Siemens USA’s CFO details 3 strategies for C-suite leaders who are shaping the future of finance

Headshot of Martha Smith, the CFO of Siemens USA, who is wearing a dark blazer over a light v-neck top.
Marsha Smith says it’s imperative that finance leaders “understand technology enough to work across the organization” as they make collective company decisions.

  • Marsha Smith, the CFO of Siemens USA, says modernizing financial technologies boosts efficiency.
  • Smith emphasized that the drive to advance digitalization must come from C-suite leaders.
  • The right organizational mindset toward finance modernization is crucial, Smith told Insider.
  • This article is part of the “Innovation C-Suite” series about business growth and technology shifts.

For more than 160 years, Siemens USA has developed innovative technologies that support America’s critical infrastructure and vital industries. These technologies include auto manufacturing, mining industry solutions, and smart hospitals.

But according to Marsha Smith, the chief financial officer of Siemens USA, modernizing internal financial technologies and processes – from accounting to payroll – is essential for every organization, no matter how old or young the company is.

“If you don’t advance digitalization in finance and find new ways to do old things more effectively and efficiently, it’s hard to attract talent,” she said. While automation is often perceived as a massive transformation over decades, Smith added that individuals at Siemens USA are implementing new tools and processes all the time. “You need to make it exciting to come to your company and come up with new ways to do the same work,” she said.

The drive to advance digitalization in finance, however, must be a top-down initiative. “If it’s not a message that’s constantly being communicated to the organization, people won’t see it as a real need,” she said. The ideas, however, need to come from the bottom up: “Leaders have to open the door for their people to share ideas.”

Smith offered three tips for how C-Suite leadership can help shape a modern, automated future in finance:

1. Change the mindset around how people work

“People need to be willing to change how they work in order to work smarter,” Smith said. That means CFOs must focus on a different type of finance talent that works very closely with the IT department and already has knowledge of digital tools and processes. “One important thing I’ve learned along the way is that just because you implement a robot to do certain tasks for an individual that doesn’t mean the headcount is necessarily less,” she said. “It’s about hiring thinkers that can work across the company to transform finance as much as the rest of the company.”

2. Take one step at a time

Advancing finance digitalization doesn’t need to be (and can’t be) a massive one-and-done program, Smith said. Start with small projects, she explained, and take it one step at a time: “I think the low-hanging fruits, such as optimizing invoicing, purchase orders, or other workflows, are the most exciting ones,” she said. Even with a small starting point, she added, “people get excited when their tasks that used to take them two hours to do only take them 30 minutes to do right, and then they buy into it.” Slowly but surely, a whole group of employees will believe in what the CFO is pitching. “They see the impact on their daily work,” she said.

3. Understand the new CFO role

Finance leaders no longer fit a typical old-school profile. “We all need to understand technology enough to work across the organization to make good collective decisions,” Smith said. “What I’ve tried to do is at least open up the conversation to say, let’s find the automated tools and processes that are scalable, even though it’s a challenge since I’m not an expert on all the tools out there.” To that end, the CFO needs to employ team members with different skill sets. “They may have in-depth knowledge of accounting and finance, but we also need people who can improve on how we implement new automation technologies,” she said.

Overall, the amount of automation in finance has increased over time and continues to improve, which is crucial for the modern financial organization of the future, Smith said. As the CFO at Siemens USA, it’s important to lead with an eye toward getting people in different departments to learn from each other, and then scale those efforts, she explained.

“This comes from the top down, with our global CFO driving automation initiatives,” she said. “Then, it’s exciting for me to get to know the people in our company and how they are automated processes every day, whether it’s in accounting or in some other department.”

It all goes back to a C-Suite leadership that is willing to embrace change to stay competitive in a modern, automated world of finance. “Siemens is on its way to becoming more of a solution-oriented, ecosystem-oriented company and not just a conglomerate that sells hardware, so the whole company is changing,” Smith said. “The finance organization has to change with it.”

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The CFO of Siemens USA explains how finance digitalization presents challenges and opportunities

Headshot of Martha Smith, the CFO of Siemens USA, who is wearing a dark blazer over a light v-neck top.
Marsha Smith, the CFO of Siemens USA, hopes to transform the company by eventually implementing a cloud-based ERP.

  • Marsha Smith, the CFO of Siemens USA and Siemens Mobility North America, is modernizing the company.
  • This year, Smith and the global CIO worked to improve financial processes through automation.
  • Scaling automation efforts presents both challenges and opportunities, Smith told Insider.
  • This article is part of the “Innovation C-Suite” series about business growth and technology shifts.

A great deal has changed at Siemens since Marsha Smith first joined the global technology and manufacturing company over two decades ago. In particular, Smith, who became the chief financial officer of Siemens USA and Siemens Mobility North America in January 2020, has witnessed changes regarding the company’s digitalization in finance.

“We still used typewriters back then to type POs,” she told Insider. She recalled how even just 10 years ago, the finance organization’s month-end close was entirely manual. “We would all sit around on the first of the month until 2 a.m., waiting for things to upload and making sure the numbers were right,” she said.

Now, most of Siemens’ financial processes – everything from financial planning and analysis to general accounting operations – are highly automated, with little to no manual work in Excel or on-premise ERP systems required. The organization has implemented chatbots, Robotic Process Automation, cloud computing, AI, and machine learning – even Blockchain and advanced analytics and forecasting – to modernize various areas within finance.

Challenges and opportunities in transforming financial processes

There’s still a long way to go to transform the finance organization in ways that free up capacity, reduce manual tasks, and enable mobile and 24/7 control. For example, implementing a cloud-based ERP across the global Siemens organization remains an unmet goal.

“It’s a large project with a pretty massive cost, so we have a global team and steering committee determining what we want in an ERP system,” Smith said. “Right now, we do all our procurement, project-controlling, and order management in the ERP, but do we need a ‘lean’ ERP? If so, how lean is lean?”

However, Smith and her team have also made significant strides to identify the most suitable automation opportunities, working regularly across the C-suite to help redesign financial processes with digitalization while retaining flexibility and decision-making.

For example, in January, Smith raised her hand and agreed to have the US finance organization serve as a Siemens digitalization pilot, working closely with the global chief information officer to implement process improvements through automation. “I knew that we were a big enough organization to provide useful results,” she said.

One of the pilot’s first projects was to automate a finance spreadsheet process. Traditionally, the process required employees to spend nearly two days at the end of each month manually entering data and collecting commentary from multiple businesses.

“The global IT team took five months to recreate and automate the entire process in a cloud-based tool,” Smith said. Now, it’s automatically available on the cloud and anyone can have access to it 24/7. “There is one set of financials with no quality issues and no manipulation allowed, which makes it easy to quickly create a report,” she explained.

The advantage of process automation

The beauty of these new automated processes, she emphasized, is their ability to scale. “The pilot project is now going to be rolled out to any country that wants to use it,” she said. “The global IT department worked with us for five months and now it’s just a matter of using the process elsewhere, whether it is Singapore or India.”

The need to scale automation in finance, she added, remains one of the organization’s biggest digitalization challenges.

“Everyone is trying to optimize and automate and reduce manual steps, but you may not realize that someone in another department has already figured it out,” she said. “So we have to figure out how to get people to learn from one another, to do something right and then scale it across the organization.”

That can become a tall mountain to climb, however, when the number of possible digital tools seems endless. “In the past, we had an ERP system and Excel, those were the tools, and everybody knew how to use them,” she explained. “Now, if someone is automating invoice processes, why did he choose one tool and not another? It can be hard to know what is the best one to implement.”

Digitalization skills are now considered core competencies when it comes to recruiting within the finance organization, Smith said. “The idea is to find people who already know how to use these tools so they can improve what we do,” she explained. “The goal for us is to learn as much from our new hires as they learn from us.”

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The CFO of Dun & Bradstreet explains how the company transitioned its core systems to the cloud and pulled off one of the pandemic’s biggest tech IPOs

Innovation C-Suite Banner: Dell Technologies Sponsor
Bryan Hipsher Headshot
Bryan Hipsher helped Dun & Bradstreet update the company’s ERP and billing systems after accomplishing a successful IPO.

  • Bryan Hipsher, the chief financial officer of Dun & Bradstreet, joined the company in February 2019.
  • In 2020, the company pulled off a remarkable tech IPO while implementing a new cloud ERP.
  • Hipsher said it’s critical for the modern CFO to be a strategic partner in technology innovation.
  • This article is part of our “Innovation C-Suite” series about business growth and technology shifts.

Bryan Hipsher, the CFO at the commercial data, analytics, and insights company Dun & Bradstreet, joined the company in February 2019 – shortly after an investor consortium took the company private after five decades on the New York Stock Exchange, with plans to transform and reemerge with an IPO in 2020.

A year later, of course, came the COVID-19 pandemic.

The IPO process quickly went virtual. Surprisingly, it turned out to be efficient even while teams worked remotely, said Hipsher.

“We didn’t have to spend time doing a traditional roadshow in multiple cities. We could have back-to-back video meetings, ” he said. “The ability to adapt and leverage technology was incredible, and both sides embraced using a virtual platform.”

The result, in July 2020, was one of the year’s biggest technology IPOs: Dun & Bradstreet raised $1.7 billion, 31% more than anticipated.

“We knew we had a core, mission-critical asset with a great brand and history,” Hipsher said. “It was a great experience for me, as the CFO, to help drive the outcome of the success of the business.”

The CFO as a driving force is equally as important for technology innovation as it is for shepherding the company through an IPO process, Hipsher said. It’s critical for the CFO to serve as a strategic partner within the organization, rather than as someone “who simply stands up and reads off results in an earnings call.”

That became crystal clear in 2020, when Hipsher realized that Dun & Bradstreet needed to transition from its “ancient” enterprise-resource-planning system to a modern software-as-a-service cloud platform.

“An IPO wasn’t enough for us last year,” Hipsher said. “So we spent nine months going through this fundamental technology transformation – soup to nuts.”

While the transformation was a heavy lift for multiple teams, Hipsher considered it essential to bring foundational ERP and billing systems up to date to optimize the company’s efforts.

“If you can measure it, you can improve it, so we needed the ability to shine a light on the organization’s performance through measuring financial outcomes,” he said. “I can’t ask my team to be a modern finance organization without modern tools.”

Fostering a collaborative dynamic with technology partners

Hipsher had experienced a similar technology implementation during his previous role as the senior vice president of finance at fintech Black Knight.

“That helped me understand how to work with my team to make them understand the benefits of a new ERP,” he said. “That is, how much more efficient it would be, with less time spent on rote manual processes and more focus on higher-end tasks.”

As the CFO, having a base understanding of technology infrastructure and development is essential to operate in a modern environment. “Just like finance is ubiquitous across all organizations, so is technology and so is data and analytics,” Hipsher said. “You need to have a disciplined project plan, the right cadence, and testing.”

Hipsher was able to work closely with Dun & Bradstreet’s systems and technology teams, keenly aware that he was ultimately accountable for the outcome of the new cloud ERP implementation, which included less customization than the old systems and more out-of-the-box features and functionality.

“If the technology side fails, I can’t say it’s the CTO’s fault,” he said. “So you have to have that working relationship with your technology partners to make sure you’re all rowing in the same direction.”

But technology is not a panacea or cure-all for any part of the company, including the finance organization. “We have to have the proper processes and procedures, and use technology to make it repeatable, consistent, and more efficient,” he said. “So we did a lot of work in the first year to revamp, which was a big transition for a tenured team and organization.”

Now that Dun & Bradstreet has been a publicly traded company again for over a year, Hipsher said he is excited that the transition to the new cloud ERP is complete.

“From the CFO perspective, one of the biggest changes since the IPO is the focus on investor interaction and quarterly earnings, so I’m excited to be at the stage of helping accelerate the new assets and data sets we are bringing to market for our clients,” Hipsher said. “That’s what really drives growth in an organization.”

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Lordstown Motors slumps 15% on announcement of CEO and CFO resignation

FILE PHOTO: A view of the entrance to the West Plant at the General Motors Lordstown Complex, assembly plant in Warren, Ohio, U.S., November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed
FILE PHOTO: A view of the entrance to the West Plant of the General Motors Lordstown Complex assembly plant in Warren. Reuters

  • Lordstown Motors shares fell 15% Monday after the company announced the CEO and CFO resigned.
  • The resignations are effective immediately, according to a press release.
  • Shares of the electric-vehicle startup have now lost about half their value this year.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Lordstown Motors slumped 15% early Monday after two top executives announced their immediate resignation just days after the company said it may run out of cash.

Chief Executive Officer Steve Burns resigned from his position as CEO and board member, and Chief Financial Officer Julio Rodriguez resigned from his post, according to a company press release. Both are effective immediately.

The company appointed Lead Independent Director Angela Strand as the executive chairwoman to oversee the CEO transition until a permanent leader is identified, the company said. Becky Roof will serve as the interim Chief Financial Officer.

“As we transition to the commercial stage of our business – with planned commencement of limited production in late-September – we have to put in place a seasoned management team with deep experience leading and operating publicly-listed OEM companies,” the company said in its release.

Shares of the Lordstown, Ohio-based electric vehicle startup fell below $10 Thursday, meaning the stock has lost about half its value so far this year.

In 2019, the company purchased a former General Motors plant in Ohio to start producing the Endurance electric pickup this fall. But last week, the company told shareholders it might not have enough cash to start commercial production of its pickup this year, and it had “sufficient doubts” as to whether it would be able to meet its financial obligations.

In March, Lordstown was the target of short-seller Hindenburg Research, which accused the company of pumping up preorder numbers to generate investor interest.

Lordstown Motors went public in October via a special purpose acquisition company. It is among a string of electric-vehicle makers that saw their share price peak in February and have since declined.

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The CFO of the world’s largest hedge fund is joining crypto firm NYDIG

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The exchange rates and logos of bitcoin, ether, litecoin, and monero are seen on the display of a cryptocurrency ATM of blockchain payment service provider Bity at the House of Satochi bitcoin and blockchain shop in Zurich, Switzerland, March 4, 2021.

John Dalby, CFO of Bridgewater Associates, is joining NYDIG, according to a statement Friday.

At NYDIG, a provider of investment and technology solutions for bitcoin, Dalby will serve as CFO.

Bridgewater told Bloomberg that Dalby will stay until the second quarter.

Dalby is the latest high-profile executive move in the cryptocurrency space.

Christopher Giancarlo, former chairman of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, also known in the industry as “crypto dad,” joined BlockFi, a cryptocurrency financial services company, in April.

Brian Brooks, a former Coinbase executive who previously was the Acting Comptroller of the Currency under the Trump administration, took the helm as Binance US CEO in May. Brooks was dubbed as the “first fintech Comptroller” and “CryptoComptroller.”

Prior to joining Bridgewater, Dalby was CFO and COO at D.E. Shaw Renewables Investments. Before that, he enjoyed a 20-year career at UBS where he held the role of CFO at UBS Americas.

The appointment of Dalby comes during a period of rapid growth for NYDIG.

“The growth of NYDIG has been incredible,” he said in a statement. “I share NYDIG’s vision for Bitcoin’s ability to propel economic empowerment for all.”

The firm recently raised more than $300 million from a group of strategic partners including Stone Ridge Holdings Group, Morgan Stanley, New York Life, MassMutual, Liberty Mutual, Starr Companies, and FIS.

Earlier in May, NYDIG teamed up with fintech company Fidelity National Information Services to enable banks across the US to offer the cryptocurrency in coming months, CNBC first reported.

Banks are requesting bitcoin because they are seeing customers sending money to cryptocurrency exchanges such as Coinbase, according to Yan Zhao, president of NYDIG.

The rally in cryptocurrencies soared in 2021 – with bitcoin rising 95% year to date, ether up 380%, and dogecoin surging 13,000%.

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A former shoe company CFO admitted to siphoning $30 million to pay for diamonds and flights to tropical vacations

money
  • The former CFO of a Massachusetts shoe company pleaded guilty to a $30 million embezzlement scheme.
  • 64-year-old Richard Hajjar bought private flights to the Caribbean and diamonds with the money.
  • The company, Alden Shoe Co., terminated Hajjar in October 2019.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The former chief financial officer of a Massachusetts shoe company pleaded guilty to embezzling $30 million from the business over the course of several years, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

When 64-year-old Richard Hajjar was the CFO for Alden Shoe Co., he wrote checks to himself from the company and transferred business funds to his personal accounts, the DOJ said.

He used the money to “enrich himself” by buying “gifts and luxury travel for others close to him, including private flights to the Caribbean and diamond jewelry,” the Wednesday statement said.

In a civil lawsuit from Alden, the company said Hajjar spent some of the money on Bianca de la Garza, a Boston-based news anchor whom he’d developed a romantic relationship with at the time.

“They vacationed together often. And Mr. Hajjar purchased gifts for Ms. de la Garza worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” the lawsuit filed in Suffolk County Superior Court read.

In total, Hajjar transferred about half, or $15 million, of the embezzled funds to de la Garza, and at one point purchased her a million-dollar co-op in New York City.

The scheme lasted from about 2011 to October 2019, when the company terminated him. Alden, a 137-year-old family-owned luxury men’s shoe-maker, did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on the story.

Read more: A crypto exec listed Goldman, Lending Club and RBC on his resume. A bankruptcy examiner claims he’s a prison escapee.

Before being terminated, Hajjar was Alden’s vice president and corporate secretary, a member of the board of directors, and the CFO.

According to the civil lawsuit, Hajjar worked at Alden for 30 years and became “a trusted advisor to the Tarlow family and a key employee at Alden.”

His lead attorney, Daniel Conley, of the Boston law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, PC, said Hajjar had more than just an employee-employer relationship with the company.

“He’s remorseful, very remorseful, and has accepted full responsibility for his actions,” Conley said to Insider Friday.

In the criminal case against him, Hajjar pleaded guilty to wire fraud, unlawful monetary transactions, and filing a false tax return, in which he didn’t claim the income from the embezzled funds. The charges come with 20-, 10-, and 3-year prison sentences, respectively, along with fines, according to the Justice Department statement.

The court, however, has conditionally accepted a range of 48 to 72 months in federal prison, which the judge will consider at the sentencing hearing on Sept. 15.

Conley said he’s hopeful that in sentencing the judge “considers the fact that Mr. Hajjar accepted full responsibility, is very sorry for his actions, and has returned millions of dollars,” totaling $4.5 million.

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The Trump Organization’s longtime CFO reportedly said he keeps his distance from the ‘legal side’ of its financial matters

donald ivanka jr trump
Allen Weisselberg stands behind Donald Trump Jr., former President Donald Trump, and Ivanka Trump in 2017.

  • The Trump Organization CFO reportedly distanced himself from “legal” aspects of its money matters.
  • “That’s not my thing,” Allen Weisselberg said in a deposition, the New York Daily News reported.
  • The 2015 deposition hadn’t previously been reported, according to the Daily News.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Allen Weisselberg, former President Donald Trump’s longtime financial guru, said he maintains distance from the “legal side” of the family business’ finances, according to reports.

“That’s not my thing,” Weisselberg said in a 2015 deposition over Trump University, which was unearthed by the New York Daily News for a Sunday cover story.

Weisselberg, CFO of The Trump Organization, has served the Trump family since the 1973. During Trump’s time in office, Weisselberg was the only person outside the family to oversee his trust.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which was scrutinizing the company’s finances, reportedly attempted to “flip” Weisselberg as part of its investigation.

During the 2015 deposition, Weisselberg answered questions about how much he knew about potential wrongdoing the company, the Daily News reported. He was “eavesdropping” on some legal-related conversations but backed away, the report said.

He reportedly said: “Throughout all of our entities, people do know it’s important to involve me when it comes to financial matters because later on if things don’t prove out to be where they should be, they’ll have to deal with me on answering the question as to why.”

Insider has reached out to The Trump Organization for comment.

Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen told the House Intelligence Committee in 2019 that Weisselberg could shed light on the payments made to Stormy Daniels and others.

Weisselberg “knows of every dime that leaves the building,” former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski wrote in a co-authored book, according to Politico.

Weisselberg’s eldest son, Barry Weisselberg, was also associated with the Trump Organization.

Weisselberg’s ex-daughter-in-law, Jennifer Weisselberg, earlier this year was cooperating with the investigation by the Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr.

After her divorce from Barry Weisselberg, Jennifer Weisselberg reportedly gave prosecutors seven boxes of Trump Organization documents.

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GameStop spikes 104% in late-day surge as buying frenzy resumes

gamestop
  • GameStop shares jumped 104% in the final hour of trading on Wednesday.
  • The sudden surge was met with multiple trading halts due to volatility.
  • GameStop was back in focus with news about the chief financial officer’s resignation.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

GameStop’s share price more than doubled in the final 30 minutes of trading on Wednesday as the buying frenzy that sent the stock skyrocketing in late January found renewed life.

The stock closed 104% higher, at $91.71, following a period in which trading was halted multiple times because of volatility.

GameStop was in focus following the news on Tuesday of Jim Bell’s resignation as the chief financial officer. Sources told Insider on Wednesday that Bell was forced to resign by the company’s board as part of a push by the activist investor and new board member Ryan Cohen to reshape the ailing retailer.

Wednesday’s wild final 30 minutes were reminiscent of the Reddit-driven buying spree that engulfed the stock in late January, pushing it to a dizzying all-time high of $483, up 2,464% year-to-date.

The day traders on Reddit had made it their express mission to squeeze short positions on GameStop stock, and their success resulted in massive losses for hedge funds and a congressional hearing.

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GameStop’s CFO Jim Bell due to exit the company with a package worth about $30 million

gamestop store
GameStop is seeking a new chief financial officer.

  • GameStop CFO Jim Bell will reportedly exit with a $30 million package, Bloomberg reported.
  • When he departs in March, his contract entitles him to $2.8 million severance and $13 million in shares. 
  • Bell’s exit package benefited from the Reddit frenzy that drove the stock higher in January. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

GameStop’s CFO, Jim Bell, may take home about $30 million as he leaves the retailer, Bloomberg reported. 

Bell’s contract included severance of $2.8 million, along with a departure award of restricted shares worth about $13 million, according to Bloomberg. Much of the rest of the package would be in equity grants tied to company performance over the next few years, the report said. 

The company on Tuesday announced Bell’s departure, saying in a press release he would resign on March 26. Diana Jajeh, senior vice president and chief accounting officer, will serve as interim chief financial officer while the company searches for a permanent replacement.

The company said it’s seeking a chief financial officer with “the capabilities and qualifications to help accelerate GameStop’s transformation.”

Bell was appointed to the chief financial position at GameStop in July 2019, less than two years ago. He had previously been CFO and interim CEO at Wok Holdings, parent company of P.F. Chang’s, according to his company profile. 

In 2020, activist investor Ryan Cohen bought a stake in GameStop, and took a seat on the company’s board. Cohen, a co-founder of internet retailer Chewy, also installed two of his former Chewy lieutenants on the GameStop board. 

In November 2020, Cohen wrote a letter to the company’s executive team, pushing for the company to become a “technology-driven business.” Cohen wrote: “But this pivot requires the type of strategic vision that has not yet taken hold in the c-suite or boardroom.”

Bell’s equity package has benefited from the recent spikes in GameStop stock, which was pushed higher in an epic struggle between retail investors and short sellers. When Bell joined GameStop, the company’s stock price hovered around $5.30 per share. In January, it spiked briefly to $483 per share, although it settled back into the range of $40 to $50 per share. 

Depending on the company’s future performance, Bell could receive about 300,000 shares in the coming years, depending on how the company does, Bloomberg reported. Those shares were worth about $13.4 million based on Monday’s $44.97 closing price of GameStop shares. 

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