Amy Shelly, CFOMeet Amy Shelly, a superstar in both the corporate world and the world of sports. Recently, Amy traveled to Kona, Hawaii to compete in the Ironman World Championship. Geared for top athletes only, this challenging triathlon consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run, all of which must be completed in 17 hours or less. Congratulations to Amy on her hard work, stamina, discipline, and competitive spirit, all which helped her to successfully complete this race.

In addition to being a world class athlete, Amy is an accomplished CFO. Here are some of her thoughts on her career and the industry.

Describe your career path for us, including your advice along the way for other CFOs interested in this progression. 

While taking an audit class in college, I learned very quickly that I was not interested in pursuing a career in public accounting. It wasn’t until I took my first finance course that I decided to target the financial services industry. However, with only one third of accounting majors graduating with jobs at that time, my employment prospects were bleak. Fortunately, shortly after I graduated, I was offered a position as a staff accountant at Mitsui & Company, a Japanese import and export firm. It was here that I learned more about steel, chemicals, and bike parts than I ever thought possible.

After three years at Mitsui & Company, I was recruited for a senior accountant position at Hull Trading.  This role gave me the opportunity to manage the accounting for foreign operations and establish a budgeting process, as well as work on funds and, eventually, the S-4 when the firm decided to go public. 

Next, I moved on to ABN Amro, where, as a member of the financial control team, I had the chance to work closely with finance and operations to ensure that proper reconciliations were in place for each balance sheet account.  As I continued with the company, I then worked in the process and support division, where I oversaw legal entity and management organization structures. At this time IFRS was being rolled out in Europe and my team was tasked with the incredible opportunity of creating a three way reconciliation between US GAAP, Dutch GAAP, and IFRS.

My next career move presented me with the chance to be a controller for a retail broker-dealer of JPMorgan. Here, I supervised a team in two separate locations. But, what made this job most challenging was staying on top of the various new products that were being offered to the customers and observing the commissions process.  However, when my position was relocated from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, I decided not to move and, a short time later, I began working at Optiver, where I was initially hired to oversee the finance and middle office teams. And, because I did not have any full time staff here, I was forced to roll up my sleeves and see what I had inherited from my predecessors. This level of involvement was a great opportunity for me to get a better insight of the type of skills sets that I needed to get the departments up and running.

While at Optiver, I watched the company grow from a mere 35 employees to more than 150 and, as my duties expanded to compliance, legal, and facilities management, I had the chance to get involved in many strategic decisions about various development projects, including building versus buying and staff training.

As I look back on my career, I find a common theme. I always made an effort to establish relationships in different departments. As for advice, building a good rapport with colleagues is essential for gathering information, obtaining help when needed, and in general, getting things done.

What’s exciting for you as a CFO?  What do you enjoy the most about your profession?

Right now what’s most exciting for me is staff development.   I enjoy becoming acquainted with my team, both personally and professionally and being able to understand their aspirations to help them to achieve their goals. The feedback that I continously get from my staff tells me that they appreciate my effort and have a great deal of respect for me. I constantly strive to help them grow within the organization as much as possible.   

What’s the one thing that you could do without as a CFO?

I don’t enjoy being blindsided and my staff understands this. Although they are aware that I will never penalize them for anything unfavorable, they understand that, if they don’t communicate openly with me, I cannot help them to address any areas of concern. The relationships that I have established with my colleagues have given them trust, confidence, and the comfort level to present any problematic issues to the forefront.

The CFO/Board landscape changes all the time. How do you keep yourself educated on the latest developments that affect your profession?

There are so many different resources out there for CFOs to utilize and we could spend all day reading and only get through a fraction of the information. However, not everything can be learned from reports and data and that’s why I try to stay active by participating in conferences and various networking groups. This interaction makes it very easy to reach out, have a conversation, ask a question, and get ideas for improvement.

Describe your ‘Aha!’ moment or a crowning achievement to your career.

My crowning achievement is becoming a CFO at a proprietary trading firm. While the number of women in executive positions is increasing in the field, it is still very small. My hope is that this trend continues to change as there are many competent female controllers aspiring to be great CFOs.