Bob Whiteman, Chief Financial Officer for POET Ethanol Products, has a big-picture view that starts at home and expands to mission work throughout the world.
With a lifelong love of math and a major in accounting and a minor in finance, Bob Whiteman knows numbers.
In 2000, when Bob Casper targeted Whiteman to join his original team at what was then the start of POET Ethanol Products in Wichita, he saw someone who could transform that accounting expertise into real-world applications.
“Bob is one of those rare creative accountants who can bridge the accounting realm to the risk realm to the commercial realm,” says Casper. “Accounting is a disciplined balance with structured thinkers. Bob brings that structure and can apply it to abstract concepts. Bob’s got that big picture view.”
For Whiteman, that big-picture view starts at home, with a family that includes four daughters. And it carries over to work in places like Haiti, where Whiteman and his family have made multiple mission trips and helped build an orphanage.
“We have always believed that helping others not only makes the world stronger, but also makes us stronger as a family,” says Whiteman.
Today, Whiteman relies on those cornerstones of family and faith in his role as Chief Financial Officer for POET Ethanol Products, where he continues to not only know the numbers, but also to turn that data into real-world results for a company and an industry that he knows can help change the world.
At what age does one determine one wants to be an accountant?
BOB: At the age one figures out one can’t be a fireman or an astronaut. I grew up in Oklahoma watching my dad work in various accounting and financial roles. I always enjoyed math and working with numbers and dollars. In Oklahoma, the energy industry was prominent, so it was a combination of that and seeing what my dad did, those were things that appealed to me.
I know family is very important to you.
BOB: Yes. We have Katia, 24, and Rita, 21. Both were adopted from Russia when they were 12 and 9. Lauren, 14, is our biological daughter, and Noelle, 10, was adopted domestically. Our daughter Clarissa passed away when she was very young.
How did you and your wife Angie meet?
BOB: We met at college, at Friends University in Wichita. We were down to the last few months of school. We were both accounting students, but we had never paid any attention to each other. But that changed, and thankfully so. Today is our 21st anniversary.
Are you doing anything special?
BOB: My wife was diagnosed with leukemia about two years ago and is recovering from a bone marrow transplant earlier this year. We’re looking forward to be able to celebrate all that once she gets her strength back. Now it’s more of a simple anniversary, a simple dinner that we’ll enjoy at home.
I’ve heard she has made some miraculous recoveries along the way.
BOB: She’s not on her ninth life yet, but she’s several into them. After her second round of chemo she ended up with an infection. She went into septic shock right after Thanksgiving of 2012 and was in a medically induced coma for 10 days. The doctors said they had done everything they could. There were several days when it didn’t look like she would pull through. But by the grace of God she did. She’s been amazing.
You once dressed as Jack Sparrow, with a live parrot, for a company Halloween party?
BOB: We really go all out in the office for Halloween. Kids come through the office to trick or treat and we compete for the best costume.
Where did you get a parrot?
BOB: My daughter Lauren has an Eclectus parrot. The parrot doesn’t talk, but it does like to whistle cat calls. As people walked by they’d get a cat call here and there. That was a problem.
Describe your communication style.
BOB: I prefer written. I’m a much better writer than talker. I certainly try to listen to the situation and look for a sense of commonality. I’d probably be more of the compromise sort of guy, to look for something we have shared interest in and build from there.
Tell me about your mission work.
BOB: We got connected with Haiti about five years ago. We went down with friends that had been involved with the mission. There’s a community down there called La Baie des Moustiques. It sounds pretty exotic, until you understand it means “Bay of Mosquitoes.” It’s a typical community on the island with sustenance-based living – people eat what they grow, kill or fish. We fell in love with the community. We felt it was where God was calling us to connect. During the course of it all we helped build an orphanage down there. We have been back four times in the past five years with our kids, Lauren and Noelle in particular.
Give me an experience that summarizes what makes mission work worthwhile?
BOB: During one of the early trips, we ended up sleeping on the roof of the mission campus. There’s no electricity or air conditioning, so you sleep on the roof. I remember being up there and seeing Noelle, who was 6, playing with the local kids. Obviously, she was a bit of a novelty. There aren’t many kids that young on mission trips. And in our world she’s not around a lot of ethnic diversity. She could have cared less that she didn’t look like them or that they were playing with a half-deflated ball, because that’s the best thing they had to play with. If that’s a lesson that our kids can take away, that we’re all here to mutually appreciate one another, it’s been a worthwhile trip.
Has helping others always been near and dear to your heart?
BOB: Yes. Our family’s mission is “To help break the cycle of sin in people’s lives.” I enjoy working with organizations that help facilitate that in the community, organizations that help at-risk youth or young parents.