CFO of the Year Finalists (Large Private Company): Paul Hart

Paul Hart’s accounting experience has taken him from Little Rock to Texas to London and back again.

Hart grew up in Little Rock and attended Catholic High School for Boys, then moved to Fort Worth to attend Texas Christian University. He stayed in Fort Worth working for Ernst & Young for five years, and then moved to the firm’s international exchange program.

“It was a good time in my life,” he said. “I was just married, so my wife and I moved to London. We were there a little over a year and a half.”

Hart moved back to Texas to work on his master’s degree in accounting at the University of Texas at Austin. Then, in 1997, he worked with his father in a Little Rock accounting firm. During that time he was assigned to McLarty Cos., the parent company of RLJ-McLarty-Landers Automotive. He now serves as executive vice president and CFO of McLarty Cos.

“In 2000, McLarty Cos. purchased a majority interest in a Sao Paulo, Brazil, automotive dealership group,” Hart said. “That was my first hands-on experience in the automotive business. I’ve been involved since 2000 to today.”

Hart is now CEO of the Brazil group. In 2007, one of the three Brazil managers died in an airplane accident and Hart helped the team rebound.

“We restructured the management team, changing our involvement from an active oversight function to a daily management role,” Hart said. “That challenge was, essentially, holding the company together through that period, but also implementing and growing the management team for continuing growth since that period.”

Hart said he enjoys the energy of the automobile industry.

“It’s a fascinating business, a people-oriented business,” he said. “It’s high intensity.”

Hart said McLarty’s technique was to work closely with dealership managers.

“What’s required in the car business is, fundamentally, holding managers accountable at each of the dealerships,” he said. “Our philosophy is to empower the managers, align our interests with the managers and provide partnership opportunities in the dealerships.”

Hart noted he values working with executives like Chairman Mack McLarty and President Steve Landers.

“We’ve got a very successful group of partners,” Hart said. He said the company’s management team helped keep the group together during the beginning of the Great Recession, when the automotive business took a bad beating. As a CFO, Hart said, he wants to disseminate integrity throughout the company. He said he works towards transparent communication among employees.

“I think by providing that environment, it allows the employees to maximize their skill set and performance, and ultimately helps us achieve our goals and our vision,” he said.

Hart has sat on the board of directors of Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock for five years and has served as treasurer of that board for the last four years.