Tos Rostan – Class of 1988
Chief Financial Officer, Feetures Brands, Hickory, NC

Textile production was one of the major industries that industrialized the Catawba Valley. Most of the textile companies are now gone, but Feetures, founded in 2002, is defying the odds by specializing in socks for athletes, hikers, cyclists, golfers, runners, and anyone else who enjoys an active lifestyle. Their website states that, “We wake up every day with the sole purpose of making the best performance socks in the world.” High quality and great service go hand in hand with the Feetures brand.

Keeping a profitable competitive business operating is no small task, and a capable, competent, and caring team is necessary for success. Tos Rostan is an important member of that team. “I am the Chief Financial Officer of Feetures Brand socks,” he explains. “I’m a member of the Senior Executive team and am responsible for human resources, information technology, and finance. Specifically, I oversee legal/contract matters, risk management, compliance (audit/tax), budgeting and banking, Board of Director duties, earnings reporting, mergers and acquisitions, due diligence, and overall strategic planning for the organization.

“I love working with my team and helping each of them to continue to grow and develop their careers. My role is one of a trusted advisor, and while I enjoy that, I know that with great power comes great responsibility, so it is important to keep learning and growing my own knowledge base. To maintain my license, I must complete 40 hours of continuing education each year. That allows me the opportunity to stay up to date on innovative business strategies, continue to grow the enterprise value of the company, and guide our Executive Leadership team through the challenges of growth in our space.

“I did not start out on this path. I graduated from Davidson College with a B.A. in History on my way to law school. That journey was interrupted as I took a gap year after college to play music in a band with three other East Burke graduates - Todd Roper, Henry Garrou, and Michael Bonner. Todd and I still play in local projects from time to time. As that experience began to wind down, I clerked at a law firm in Raleigh and quickly realized that the law school path would not be a good fit for me, at least at that time. However, there was a CPA in that firm whom I connected with while working on estates and trusts. I was fascinated by the work he did, and he convinced me to pursue the CPA license first and then consider law school later.

“I took an accounting course at NC State over the summer, and I was instantly hooked. I immediately started my pre-requisite courses, eventually culminating in a Masters in Accounting from NC State. From there I went into Public Accounting at Deloitte (one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms in the world) and started my career.

“I think there are three critical challenges within the profession. The quality of data has always been and will continue to be an important challenge to all businesses, no matter what size or industry. Recently, business intelligence (BI), ChatGPT, and artificial intelligence (AI) have combined to unleash what may be the next evolution in information and data flow, so I’m watching all of that carefully.

“Another important challenge in my profession is communication. Sometimes it is hard to find the balance between over-communicating and under-communicating in a ‘bring good news fast and bad news faster’ macro-environment. I see many people struggling in this area even more so today.

“Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the profession right now is the cultural fit aspect of the job. Core value thinking was not part of my experience in the first 15+ years of my career. Today, I think it’s vitally important for anyone considering a career in finance to make sure that their personal core values align well with the Company’s core values and culture before they sign the acceptance letter. I think that’s a hard lesson many companies and executives have learned over the past 5-10 years.

“As the CFO, I get to add value to as many processes and procedures as I can across as many functions of the business as possible. It is very rewarding to see the financial results match or exceed the expectations that I helped chart. That success builds trust and confidence across the team and the Company, and it permeates through the entire organization. My position also allows me to help others develop and grow their career paths, whether on my teams or in other departments like Supply Chain, Product Development, or even Marketing. The ‘people’ aspect of the role is especially rewarding in this sense. I may lose a good employee to another business or competitor, but if I helped them achieve their career goal by helping them grow professionally, I count that as a win.”

In addition to his time at Deloitte, Tos has worked his way up through a number of businesses, including more than seven years with Corning Incorporated. “When reflecting on past jobs, the word ‘grit’ comes to mind. I don’t think I really developed it until college, and it was put to test during the band hiatus year as I washed dishes and waited tables at a restaurant and loaded trucks at UPS on the twilight shift before gigs. I continued to work at UPS while in graduate school, and I think that entire experience taught me how to persevere no matter what I was going through. I learned that there’s light at the end of the tunnel and to just keep pushing. I don’t know if I would have survived, let alone thrived, at Deloitte had I not had those experiences.

“I should note that similar circumstances and experiences at East Burke likely helped create the foundation for me to be successful after high school. I remember trying to manage a hectic schedule among various sport teams, a rigorous academic plan, after-school clubs, and just playing music with my friends. I was managing a lot of activities (and some not so well), but I knew the teachers and coaches were there to support me. I never doubted that, and that says a great deal about the school and the leadership at the time.”

While an undergraduate at Davidson College, Tos had the privilege to attend Cambridge University in England for a semester. He is a licensed CPA with the State of North Carolina and was nominated and made the finals for the CFO of the Year for the Charlotte Business Journal in 2020.

He has just been notified that he has been nominated for the same award for 2024.
(click on photo for link)

“While I am fortunate to have had many mentors during my journey so far, it is important for me to acknowledge the many fond memories I have of many teachers and coaches at East Burke. Some that come to mind include Roy Sweezy and Barbara Bliss for French classes, Jack Robinson for Calculus, Lillian Pendley and Cynthia Smith for Humanities and English Literature, and Sherron Prewitt for Senior English, as she worked hard to prepare us for college, Kathryn Siphers and Leonard Brendel were memorable for band, as was, of course, Jerry Murray for his dry sense of humor and witty approach to teaching high school physics. He is quite the storyteller. It’s hard for me to forget my soccer coach, Grady Pitts, as in my senior year he taught me a hard lesson about accountability that I will always remember. For four years, Coach Jim McCormick guided me to be the best tennis player I could be and prepared me to walk on the college team as a freshman.

“Altogether, I appreciated the teachers and coaches at East Burke for their interactive style and approach to their jobs and their students. They provided the right amount of flexibility with the appropriate number of guardrails in order to help me start my individual journey.

“Certainly, there are many mentors I still connect with from college through Deloitte, Corning, and even today. One of my favorite mentors, Rich Wilson, passed away last year. While he always had clever anecdotes and analogies, he reminded me of Jerry Murray with respect to his delivery. Rich was a finance guy for an investment bank when I met him. One of his favorite sayings was ‘liars figure, but figures don’t lie.’ He always cut to the heart of the matter in any situation—sort of a ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’ kind of guy. I’d like to think part of him lives on in me in the way I try to carry myself and coach and mentor others. While being mentored is critical to one’s success, it is potentially more important to share that knowledge, experience, and wisdom with others. That’s why I am an active mentor to several people at different points in their career paths. It’s a great way to give back and help others reach their potential.

“With respect to types of experiences that helped or inspired me, I think the Boy Scouts of America program did a great deal for me and my self-confidence. I achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, but after high school, I did not continue to participate in the scouting program. In fact, I thought I might never be part of it again. An opportunity to re-engage and give back to the scouting program and the community presented itself in 2019 when my son’s scout troop lost its Scoutmaster. I took on the role of Scoutmaster for three years, and during my tenure, we produced 14 Eagle Scouts and I was voted the Scoutmaster of the Year for our district. I am very proud of the fact that my team was able to produce that many Eagle Scouts in that short amount of time for such a small troop. The ability to give back to the community and to the Boy Scouts of America has been a tremendously humbling and rewarding experience for me.”

Through his career experience and his work with the Boy Scouts, Tos has already made a difference in his community. But he isn’t finished and has more goals to consider. “I think I might pursue teaching at the college level. The head of the business school at the University of Arkansas is a former boss of mine at Corning. We left Corning the same year (2018), and she decided to get her PhD and start teaching at the university level. Recently, she asked me to give a Ted Talk to the MBA School at the University of Arkansas to talk about my experiences, my path, and a day in the life of a CFO for a mid-sized company. I pulled together a PowerPoint presentation and made the pitch to the 2024 MBA graduating class. After we completed the session and the students filed out, she told me that I should start teaching as an adjunct professor at App State or Lenoir-Rhyne or anywhere that would take me. I thought she was joking, but she was serious. I’ve thought about that path on and off over the years, but I’ve been too intimidated to give it serious consideration. After that experience and her encouragement, I think I will give the idea more serious thought and see what opportunities might present themselves in the next few years.” We will watch and see what new and exciting adventure might lie ahead.

Published April 2024

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