“Take a few minutes of quiet time each day and listen to yourself. After all, you are the one with the answers.” These inspiring words are just a small, but very meaningful, piece of advice from Dallas Steering Committee member Carrie May, a seasoned professional with more than 20 years of financial experience in the insurance, nonprofit, construction, real estate development, and technology industries. With plenty of good advice to offer, Carrie enjoys mentoring others and sharing her knowledge and expertise. Her recent article “Program Development: Time to Create Movement in the Industry” was featured in the June, 2016 edition of Insurance Journal. Here are her thoughts on her career:
Describe your career path, including your advice along the way for other CFOs.
I began my career as a staff accountant for a Dallas based cable company, back in the mid 90’s. Little did I know that, six short years later, I would have the opportunity to be the Controller for the Dallas Symphony, a position which gave me a great insight about internal operations and best practices accounting for non-profit organizations. In addition, my outsourced controller roles allowed me to gain experience in multiple industries while dealing directly with a variety of CFOs, both internal and fractional. While some of these CFOs were operationally strong, others were more focused on financial reporting. Both skill sets have their advantages, but I think that the best performers have a blended mix of both.
Most recently, I was offered the opportunity to work in a CFO/Director of Operations role and, although I am excited about this career move, the transition from a controller to a CFO can be challenging. Accounting is detail oriented and very tactical, but the responsibilities of running a company are much more extensive. In addition to being a decision-maker, a problem solver, a negotiator, a company cheerleader, and an internal events coordinator, today’s CFO must be involved in human resources, IT, marketing, and have an elevator pitch down pat. Simply put – the role is multi-dimensional, demanding, and exciting, all at the same time.
To be a successful CFO, it is crucial to have a solid base of knowledge in accounting, investing, banking, human resources, and general business operations. Basically, the wider your knowledge, the more solid your foundation will be. Relationships are also a key to success in your career path, as it is important to brand yourself as being a truthful and trustworthy person and align yourself with people who possess similar core values.
What’s exciting for you as a CFO? What do you enjoy the most about your profession?
As a CFO, I have control and access to resources that provide tools and opportunities for employees to achieve success. I participate in every aspect of running the business, working closely with a smart and dynamic executive team and executing a skill-set that I have been developing for many years. In addition, collaborating with our marketing and advertising professionals fulfills my creative side. And, lastly, I enjoy encouraging, teaching, and mentoring others.
What’s the one thing that you could not do without as a CFO?
The ability to problem solve is the main thing. To actively participate in running a business you need to be engaged in operations, sales, and financial reporting. You must figure out best practices and methods at every level of the organization.
The CFO/Board landscape changes all the time. How do you keep yourself educated on the latest developments that affect your profession?
I am constantly reading books, magazines, and newspaper articles, ranging from corporate strategy, financing, entrepreneurship, financial modeling, cash flow strategies, and capital management. There is always a new thought or philosophy on which I can educate myself.
As you work in multiple capacities in your company, how do you stay on top of everything?
I am extremely organized, with strong management support and the ability to prioritize. Keeping in touch daily with my team is highly important to me. I always take the time to check in with everyone personally, assisting with tasks and providing a platform for questions.
Describe your ‘Aha!’ moment, or a crowning achievement to your career at this point.
That moment was when I was offered the opportunity to move into a C-level executive position. Two decades of learning, observing, and working long hours all led me to this crowning achievement and I was extremely fortunate to be offered the chance to change the direction of my career. In fact, not a day goes by that I don’t raise my head, look at the sky, and say “thank you”.
Any final words that you’d like to share?
First, don’t be limited by the box in which others place you. Second, understand the value of every business relationship that you have, as one of them may someday offer you the opportunity of a lifetime. Third, read and educate yourself as much as you can. If you are not the smartest one in the room, either hire or become friends with the person who is. Fourth, brand yourself as a trusted and trustworthy individual. And, last but not least, align yourself with employers, co-workers, and personal friends who are smart, supportive, visionary, and in alignment with your core belief system.