Hitting the books: B.A., UCLA (1980); M.B.A, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (1982)
First job in a suit: Assistant director of admissions at The Wharton School (2 years)
Big break: Landing a job in the planning department at PepsiCo (12 years, 7 jobs, 5 states)
In the CFO office: AlliedSignal (CFO of Avionics division, 2 years), Six Flags (3 years), Heinz (4 years)
Operations experience: COO of two Internet operations that failed. “They were close but no cigar, so when the Internet space started to really die, I decided to jump back into mainstream business.”
Job hopper or lifer? “I like to remain with a company for a long time because I like to be in on building the business. It’s not about the short-term goals. It’s about being able to contribute to a growing, vibrant organization.”
Worst job: Retrieving shopping carts at K-Mart at age 15
What I look for in a job candidate: “Someone who’s intelligent, can effectively drive change, has strong listening skills, and can adapt to new environments.”
If I weren’t a CFO I would be: A CEO. “I’ve always seen myself as a CFO, but I think I’d like to run something in the future.”
Would a modern-day accountant have the right stuff to run a Texas ranch house in 1867? Bill Cooke, former controller at a California hospital, got the chance to find out.
Cooke recently appeared on the PBS reality series “Texas Ranch House,” a show that transplanted everyday people into the actual living and working conditions of a 19th-century cattle ranch. Cooke played the role of ranch owner, with overall responsibility for running the operation.
The job proved more difficult than he’d expected. “Going into this, my goal was to fly under the radar and… [get] the job done,” he told PBS in a postshow interview. “I didn’t have any idea that I would be right smack in the middle of controversy and conflict.” To some viewers, the show only strengthened the stereotype of accountants as analytical problem-solvers with poor people skills. Cooke had a difficult time communicating with the ranch hands, who were constantly on the verge of mutiny, and there were numerous confrontations between Cooke, his family, and the other workers.
He also struggled with maintaining a consistent tone. “Halfway through, I had to change my management style into more of an autocratic-dictator role,” Cooke said. The change didn’t work. After Cooke fired one of the ranch hands, others walked off the ranch in a show of solidarity.
At the end of the last episode, experts deemed that the ranch would have failed if it had really operated in the 1880s. Even worse, they said the former controller’s record-keeping had been lax. — Joseph McCafferty