Opendoor’s Christy Schwartz on going public during COVID
Today’s episode of HousingWire Daily continues our Women of Influence series and features an interview with Christy Schwartz, the chief accounting officer at Opendoor. Schwartz joined us on the show today to discuss her role at Opendoor and how she found herself in the industry.
Additionally, she shares a glimpse behind the scenes of Opendoor’s going public last year and some of the unexpected things about doing the entire process remotely.
Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
Alcynna Lloyd: You were essential in transforming Opendoor as they moved into a public company. Can you talk about what the process entailed and how you led your team during this transition?
Christy Schwartz: I’d like to explain it as an IPO and an acquisition all rolled into one and happening simultaneously. So for the accounting and legal teams, it’s definitely not easier than going public, but somehow it moves faster. You’re doing all these things in parallel. It’s a complex, fast moving, and kind of high stakes process. It’s exhausting. It’s exciting, it’s stressful, it’s super rewarding. It’s like many emotions all at once. And what was fascinating about it, too, as a lot of the process is done in secret, it’s a very confidential transaction until it actually is announced publicly. So you can only leverage a small group of people to help. And if the team was working 15 hour days, I tried to work 16 hour days. And this is all happening remotely. The idea that you could take the company public, without ever being in the same room as some of the most key people that you’re working with was just like, totally a foreign concept to me, like I would have never imagined this was how we would go public. There are people that I worked with so closely that were super critical that I still have not met in person. It was a really exciting time.
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Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:
Alcynna Lloyd: Hello, “HousingWire” listeners. Welcome back to another segment of HousingWire’s, Woman of Influence. I’m Alcynna Lloyd, HousingWire’s digital media manager. I’m joined with Christy Schwartz, the chief accounting officer at Opendoor. Thank you so much for joining us today, Christy.
Christy Schwartz: Thank you Alcynna. It’s great to be here.
Alcynna Lloyd: Of course. So, can you share your background with our audience? It’s always in to discover how people end up in this industry.
Christy Schwartz: Sure. So, I started my career in fall 2000 as an auditor at Ernst & Young. And fall 2000 was a really interesting time in the Bay Area. It was kind of the start of the dot-com bust, and it was also a year before the Enron scandal and Arthur Andersen collapsed. So, it was a very interesting time to be in public accounting. And then five years after being at Ernst & Young, I moved over to here on consulting to do forensic accounting, which is working on investigations and restatements and super fascinating work that included travel all over the place, Philippines, New York, Seattle. After 10 years of doing client service at Ernst & Young and Enron, I joined a company called Yodlee, which is a software company down in Redwood Shores. And that’s where my career really started to evolve to what it is now.
I started there as a senior manager of accounting. Then I moved into the director of revenue role, and I even spent two years in pricing and deal modeling and like explaining our deals to customers. And when Yodlee IPOed in 2014, it was about two weeks before I went out on my second maternity leave. And when I got back, shortly after I got back, I think it was about two weeks I was promoted to the controller. And so my career kind of took a long path at Yodlee and a lot of great experiences. Shortly after I was promoted, the company was then sold to Envestnet, and I was part of the whole diligence and integration process.
But, you know, to answer your question about how I got where I am now, it was around that time where I started thinking about, “Okay, well, what’s next?” It was kind of a natural breaking point, but I was in no hurry. And so I had the advantage of being able to really take my time to find something that I was really excited about. And I talked to all sorts of companies, small startups, public companies, companies in various industries, and I kind of started to build out my list of what was really important to me. And so, I really wanted to go to a real startup. I thought that was gonna be a lot fun. And I wanted to be like in the first 100 employees. I wanted it to be a startup that was really trying to do something big and it was gonna be disruptive and maybe change in industry. And I also wanted it to be a product that I’m actually personally passionate about.
And so after a year, I found Opendoor, and I was really excited about it. It checked all my boxes, but I was particularly excited about the fact that it was in real estate. It wasn’t really an industry I’d previously considered, but it’s an industry that’s been a big part of my life. Like my mom owned apartment buildings and she self-managed them. And she kind of had always instilled in me a real value of homeownership and real estate investment. And so I was excited to be at a company that was really focused in that area. And, I also had the opportunity to meet with Eric, our CEO, and founder. And when I met with him, his vision was super clear and super bold. And I thought, “You know, this company’s really swinging for the fences and I wanna be a part of this.” And so that’s why I joined in 2016.
Alcynna Lloyd: Wow. So, full circle. So, a bit of real estate, a bit of accounting, it all worked out for your position today at Opendoor?
Christy Schwartz: Yeah, it sure did. And, you know, when I got there, my first mission was to kind of take all of the experience that I had garnered in my first 15 years and really apply it to the startup accounting team and build that out. And at the time when I joined, there was no imminent plan to go public, but I knew from my experience that it was never too early to start building. And I’m glad I did cause when we finally went public, it was really fast, a lot faster than I expected.
Alcynna Lloyd: That’s super fast. And that’s exactly why we wanna discuss you today in your role. We’re here to discuss how you became a Woman of Influence. So, to start off, you already talked a little bit about your role but I’d like to dive deeper. As the corporate controller in chief accounting officer at Opendoor, you’ve played a vital role in developing the company’s accounting team. In fact, you were central, as you mentioned earlier in transforming Opendoor as they moved into a public company. So, can you talk about what the process entailed and how you led your team during this transition?
Christy Schwartz: Yeah, absolutely. So, it was July 2020. So, keep in mind, this was really early in the pandemic and things were kind of quiet. And our CFO called me one day and said, “Hey, you know, we’re gonna go public via SPAC and we wanna be done before the end of the year.” So, it’s like five months away. I’m like, “Okay.” But I said, “You know, no problem, I’ll get started right away.” And I hung up the phone and I immediately Googled how to go public via SPAC ’cause this was not a process I was familiar with yet. And it was still relatively obscure. And my Google search was not particularly helpful. But, what was helpful was I started calling some of my trusted advisors and I found a team at Ernst & Young who had done quite a few SPAC transactions. And so, they were able to kind of supplement that experience for our team.
And so, that was a really important and great find and for us. And then, you know, we started working on this process and I think, you know, people that aren’t super familiar with the SPAC process, I like to explain it as it’s an IPO and an acquisition all rolled into one and happening simultaneously. So, for the accounting and legal teams, it’s definitely not easier than going public, but somehow it moves faster. And, you know, it starts with the two parties, the SPAC and the target company, which is Opendoor in our case, they agree on pricing and terms, and then it kicks off like a due diligence process ’cause it’s a public company acquiring a company. So, they have to do their diligence. Simultaneously, you’re working on an investor deck, that’s kind of like an IPO roadshow ’cause you’re raising additional funds as you do the SPAC transaction, that’s called a PIPE investment.
And also simultaneously, you’re preparing a document for the SEC, called an S-4, which is really similar to document you file during an IPO process. And it’s a very robust document. It’s of 200 pages long. And so you’re doing all these things in parallel. And the SEC ultimately approves the document, the shareholders ultimately approve the transaction and that’s when it ends. And so it’s a complex, fast-moving, and like, kind of high stakes process. It’s exhausting, it’s exciting, it’s stressful. It’s super rewarding. It’s like many emotions all at once. And, what was fascinating about it too, is a lot of the processes done in secrets. It’s a very confidential transaction until it actually is announced publicly. So, you can only leverage a small group of people to help. And a lot of people that you’re working with on a daily basis have no idea of what you’re, like, actually going through in most of your day.
And so, you asked about my leadership during the process, and like, to me, it was important to definitely like, you know, be in the boat and rowing with my team. It was hard. And if the team was working 15 hours a day I tried to work 16 hours a day. And I did my best to get us help where I could like through either external resources or shifting things around. And the last thing I’ll just say too is that, this is all happening via Zoom and remotely. And that, you know, this is July 2020, so it’s still kind of new. And the idea that you could like take a company public without ever being in the same room, as some of the most key people that you’re working with was just like totally a foreign concept to me. Like I would’ve never imagined this was how we would go public. And there are people that I worked with so closely that were supercritical that I still have not met in person. But yeah, so it was a lot of communication, a lot of hard work, a lot of Zoom calls, but it was a really exciting time.
Alcynna Lloyd: That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that with us. So, I’d like to continue on your role. I did some research and according to Catalyst, a nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating inclusion for women in the workplace, data shows while women account for 61.7% of all accountants and auditors in the United States and composed of 50% of all full-time staff at CPA firms, they make up just 27% of partners and principals. That being said, Catalyst reports the percentage of women on management committees is growing, as in 2019 it was 33% compared to 19% in 2014. Furthermore, their data shows women now make up nearly half of all directors and senior managers. So, my question for you is as a woman in a senior financing role, what has your experience been like and how do you feel about the progression of women in the industry?
Christy Schwartz: I’ve seen major evolutions over the past 20 years since I started. When I left Ernst & Young 16 years ago, there were only a handful of female partners that I was familiar with in the Bay Area. And part of the reason I left was because there was an absence of role models for me. Like there were a lot of male partners who had stay-at-home spouses who managed all things for the family and household. And then, you know, these partners were fully focused on their work and dedicated to the firm. And at 25 years old when I left, and I thought about my future and my relationship with my future hypothetical kids, that wasn’t what I envisioned.
But, you know, here’s 16 years later, I can tell you that my experience is dramatically different from then, and I’ve seen it with the partners I work with at the Big Four now too. And this was particularly noticeable during the SPAC process. Like, our general counsel, two of the senior partners from Latham & Watkins that we were working with our lead Deloitte Audit partner, our CFO, and me are all women. And then after we went public, our accounting audit committee chair is also a woman.
And so, there were many times that we were on, like, really critical Zoom calls where all the leaders on the call were women. And I’d take screenshots of, like, of the Zoom call. I’d be like, “This is crazy.” And it was striking to all of us because we all had a shared perspective that this was very different from when each of us had started our careers. And so, it’s definitely evolving and it has been really, really wonderful to work for a really amazing female CFO, Carrie Wheeler. She is sharp and inspiring. She always knows the right thing to say in the moment. She’s an amazing listener. She gives me tons of opportunities and she is really supportive, and she has three children and is incredibly relatable.
And, you know, the one thing that was different in working with her was during this SPAC process, there would be times where she would ask me to present things to the board that she could have absolutely presented herself but she asked me to present them. And I mentioned that to her later, like I just said, “Hey, I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to present to the board.” And she’s like, “Well, you were the best one to present it. Like, this was your topic, why wouldn’t you have presented it?” And it was different to me ’cause in the past, the past CFOs I’d worked with they’d oftentimes just take care of it, you know, and like to Carrie it was like, “Well, of course, you’d presented.”
And it really gave me, you know, a chance to challenge my communication and presentation skills. It gave me added exposure to our most senior leaders. It allowed me to establish credibility at a new level. And I think, you know, it’s part of the…I think it’s part of the reason that I was able to get the promotion I got too ’cause she would just kind of open doors and give me an opportunity to succeed. And I could take that, you know.
Alcynna Lloyd: That’s amazing. I think every woman or anybody in the industry or the market needs somebody that’s looking out for them or somebody that cares that much about their work. So, that’s amazing to hear.
Christy Schwartz: Yeah, absolutely.
Alcynna Lloyd: Thank you for answering all of my questions today, but before we wrap, do you have any advice to offer to other women who aspire to your level of success? You mentioned how you were helped by other women in the industry. So, I would love to hear any advice you have to any other woman.
Christy Schwartz: Yeah, absolutely. And I’d say this is advice to almost anyone I think, not just women. But, I think, one, it’s surrounding yourself. You know, if you really want to succeed and move in your career, I think surrounding yourself with smart and motivated people who also want to like move in their career is really advantageous. When I went to Opendoor, I was nervous that it was gonna be a lot of work, and it was gonna be really challenging, and really hard. And my husband pointed out that…he’s like, “As long as I’ve known you, you always work hard regardless of what environment you’re in. So, wouldn’t it be better to be surrounded by people who are also motivated and working really hard than to be like the outlier?” And I was like, “All right. You have a point there.” And so it made me less afraid of, like, going to an environment where we’re gonna be working hard.
And then speaking of my husband, I think having a partner who’s not only supportive of my career, but really proud of and inspired by it has been really helpful. He has a challenging career of his own, but when things got really exciting and challenging at Opendoor last year during the SPAC process, and even as a new public company, he took it upon himself to just more of the household and family responsibilities. And so, we just have a really good partnership where we’re constantly supporting each other and juggling responsibilities so that we both can be successful.
My other advice that I really love and I tell people that are kind of moving up in their careers, is to make sure you’re hiring to your weakness and that you know what your weaknesses are. You know, so for me, it’s technical accounting is one area that I’m not super deep in. And, you know, early at Opendoor, I hired someone who’s really strong in technical accounting. But things like that, like not being afraid to hire people that are better or know more about a certain topic than you do and just like, you know, to build your team with really great people and to develop those people, cause the stronger they become, the more you can take on new challenges.
I’d also say, you know, work for people who will challenge you and give you opportunities, and then don’t be afraid to take those opportunities. There were a lot of times in my career where I was given a challenge or role that was unfamiliar or outside of my existing skillset. And I think every single time, like it’s always been a really, really career-developing moment where I like took on this new role that really wasn’t something that I had planned or had expected, but I kind of took it on or brought it into my skill set and just it’s helped around me out over the years. Yeah, I think that’s it.
Alcynna Lloyd: Well, that was some really good advice. Definitely some advice I’m gonna use as well too. So, I wanna thank you for answering all of our questions today. Thank you so much.
Christy Schwartz: You’re welcome.
Alcynna Lloyd: All right. Well, listeners, join us back here tomorrow for some more amazing interviews.