Working with entrepreneurs and being at the heart of company action is a description that highlights the professional track of New Jersey chapter member Dianne Aronica. Currently serving as CFO for Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods, Inc. she has been involved in many crucial aspects of the business, from financial and legal matters to information technology and human resources. Here are 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.
The direction of my career started while I was working for an accountant when I was in college. During this time I developed an interest in entrepreneurial business operations and, then, following graduation, I obtained a position at KPMG in the Middle Market Practice. From there, I decided to accompany a partner to a $100 million apparel company, where I served as Controller. As my career progressed and I gained experience with other growing organizations, I had the opportunity to finally become a CFO. During this period I worked with a variety of businesses. In fact, at most of these companies, I was not only the first official CFO, but also the person designated to hire a new team. And, while I watched some companies thrive and others fail, I eventually gained great insight into why certain entrepreneurs were more successful than others. Of course, working in an entrepreneurial business has its challenges, but it also has many rewards, including the chance to meet and work closely with the owners and founders who are very passionate about their products.
As for my advice, I think that, first, it is important to work in public accounting and stay there long enough to really see the business from all levels. Second, don’t be afraid to replace staff that are not up to the job or are not willing to be coached or trained. Third, understand who you work for and what will help you to succeed. And, last but not least, never be afraid to share your thoughts, even if they may be unpopular.
What’s exciting for you as a CFO? What do you enjoy the most about your profession?
What’s most exciting for me is being a part of many key business decisions and having the opportunity to provide financial information and analysis for all of them. As a CFO, I have been involved in many critical decisions, from acquisition opportunities, large capital improvements, and important vendor relationships to negotiations, reorganizations, customer presentations, litigation, and new business opportunities. As for what I enjoy most – being in the action, at the heart of company information while supporting all team players: those who sell, those who produce, and those who create new innovation.
What’s the one thing that you could do without as a CFO?
Although employee talent is crucial to the success of any business, it is the HR related problems, conflicts, and terminations that I would prefer to do without.
The CFO/Board landscape changes all the time. How do you keep yourself educated on the latest developments that affect your profession?
In general, I keep up with new regulations and developments by attending relevant CPE classes, being a part of networking groups, and staying updated on CPA related newsletters and educational opportunities.
As you work in multiple capacities in your company, how do you stay on top of everything?
The only way to stay on top of things is to make good lists. My advice: always know what you are working on and what your staff is working on. Unless an employee is struggling, I do not believe in micromanaging, as that takes too much time away from getting my job done. As far as my team involvement, I set deadlines, follow up, and have quick update meetings. Beyond that, if micromanaging is needed, then I do not have the right staff. I believe in surrounding myself with good people – those who have the same goals, those who care about doing a great job, and those who understand the big picture.
Describe your ‘Aha!’ moment, or a crowning achievement to your career thus far
I am not sure that there has been an “Aha” moment for me. However, in one particular situation, I decided to leave a troubled business instead of continuing to fight internally for what I knew was critical to saving the company. In this situation, my “Aha” moment came when I was subpoenaed years later to provide testimony about the business and what went wrong. At that moment, both the attorneys and I realized the importance of a CFO’s role and the intuition gained by being so close to the business from all sides.
Any final words that you’d like to share with our CFOs?
Make sure that you are always networking and meeting new business associates who you can learn from. Smart people learn from other smart people. Be a connector and be willing to utilize who you know to help other business associates, colleagues, and friends. Surround yourself with good people. Ask for advice when you need it. And, most important, enjoy what you do!