that. Sometimes you’re attacked personally. Those are a little harder to deal with. Sometimes there are leadership issues, where you’re going against the grain, you’re trying to push for something and it’s really hard and it’s a time of testing, so to speak.

[00:12:54] Mark Tjernagel: I think the example I’d give, Tommy, is one that’s really more of a longer-term thing. And that was the CFO in 2005. The guy I took the role over from was Mr. Buner that I mentioned earlier. He had come in on an interim basis while we were in between CFOs before I was officially named that. He was on our board.

So, he had me doing a lot of the work and he got me started on a project that didn’t end until 2016. It was a project to sell our former headquarters. Many of your listeners might remember Arrowhead Springs which was the former headquarters of Campus Crusade for Christ, our name back then when we were founded, but we now go by Cru, but our former headquarters at Arrowhead Springs.

[00:13:39] And I worked on that for 10 years and you, the astute listener, will know that in the middle of that 10-to-11-year timeframe was the great recession. That tested a lot of our metal and how, we’re trying to sell this property that’s costing us a lot of money just to carry because it wasn’t producing any revenue.

[00:13:56] It was property sitting there. It was very expensive to hold, and very difficult to sell. There are just challenges with how the property was owned. It was owned by multiple entities of Cru. It had water rights and it had easement rights and it had land rights and it had mineral rights. It just was a really challenging thing to begin with, but then just trying to sell it coming and going into and out of the recession.

[00:14:22] We had a deal, basically, when the recession hit it fell through. And what I learned from that was just the importance of what I’ll call grit like it’s just sticking to it. I had to have confidence. I had to go to the board meeting. After the meeting, I remember one of our board members said once, they didn’t mean it in a mean way at all, right?

[00:14:43] There was a wonderful board member. They said I’m looking forward to the day when we don’t ever have to hear about Arrowhead Springs again. It’s because that’s how everybody felt like, oh my gosh, why can’t you sell this thing? Why can’t you sell this thing? Year after year, meeting after meeting.

[00:15:00] Mark Tjernagel: And it was just, man, we have to stick to it. And one of the things I learned was you just have to have a vision. You’ve got to work creatively, but you just got to keep grinding. And it took a lot of grit to get to that point where we could finally sell. Let me tell you this, that thing sold, what a relief was taken, the weight was removed from my shoulders.

[00:15:21] Mark Tjernagel: And it wasn’t actually even a big public celebration. Nobody really cared. We sold the property, big deal, but in my mind, it was, man, that was 11 years’ worth of work. And wow, that was great. And just the relief and kind of the internal celebration was good, but I know probably didn’t answer your question well about what I learned, but I think it was just that aspect of sticking to something that’s hard.  Even when it’s hard and not giving up.

[00:15:51] Scott Brill: Yeah, I go back to that same time period. The great recession. I had to actually take a leadership role in reduction in our workforce at Target. And I don’t get too worked up about dollar decisions, blending decisions, all of those things. Sometimes they go the wrong way.

It doesn’t bother me at all. The thing that really tests my mettle is the weight, the impact that this is having on people, not just themselves, but their families, etc. And so that was one of the hardest things, having to sit there as people walked into a room knowing that they were about to learn that they did not have a job anymore.

And that was really hard for me to reconcile with my values as a leader. And so I learned a lot from how to do my best to avoid being in those situations and how to be resilient by focusing on what you’re doing for those who will be able to stay and keep their jobs, from a longer-term standpoint.

[00:16:51] Scott Brill: So that’s the hardest thing is the things that have human impact on people.


[00:16:57] Tommy Thomas: Let’s go to hiring for a minute. I probably know that you screen for the technical competencies of an accounting and a finance person. But aside from that, if you’ve had a key to your success in hiring what would it have been?

Hire for attitude, train for skill. It’s a lot easier to teach people how to do something that is skill-based and required.

[00:17:16] Scott Brill: Mine is simple. Hire for attitude, train for skill. It’s a lot easier to teach people how to do something that is skill-based and required. Now, in accounting, there are some jobs they need a degree for. They’ve already learned a lot of that skill.  We’re just going to augment that with specific skills, within our systems, technology, and business framework.

But I’d rather take somebody who’s a little lacking on the skill side who has a great attitude every day. Makes the team much better. 

[00:17:47] Mark Tjernagel: Yes. I like that hire for attitude, not for skill. It’s difficult asking interview questions and assessing character, right? But character, I think we’d all agree, that’s like fundamental to really a person being successful on our teams is that is their ability to blend in with our team.

And I work with our HR team to really try to craft creative questions, depending on the role, the questions will change, but that help us gain insight into will this person fit not just the technical skill. You’re right, technical skill there is a baseline.

You’ve got to know something right? I couldn’t hire somebody to do FNPA that doesn’t know anything about accounting or analytics, right? So, there’s a baseline, but it’s that character. But man, it’s really hard to assess. We’ll do multiple interviews, right?

[00:18:38] Mark Tjernagel: And we’ll try to weave those questions in there a lot, just trying to gain that will the person fit, and do we think they’re of the right kind of character for our team and our environment? 

[00:18:51] Scott Brill: I find a valuable way, like we tended to always have a lunch or a dinner depending on the level of the position in the interview progression.

But get them outside of an office environment in that I’m just trying to present what I’m presenting to you in a lunch or a dinner that you get a lot more of the, who they are outside of work. 

Mark Tjernagel: That’s a great idea. 

[00:19:12] Tommy Thomas: Yeah, we like to do that in our search practice. We always encourage committees to include a meal so they can get off point maybe.

[00:19:22] Tommy Thomas: I think the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in that was, and it was from the flip side, I don’t remember who the client was, but I remember the candidate was in Seattle. And so, the hiring director flew to Seattle to interview the candidate, and that lady took the client to the World Series.

[00:19:37] Tommy Thomas: I guess the Mariners were in the World Series that year. And so, I thought, now that’s an interesting way to spend an afternoon with your future boss. Just real quickly on terminating. Scott, you mentioned something back in the recession but in general, say you’ve had somebody that’s gone the course and it just didn’t work out.

What have you learned over the years is the best way to facilitate that? 

[00:20:03] Scott Brill: I think if you do it right, it should never be a surprise. So if you’re terminating somebody because they’re not delivering to the expectations that you have for the role or that your ministry or whoever you’re working for has it, they should already know that. You should have been communicating consistently with them about where they’re missing the mark and giving them a chance to address that.

[00:20:28] Scott Brill: Some of those things you can help with. Some of those things you just have to make them aware of and they need to figure out how to handle it on their own. And if they can’t, then you’re going to that next step where you’re having that conversation of, as we’ve been talking about these things and we’re not making progress to the level that we need to, for you to continue to support this role.

[00:20:52] Mark Tjernagel: That’s so good. It’s so good. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Unfortunately, sometimes it is even though you say it multiple times, but you’re right, Scott. That’s progression. Tommy, there’s a concept we try to put into practice in Cru. We didn’t invent it. It’s from the Bible. Henry Cloud has taught on this a lot, about grace, truth, and time. There’s a passage in Luke – Luke 13:6-8, if any of the listeners want to look it up. I actually have it here. It says a man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.

So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, for three years now, I’ve been coming to look at the fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Just cut it down. Why is it using up the soil? Sir, the man replied, leave it alone for one more year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine.

If not, then cut it down. And so, there’s this concept weave through that parable of grace, wait, don’t cut it down yet. Give me another chance. But truth. Look, it’s going to be cut down if it doesn’t bear fruit, right? Just speaking of the tree, not the person.

[00:22:00] Mark Tjernagel: It’s going to be cut down if it doesn’t bear fruit. But, the rescuer, so to speak, the vineyard the person that works there says no, let me fertilize, let me dig around, let me uncover the truths of what’s really happening. Let me fertilize it, try to grow, offering that grace, and let’s give it some time so that we can make a decision, but we’re implementing grace with truth, but also giving some time because change and developing, it doesn’t happen immediately.

[00:22:30] Mark Tjernagel: And like Scott said earlier, as we get to the end of the proverbial year from this parable, like everybody should know, okay, it’s time. We’re not seeing the fruit, we’re not seeing the things, this probably isn’t a good fit, we’re going to make a change. But that’s grace, truth, and time. That concept is the thing that I’ve learned a lot in how people have dealt with me.

[00:22:50] Mark Tjernagel: And I think it’s been very helpful as I’ve dealt with my teammates.

[00:22:56] Scott Brill: One thing I’ve learned over the years a lot of times you’re doing a disservice to the individual as well. Because there are so many different environments, roles, functions, teams, and expectations.

[00:23:10] They just haven’t been willing to pull the trigger to make a change a lot of times as well. And they’re not being their best selves. And so, I have multiple times where people have come back and said, thank you, I am now in a much better place. 

Vocation formation. I don’t know if you’ve done any work on that, but I found a role where now I am excited. Like I belong here. I’m delivering great results. And I was not doing that in the role that I was in before.

[00:23:39] Mark Tjernagel: And Tommy, sometimes it’s not always, like Scott said, it’s not always we’re going to terminate you and you’re no longer employed by Cru. Sometimes it’s, you have great character.

You’re a wonderful part of our team. We love having you here. I know there’s a contribution that you can make. It’s just not this current role. Let’s work to try to find a better role and a better fit for you if we can within the organization.

[00:24:10] Tommy Thomas: Next week, we will continue this conversation with Scott and Mark. They will take us deeper into their individual roles as the CFOs of Young Life and Cru, as well as the overall changing role of the nonprofit CFO. 

Thank you for joining us today. If you are a first-time listener, I hope you will subscribe and become a regular. You can find links to all the episodes on our website

If there are topics you’d like for me to explore my email address is [email protected].  Word of mouth has been identified as the most valuable form of marketing. Surveys tell us that consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of advertising. 

If you’ve heard something today that’s worth passing on, please share it with others. You’re already helping me make something special for the next generation of nonprofit leaders.

“Hire for attitude, train for skill. It’s a lot easier to teach people how to do something that is skill-based and required.” -Scott Brill

Links and Resources

JobfitMatters Website

Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas

Cru Website

Young Life Website


[email protected]

Follow Tommy on LinkedIn


Listen to Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas on:

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Google Podcasts