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Felicia DellaFortuna: blazing new trails in digital media

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The BuzzFeed CFO thrives on the constant change of the internet and her company’s commitment to speak to younger generations.

Felicia DellaFortuna radiates energy and enthusiasm when discussing the ever-changing digital media frontier. BuzzFeed, the tech-fueled, diversified media company for which she serves as Chief Financial Officer, has initiated several of the industry’s major changes in recent months. It expanded its content with acquisitions of news and opinion outlet HuffPost and multicultural content powerhouse Complex Networks, and it recently completed its deal to go public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. Felicia, no stranger to high-pressure challenges, has taken the whirlwind in stride. Her impressive rise through the ranks of the finance function started with a six-year stint at Ernst & Young LLP (EY US), where she started in the Assurance practice before moving to Strategy and Transactions. We caught up with her recently and got her takes on navigating constant change, executing a purposeful mission and helping other women in their career journeys.

How has your professional path played out relative to how you envisioned it early in your career?

I never expected to be in a position to be a public company CFO at 38. I did have a stretch goal of being a CFO while young in my career, so each step I took at EY and after involved setting myself up for that. I knew that CFOs fell into two categories – accountants by trade or strategic financial professionals. It was important for me to be able to build out both of those skill areas. When you see individuals around you who have much more tenure in their role, it’s hard to not have impostor syndrome. If you work hard and really understand the basics, though, the rest can be learned. And even with more experience, you need that willingness to learn and that willingness to feel uncomfortable. The minute I feel too comfortable, I’m probably not in the place I need to be.

What energizes you most about your job and BuzzFeed as an organization?

With digital media, you have a blank slate – and the internet is evolving daily. I believe in our mission – to spread truth and joy.

We’re creating free content, including news reporting, that a lot of individuals can interact with – not behind a paywall, but available wherever the audience is. And I believe in the digital media space. I was recently in Namibia on vacation. It’s one of the least-populated countries in the world, and I was in the middle of a safari with two other individuals. One was a woman who shared that she had seen a BuzzFeed article that had spoken to her and helped her get through a difficult time in her career. That’s the stuff that fuels you – you’re creating something that’s just much larger than yourself.

How has BuzzFeed and its content evolved since you came aboard?

When I started in 2015, we just had the viral content – the list or quiz. If you’re really speaking to a generation, though – millennials and Gen Z and now Generation Alpha or beyond – you have to speak to all the niches. That’s why we diversified our content. We needed to speak to what was going on in the world, and we needed to speak about lifestyle, too. For instance, in lifestyle, Tasty is about helping people learn how to cook, and Nifty is about do-it-yourself projects. I love that we took a stance on our content, acquiring HuffPost and Complex. HuffPost has a clear stance in the market, and Complex offers content that’s really important to what’s going on in the life cycle of where we are as a society. With these additions, we’re also converging cultures – so the whole company has changed in the span of less than two years. And with the diversification of content came the diversification of revenue.

How have you and the company navigated the pandemic?

I became CFO two weeks before lockdown, so that was a bit scary. Everyone else was restructuring, but Jonah Peretti [BuzzFeed Founder and CEO] and I talked about what if, instead of a furlough, we had a graduated pay reduction in which the burden would be shared. As management, we would take the onus of the compensation reduction and still give as much as possible to the frontline employees who would lead us through the pandemic. After we set that in motion, the press picked it up, and we watched everybody follow suit. It was a big moment that just made me feel like there could be a new wave of finance – a new wave of thinking about how to strategically plan as an organization that is constantly evolving. We are in this space where things are changing so quickly because the barriers of entry are so easy when it comes to the internet. So, I think COVID helped us become more nimble in that type of environment.

Tell us a little more about the culture of the organization and its foundational elements.


Everybody believes in the mission. There is a lot of power in our content creators – they are our manufacturers. I feel good that we are trying to create no hate content. When something like the graduated pay reduction happened, we looked at our mission of spreading truth and joy and said we wanted to make sure we still have as many people as possible available to do that. So, it actually became a positive versus a negative, which really helped us.

One of the benefits of BuzzFeed is the transparency we’re able to provide internally. We are so used to the two-way engagement of the internet, so that’s how management and the employees talk, as well – there’s constant feedback. Jonah set the tone early on, creating an “Ask Jonah Anything” channel so people can go directly to him.


What stands out from your EY experience?


EY is a perfect playground to figure out where you’re passionate. For me, working with audit clients that were involved in entertainment was fun. I also liked that you could transition – I had the opportunity to start in assurance but then move to transaction support. Seeing a spectrum of industries and transactions gave me a sense of what I was interested in. One of the things Tom Sciametta [EY US Assurance Partner] told me early on was the unbelievable reach of the EY network. There’s just a depth of knowledge at EY that you can tap into. And even in the last year, it’s been incredible to see the amount of people I worked with at EY – seeing them on all sides of the transaction we had, at different organizations. Finding people again outside EY is pretty cool. Once I was in Vietnam, and one of the partners in Strategy and Transactions was there at the same time, so we grabbed lunch to catch up. It was amazing – how does that happen? Having six years at the firm helped. If I had left earlier, before reaching the manager level, I would have never been able to harness those relationships in the way that I can today.


Who are some of the people at EY who stood out to you?


Tom Sciametta was the one who taught me to be more patient. Marc Symons was the partner on a major, high-profile project that I had the opportunity to work on for two years. I was 26 or 27, and at times I wondered, “How am I here, in the middle of this?” He just said: “You deserve to be here. Do the work, make sure you’re diligent, and the rest can be taught and learned.” He had a really big impact on my career. Getting through the stress of that period helped me get through the stress of the last year. Steve Ho was my counselor, and the counselor relationship is so important in helping you navigate a large organization like EY. The person who had the biggest impact on my career was Larry Madden. He later hired me at XIX Entertainment and also at Viant Technology, then enabled my introduction to BuzzFeed. He told me I needed to get to a certain level where all of the relationship building skills I have are going to start helping me exponentially. He trusted me way beyond my years in terms of the opportunities that he offered me.  And he also had his style and kept his personality, which I think is sometimes hard in finance.


What advice do you have for other women who aspire to executive roles in digital media?


Know when to speak up and when to shut up. As women in this industry, there’s a lot that comes our way constantly, both positive and negative. We make a ton of sacrifices, and we are still not where we need to be. We should always speak up, obviously, when we encounter detrimental things – but I think you should really find the right moments to push your career forward.  Let your work speak for itself, defend your work and stay by the facts and really push forward. This role is really important to me because it wasn’t just about becoming a CFO; it was knowing that I was a woman at a certain age who could hold this role. Having more women in roles like this can provide mentors and advisors for younger women who are coming up and gaining experience.


More about Felicia DellaFortuna


Lounging with wolves: A self-described adrenaline junkie, Felicia recalls one adventure at a California wolf sanctuary in which she (voluntarily!) sat in a cage with the wild animals after the operator approved of her aura.


On the move: By her count, Felicia has been to 30-40 countries, including a recent trip to Namibia in which she navigated the sand dunes on a quad bike. But she professes no favorite destination. “Everything is so different. It just keeps you grounded.”


In the moment: Much of what Felicia does to unwind, including her travel, is unscripted. “In Namibia, I didn’t plan anything; I thought I would figure it out when I got there. I ended up one night at my taxi driver’s house as he and his wife were celebrating with an anniversary dinner. It was an amazing time.”


Felicia DellaFortuna, Chief Financial Officer of BuzzFeed, spoke with us about navigating constant change, executing a purposeful mission and helping other women in their career journeys.

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