Controllers Council recently held a panel discussion on How to Chart Your Finance Leadership Career Path, sponsored by BILL.
BILL is a leading financial operations platform for small and midsize businesses (SMBs). As a champion of SMBs, BILL automates the future of finance so businesses can thrive. BILL’s integrated platform helps businesses to be more efficiently, control payables, receivables spend, and expense management.
Our expert panelists were Brenna Albert and Christine Gu. Brenna is global controller of Medline Industries, a Chicago-based healthcare manufacturer and distributor, with more than 14,000 employees in 125 countries. Her prior roles included executive vice presidencies, corporate controllerships, treasury tax, SEC reporting, including such luminary companies as Lexmark, Eastman Chemical, Cushman & Wakefield. Brenna was an accounting instructor and a high school math teacher. She earned an MBA from the University of Chicago, a master’s in accounting from East Tennessee State University, and a BA and BS mathematics from University of Southern California. She is a CPA as well. Brenna was the Controller’s Council 2021 National Controller of the Year.
Christine GU is SVP Finance and Chief Accounting Officer of San Francisco based Clarify Health Solutions. Christine resides in Mountain View, California and is an active CPA with more than 20 years of finance and accounting experience. Her prior roles included VP of finance, chief accounting officer, corporate controller, and a public accounting career at KPMG. Her experience includes both private and public companies, from startups to multi-billion-dollar companies. She now specializes in building and scaling startups to public ready and has managed multiple IPOs and specs. She earned a BA in accounting from San Francisco State University. Christine was our 2022 Controller’s Council National Controller of the year.
Following are key takeaways to this discussion. If you are interested in learning more, view the full webinar archive video here.
What are your roles and responsibilities in your current company?
Christine: I manage all financial activities of the organization and report to the CEO. My areas include financial planning, budgeting, financing, company financing, fundraising, accounting, financial reporting, treasury, equity administration, risk management, internal control, audit, tax, as well as board communication and investor relations.
Brenna: I’m currently a VP global controller at Medline. I report to our chief financial officer. Medline is a multinational private equity owned corporation and the company’s been in business for many decades and has over 21 billion in annual revenue. I oversee all the accounting, financial reporting, BI analytics, for finance and have a global controllership team around the world.
What have been the most significant keys to success?
- Being Focused: It begins with a very clear understanding of your objective. When you have a well-defined goal, you can direct your attention and time or energy towards achieving it. So, clarity of purpose ensures you don’t get lost in distractions or minor tasks.
- Perseverance: Perseverance is the ability to write endure challenges, setbacks, or failure without losing sight of your objective. It’s about bouncing back from disappointments or using them as a learning experience. A lot of times when I look back, some of those downs in my career, I am being able to learn a lot more and start being able to pick up that skill or pick up the knowledge that I learned during that time to be useful for my current role.
- Adaptability: Being able to adjust to changing priorities. Especially high growth companies or companies that are in transition, being able to go in one day and say, “Okay, well this is my to-do list. And then realizing, okay, well that’s actually not my to-do list and these other 10 things are on my to-do list.”
- Willing to take risks: Sometimes we may feel that to take on that new role or new challenge, we’ve got to check a certain number of boxes, but reality is you grow the most when you are open to taking on risks or challenges for things that you have never done.
How have mentors or even supervisors helped your career?
Brenna: It’s an interesting question, especially for me, having started out in a completely different career, where I was primarily serving the role of mentor, mentor, teacher, and then entering a new field in finance at the ground level. And what I would say is, throughout my career, I haven’t had any structured mentorship. I’m fortunate enough now to participate as a mentor and for example in Medline’s employee resource group mentoring programs, and certainly informally many times.
Christine: I have many mentors and supervisors, where I have learned different things from each. The mentor role is very important in helping advance my career by offering guidance and support and opportunities for growth and development. From a mentor standpoint, I felt that I gained more from a knowledge and experience sharing perspective. I often find they have more experience in the field and industry who can really share their knowledge and insight and lessons learned and help me to avoid common pitfalls or making informed decisions. And then networking is another area where my mentor can really introduce me to their professional networks and opening doors to opportunities and connections, or potentially job openings, things like that.
How do you guide or mentor staff, and support retention and career growth?
Christine: Maintaining a very open and ongoing communication and dialogue is important. Communication is always a two-way street, and I try to foster a culture of open communication where employee feels comfortable discussing their career goals, their concerns, or aspirations. I schedule regular one-on-one meetings with my direct reports and try to understand the project status and their needs and provide guidance.
I provide constructive feedback when I see things that can be continue approved and encourage a growth mindset, basically everybody has room for improvement. Recognitions and rewards are another key element to extend the staff and keep the motivation and morale high.
Brenna: I think one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was make expectations clear. And that’s not just with your staff or mentees, that’s in every situation. Make expectations clear. It’s a fundamental part of the process. And then I would add to that, I try not to assume. I try not to assume that I made a point and everyone else understands. I ask questions and make sure people understand and try to make sure everything’s clear. And when working, especially with new folks, like for example, in my current company, I’ve hired essentially built a leadership team here. We had a very small team, and I’m building that up.
What advice would you give others that seek to achieve top positions in corporate accounting and finance?
Christine: Achieving success often comes down to dynamic interplay between the focus, the unwavering focus on your objects and the determination to persist through adversity. By cultivating and nurturing those two qualities, I think that you can greatly enhance your chance to reach your goal, whether it works in your personal life and others as well. So that would be my advice, keep focus and be persistent.
Brenna: I would just say that be open to what opportunities may arise. The opportunities need to be there. I would say it is a mix of a little bit of luck and timing, but a lot of hard work and perseverance and focus. Once those opportunities arise, just being prepared and really remaining focused and persistent and pursuing those.
To view the complete webcast, download full webinar here.
ABOUT THE SPONSOR:
BILL (NYSE: BILL) is a leading financial operations platform for small and midsize businesses (SMBs). As a champion of SMBs, we are automating the future of finance so businesses can thrive. Our integrated platform helps businesses to more efficiently control payables, receivables and spend and expense management. Hundreds of thousands of businesses rely on BILL’s proprietary member network of millions to pay or get paid faster. Headquartered in San Jose, California, BILL is a trusted partner of leading U.S. financial institutions, accounting firms, and accounting software providers. For more information, visit bill.com.