Building a career in Finance isn’t just about numbers.
Sure, as the CFO of Teradata, my primary task is to manage our financial operations. But it’s increasingly important for CFOs to also be strategists and partners who contribute to overall company direction. A big part of this mission is to instill a healthy financial mindset throughout the organization that helps the whole of the business perform better.
Women’s History Month is the perfect time to reflect on hard-won lessons, beliefs, and experiences I’ve accumulated as one of the growing numbers of women CFOs in tech. For one, I’ve always believed in mentorship and the power of role models. Over the past year of my CFO journey, I’ve spoken with (and have been interviewed by) women at all stages of their career, and I’ve freely shared my experiences, advice and lessons learned.
Summarized below are my responses to common questions and themes I’ve encountered over the years. My goal in broadly sharing these now is to celebrate and support women everywhere and (hopefully) help other women embrace today what took me years to understand: a leadership career in finance is entirely possible AND isn’t entirely about numbers.
1. What were the early hurdles in your journey as a woman pursuing a career in finance?
I would say the biggest hurdle was myself. I always underestimated what I was capable of. I couldn’t have imagined being a CFO but for my family, mentors, peers, and managers constantly pushing me to do my best. It took the people around me to give me the strength and courage to really keep moving forward and keep moving upwards. An important lesson I had learned in time is to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth, who have good advice and who will push you to be the best version of yourself. So, surround yourself with these people and take their support, but above all, believe in yourself.
2. Challenges and benefits to being more than just a CFO.
In my current role at Teradata, I oversee not just our Finance operations but am also responsible for our Security and IT functions, as well as procurement and real estate. So, the biggest initial hurdle was getting my subject matter expertise up on IT and Security. Luckily, I have a talented leadership team and so, my challenge was just being ready to learn. Not always being the most knowledgeable person in the room can be a good thing; it humbles you. It makes you realize how little you know about certain topics, but also sharpens your confidence in your team. I think the biggest benefit of having end-to-end responsibility in a big organization that contains multiple functions is that it's much easier to operate because you have less people to influence, less people to involve in the decision-making process as it's all within one team. And, with time and hard work, you can add enormous value as the overall decision maker.
3. How would you describe your leadership style and what helped shape it?
Feedback is what has really shaped my leadership style! I didn’t used to be a good listener. I would just drive forward without really considering other ways to do something. Building diverse teams and becoming more inclusive over the years has shaped my leadership style. I now try to not be the first one talking and that has helped a lot. Now, that hasn’t stopped my drive nor my desire to move forward quickly and efficiently. But I think what’s changed is the quality of the solutions I’m able to find, and of the outcomes and the value that I drive. I’ve come to believe that if leaders can listen to different perspectives, we can often arrive at the best solution for the business.
4. Importance of passion, purpose, and initiative in pursuit of one's goals.
I’m a passionate person with a strong sense of purpose. And this has helped me get through the bad days, weeks and sometimes yes, the bad months. When you have a clear purpose to strive for and clarity of vision for what success looks like, it keeps you going. And it tides you through those bad days and bad meetings when everything seems to be going against the grain. As it reminds you of why you’re doing something and to press through even though change can be very hard.
5. Your superpower is to easily communicate financial information to regular folks in layperson terms. How does this help differentiate you?
I've gleefully noticed since my joining Teradata that folks have often started to use the term “Claire-ification” instead of clarification. It makes me chuckle; it makes me laugh. And honestly, it's quite flattering. I tend to speak simply, boil things down to their essence, primarily because it's how I sort things in my own head; it’s just how my mind works. Early in my career, I learned from a manager that if you can't explain something to somebody, then you don't understand it. So, I always try and put things into my own words. No jargon. Quite often, I do this in meetings to recap what I’ve heard. It’s my way of not only understanding complex situations or models but an act of listening well. As I said before, it's not something I've always been good at. It’s an acquired skill and apparently one that's serving me well—I get to nail that executive summary!
6. The power of networking in pulling up women.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of networking—internally, externally, up and down the management chain. Build relationships with people you can talk openly with that you can trust, who will give you honest but constructive feedback. It's made a huge difference to me, both in personal life and my career. I still go back to old mentors and say what do you think about this? What would you do in this situation? It doesn't mean you must take the advice. But you've gained a different perspective. And it’s so important to have a network that is diverse. We tend to naturally gravitate to people who are like us. So, actively choose a network that is diverse. It will ensure multiplicity of feedback, variety of input; it will make you a better individual, a better leader. And, ultimately, drive better outcomes and decisions.