01 Jul Maria B. CFO Global Customer Operations
What I Do
I report to the CFO of Global Customer Operations. I manage the Strategy and Enterprise Risk & Compliance Solutions. The ER&C group is a new start-up incubator at D&B. Pretty cool stuff and a far cry from what I was hired to do.
What I Enjoy Most
I am a problem solver by nature. I am also fascinated by the underlying influencers that affect shareholder value and a company’s wealth. I enjoy my job because I am able to use my MBA education on a daily basis. Most problems are not unique, though they tend to appear slightly different at each company. Solutions are therefore generally not complicated and can be shared cross-functionally. I like participating in large problem-solving initiatives in which solutions can be shared company-wide.
I also like leading a group and energizing the contingent, in good times and bad.
What I Enjoy Least
It is sometimes hard to muster energy during poor economic times and when your company downsizes, but I also believe that such chaos creates other new opportunities. You really have to buckle down and try not to let such an environment zap the energy and creativity out of you. Become the change agent and the person to help lead the company through the bad times. Jump at new opportunities, so that even in poor economic times and company downsizing, you can learn the skills of change agents.
Why I Chose This Career
This career really chose me 11 years ago. I seem to have a knack for graduating during major recessions (finishing my undergraduate degree in 1999 in New York during a major recession, and finishing the MBA in December of 2001 in Colorado during the next major recession). The positive outcome of this was that I took a chance at a job that I might not have taken [otherwise].
I moved out West days after graduating from SUNY [State University of New York], decided to stay, and started looking for a job. Eventually the job I landed was as the credit and collections clerk for McDATA Corporation. When most graduates would only settle for a position of financial analyst, I was willing to take a job as a clerk to get in the door. Surprisingly, I found the job through the Denver Post (newspaper). This job and the networking and business experience [it provided] played a major role in my career for the next decade.
I do believe that chaos creates opportunity. Taking a job at below market wages that involved collecting money from customers was perhaps the most valuable experience I could’ve had. I approached the job from perhaps a slightly different angle than the typical accountant type. I assumed that if the customer wasn’t paying and we did a proper job up front with assessing the customer’s risk, more than likely, the reason they weren’t paying probably involved our product quality.
This understanding allowed me to expand my role, learn about the company’s business, partner with my internal customers in technical support and engineering, and direct the customer to the right problem solvers. Nine out of 10 times, the customer just needed access to someone within the company to whom they could vent; then they were happy to pay. In the not-very-long run, the accounts receivable assets were paid up. This result got me noticed, and from there I was able to leapfrog into a financial analyst role and grow from there. I stayed with that organization for four years.
Although I went on to do other financial work, I never forgot the lesson of that first job—taking pride in your role with a company, recognizing that your initiative, drive, and desire to enhance the customer’s experience and shareholder value are invaluable and the only ways to grow.
Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career
Finance is a process of discovery. Be a leader and change agent. I think good finance people are truly partners with the groups that they support. It [goes] beyond mastering the analytical skills —remember that anyone can read the numbers. It requires a desire and knowledge to learn the business, understand your business partners’ needs, and how finance fits into the big picture. Volunteer for projects that will expose you to other parts of the business outside of finance. Learn the operations side. Most important: You have to remember to still have fun.
Also recognize that there are endless lessons to be learned and better ways to do things. Take criticisms in stride and be able to give criticism constructively, as well.
If you recognize that your personality doesn’t ask the whys, learn how to develop this trait, perhaps with coaching from associates you respect.
Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path
Examine the culture—interview the company, and remember it’s your future. There must be a match. In my mind, I have to be in an organization that expects people to have positive energy, strong acumen, and a desire to have fun, so that’s the tone I set in interviews, whether I’m being recruited or doing the recruiting. If the people I meet with don’t fit that mold, then the answer is clear. I like to discover that early in the process.
Don’t get discouraged in a down market. If your goal is a career in finance, but the opportunities are limited, look for jobs that can give you the exposure to the other side of the business—for instance, how the company generates revenue or manages cash, or something in the operations side of the house.
Turn your job into an enhanced opportunity—once you recognize that all companies have similar issues and problems, problem-solving becomes easier. Find those opportunities so you make a difference. In my own experience, I’ve tried to keep that in mind, stay focused on finding problems and resolving them, and avoid the unproductive gossip at the water cooler.
Own your career. Recognize what opportunities you need [in order] to learn and grow, but also recognize when it is time to leave.
Don’t equate success with intelligence; even a good system can become better. Look for more efficient ways to improve things and tie financial and operational/technology improvements together.
Seek mentors. Use your intuition to choose them wisely; ethical conduct is paramount.
What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)
After spending my first four years at McDATA Corporation, I briefly worked at Corporate Express. I then worked for Exabyte Corporation for three years in both a division and corporate finance role. All of these companies resided in Colorado. I relocated to Austin, Texas, for two years, [working] for Crossroad Systems first as the manager of financial support and analysis, then as the senior manager, financial planning, and treasury operations. After Crossroads, I consulted as a virtual CFO for a computer telephony company based in Philadelphia, Penn.
I started my MBA in the fall of 2003. It was quite demanding working full-time and going to school. I wouldn’t change a thing. The school workload and corporate demands enriched my experience.
Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)
- MBA, University of Colorado at Boulder, Leeds School of Business, focus in technology and innovation management, part-time program, 2001
- Bachelor of Science, State University of New York—Oneonta; major in business and economics, minor in English, 1997
In MBA Programs, I’d Suggest You Look For…
Classes focused on innovation, technology, and operations. If your school doesn’t have such options, serve as the change agent to get some incorporated into the curriculum or do an independent study with an energetic professor. You might even look at the university’s engineering school for cooperative opportunities to study.
I especially enjoyed earning my MBA while working. I was able to apply what I was learning to my job—one class at a time.