CFOs reveal key moves that helped propel their careers

CFOs reveal key moves that helped propel their careers

Today is Part 5, and the finale, of our week-long series on what it takes to become a CFO. We shared the skill sets and tech tools that modern CFOs will need, along with a peek into the career journeys of current finance chiefs.

Last week, in CFO Daily, I asked finance chiefs to respond to the questions: What is the most important thing you did before landing your first CFO position? What made you ready to take on the role? And many of you took the time to answer!

CFOs in health and financial services industries

After almost 14 years in investment banking at JP Morgan, and moving from associate to vice president to managing director, I knew that I wanted to do something different. I was also the proud mother of twin 5-year-old boys at the time. I mustered the courage to take a yearlong sabbatical. I really had time to reflect on what I wanted next in my career. At the end of my sabbatical, with a little luck and good connections, I became CFO for JP Morgan’s commercial banking business. Karen Parkhill, EVP and CFO at Medtronic

The key to getting your first CFO job I would say is patience. There are a lot of jobs out there with the CFO title (and lots of headhunters calling about them) but they are not all equal. I found it important to wait for an opportunity that balanced the right industry, position profile that matched with my experiences, size, and ultimately, location. —David Phillipps, EVP and CFO, Equinox

I took my first CFO job after having been a banker. So I learned everything from the ground up. Whether you’re the CFO of a business unit, a region, or a company, you need to make sure your relationship with the CEO is one built on trust, common views, and vision. W. Dave Dowrich, senior executive vice president and CFO at TIAA

I am retired now from over 40 years in medical devices. The important things to me over the years were: understanding the products and the operations side of the business; developing trust at all levels of the organization; really becoming a trusted partner of the CEO; setting a high bar for performance and integrity; and understanding the numbers. —Ron Stevenson, CFO, retired

CFOs in the tech industry

I was very intentional in my career in building a development path to become the CFO of a public or pre-IPO company. I made sure that I gained experience leading corporate FP&A and investor relations. Managing investors and external key stakeholders in all its aspects is also key for a public company CFO. —Tiziana Figliolia, CFO, Hootsuite

One of the most important things I did before becoming the CFO of Workday was a heat experience with my organization’s product and technology team. A heat experience is a high-stakes, high-stress assignment that pushes you outside your comfort zone and demands you grow as a leader. After nearly five years as a leader in corporate finance for Workday, I became the general manager of our financial management applications organization—a 600-member technology organization 10 times the size of my previous finance team. Up until that moment, all my experience was in more traditional corporate finance and FP&A roles, but I leveraged this unique opportunity to gain valuable experience. —Barbara Larson, CFO, Workday

One of the most beneficial pivots I made in my career was stepping out of a core finance role for three and a half years in 2015 to lead the next evolution of IBM as SVP, transformation and operations. I had the opportunity to work on IBM’s transformation—redesigning IBM’s operating model to align with fundamental market shifts and driving new, agile ways of working. But at the core of this role, I learned more about the importance of culture, our people, talent, skills and processes. Tackling the responsibilities of the transformation role and driving value through the organization helped me look at everything with a new perspective, one that has carried through to my current role as CFO. —Jim Kavanaugh, SVP and CFO, IBM

Taking high-risk assignments. At one point in my career, I recall my boss asking me to step out of a role I loved to build a shared services operation. I did not have a strong background in accounting and was not thrilled with the assignment. However, in hindsight, I greatly appreciate that rotation. Prashanth Mahendra-Rajah, EVP of finance and CFO, Analog Devices

There’s a stereotype that finance teams spend all their time in spreadsheets, but building relationships was my most important step in getting to the CFO’s office. —Jennifer Grunebaum, CFO, Devo

If I had to pick one word that was the most important thing I did to prepare me for today, that would be “change.” I actually looked for changes at each step that allowed me to have more influence on the businesses that I was a part of. When the opportunity to join Red Hat as SVP and CFO came up, I was excited because it was a ‘two-for’—a new network to apply my skills and also a different stage company to drive growth and value.Robert Leibrock, CFO, Red Hat 

It is a given that you should have a high degree of business acumen, but the importance of networking, building relationships and working collaboratively with business leaders in your industry cannot be overstated as essential steps towards becoming a successful CFO. Kirsty Godfrey-Billy, CFO, Xero

One of the most significant changes I witnessed over this time is the increasing prominence of data analytics as finance technology has grown in sophistication. Seeing this shift, I prioritized integrating data into my decision-making as my career progressed. Jeremy Klaperman, CFO of Rho

I do think my investment banking role was helpful in learning critical thinking, and having exposure to multiple leadership styles, due diligence processes and industries. Also, having a diverse set of experiences across strategy roles, finance roles and leadership roles. — Katie Rooney, CFO, Alight Solutions

Before landing my first position, I worked in financial planning and analysis, accounting, sales, and investor operations—for both public and private companies, including Google, Apple, Adobe, and Looker. I developed cross-functional business knowledge and valuable leadership skills. Razzak Jallow, CFO, FloQast

Going into investor relations at Microsoft was one of the best career decisions I made prior to stepping into the CFO role elsewhere. It gave me insight into investor expectations and how to better communicate business performance beyond a spreadsheet. —Bill Koefoed, CFO, OneStream Software

I started my career as an auditor at KPMG and worked over 10 years on several large public companies. I was fortunate to jump to VP finance of a publicly-traded radio broadcast company and led over two dozen M&A transactions. This fast-paced environment provided the experience and confidence for me to take the next step as CFO. Omar Choucair, CFO, Trintech

There are three key things that prepared me most to become CFO: developing a deep understanding of how a SaaS business works; developing executive presence; and constructing a financial narrative about the business that we could strive to execute on consistently over time. —Tony Tiscornia, CFO, Coupa Software

Before I became a CFO, I purposefully spent four years of my career outside of finance as the general manager of three different business units for my last company. In that role, I was tasked with managing teams in sales, marketing, and even product and engineering. Investing the time to really understand the functional areas outside of finance was the single most important thing I did before landing my first CFO position.Chirag Shah, CFO, Kong Inc.

Before becoming a CFO, I was fortunate enough to travel around the world with my CRO. This allowed me to understand how sales, product and engineering all came together, and some of the challenges they faced. —Brian Robins, CFO, GitLab 

Developing a strong background in various operations roles is key and ultimately placed me in a position to succeed as a CFO. Chris Jodoin, CFO and COO, EverestLabs

Two things helped me prepare for my role as CFO: mentorship and stepping outside of my comfort zone. Kevin Rubin, CFO, Alteryx

Taking new and challenging roles to diversify my skill set has been instrumental for me throughout my current position as CFO. —Libby Merrill, CFO, ThreatX 

My willingness to speak up and raise my hand for a project or role prepared me to be a CFO, even when I was afraid I didn’t have all the needed experience. Angela Pierce, president, CFO, Anaconda, Inc.

You can view all of this week’s stories here. Want to learn more? Send me a note about what you’d love to read about the path to becoming a CFO.

Have a good weekend. See you on Monday.

Sheryl Estrada
[email protected]

Big deal

There were 53 U.S. corporate bankruptcy filings in January, up from 50 in December, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. The monthly total is the highest since March 2021. This increase comes after a historically slow year in 2022 and ahead of a widely anticipated recession in 2023, according to the report. Sectors like health care are seeing more signs of distress than others, S&P Global Market Intelligence found.

Courtesy of S&P Global Market Intelligence

Going deeper

Here are a few weekend reads:

“Cathie Wood says that robots could outnumber humans as Amazon workers within 7 years” by Prarthana Prakash

“Fintech Moov just raised $45 million in a ‘very difficult’ environment. Here’s how” by Luisa Beltran 

“Why a Stripe down round would be a ‘good lesson’ for startups, according to one VC” by Anne Sraders 

“Waking up at 5 a.m. every day could improve your life—here’s how to make it work for you” by Alexa Mikhail


Here’s a list of some notable moves this week:

Dhivya Suryadevara, CFO at Stripe, a payments company, will step away from her role. “I will be taking some time off to attend to family matters,” Suryadevara wrote in a LinkedIn post. “I joined Stripe two and a half years ago to help the company accelerate its growth trajectory and continue its mission to increase the GDP of the internet. Given everything going on at the company, I’ll be working closely with the team until April to ensure a smooth transition.” In addition to finance, she leads operations, risk, and global partnerships teams. 

Sabra Purtill was named interim CFO at American International Group (NYSE: AIG). Mark Lyons was terminated from his position of AIG’s interim CFO and EVP, global chief actuary, and head of portfolio management after the company became aware that he violated his confidentiality/non-disclosure obligations. Purtill previously served as chief investment officer of Corebridge Financial. Before that, she was AIG’s EVP and chief risk officer, and deputy CFO. 

 John Garratt, president and CFO at Dollar General Corporation (NYSE: DG), announced he is retiring, effective June 2. Taking into account its succession plans, Dollar General will evaluate options for its next CFO and is not currently conducting an external search. Garratt joined Dollar General in 2014 as SVP of finance and strategy and was named EVP and CFO in December 2015.

Cheryl Wynne was named CFO at Bsquare Corporation (Nasdaq: BSQR), an IT solutions provider, effective Feb. 16. Wynne will succeed Chris Wheaton who is stepping down as CFO and COO. Wynne has served as the corporate controller and senior director of finance at Bsquare since joining the company in November 2020. 

Joydeep Goswami was named CFO of Illumina, Inc. (Nasdaq: ILMN), a technology company, effective immediately. Goswami previously served as Illumina’s chief strategy and corporate development officer and interim CFO. Before joining Illumina, he was president of clinical next-generation sequencing and oncology at Thermo Fisher Scientific. 

Justin Goldstein was named SVP and CFO at Brightmark, a global waste solutions company. Goldstein joins Brightmark after an extensive career in sustainable finance at Goldman Sachs, where he recently served as VP of the public sector and infrastructure banking group of its investment banking division. 

Jonathan I. Lieber was named CFO at Rallybio Corporation (Nasdaq: RLYB), a clinical-stage biotechnology company, effective Feb. 1. Lieber succeeds Jeffrey Fryer, Rallybio’s co-founder and CFO. Following a transition period, Fryer will depart the company on Feb. 15. Most recently, Lieber served as the CFO of Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation. 



—Michael Burry, the hedge fund manager best known for predicting and profiting from the collapse of the housing market in 2007 and 2008, wrote in a one-word, since-deleted tweet on Tuesday, Fortune reported. The tweet came just hours ahead of the Federal Reserve’s announcement of its latest interest rate decision. Burry is predicting a dark turn to the stock market’s red-hot start to the year, with the S&P 500 soaring over 6% in January.