CFOs, of course, would still rather avoid that kind of drama, even with the most understanding investors onside. As for McSweeney, it’s a challenge he’s taken in his stride. And there are more challenges around the corner. “To sustain your enthusiasm and motivation in any walk of business life, you need new challenges to keep you fresh and stimulated,” he says of his decision to quit the Irish bank. “Before I finally hang up my boots, I think it’s good to work with different companies — and I’m enjoying it.”
H Glen Walker
1998: CFO, Whirlpool Europe
2008: CFO, US Postal Service
Not many CFOs relish the tough slog required to make their companies Sarbanes-Oxley compliant. H Glen Walker is one of the exceptions. While in the running to become CFO of the US’s Postal Service (USPS) two years ago, he actually included Sarbox on a list he drew up of the reasons he wanted the job. Now based in Washington, DC with the postal service, he reckons introducing the organisation to Sarbox’s Section 404 by 2010 — the deadline given to government organisations — “is one of the big opportunities for me as a finance professional.”
Not that there’s been a shortage of other big opportunities during Walker’s career. When CFO Europe first caught up with the American in 1998, he was already well known in finance circles for his pioneering work in setting up a shared service centre (SSC) while CFO of Whirlpool in Italy. By centralising all the basic transaction processing for 14 of the white-goods manufacturer’s units into a single facility based in Dublin, Walker helped put Whirlpool at the vanguard of finance best practice. Though SSCs were increasingly common in the US in the 1990s, only a handful of firms on this side of the Atlantic — including Whirlpool as well as Intel, Kellogg’s and HP — were brave enough to tackle all the cultural and linguistic issues that setting up SSCs in Europe entailed. When Walker spoke with CFO Europe ten years ago, Whirlpool’s SSC was going even further ahead, embarking on a second wave of centralisation to handle more strategic, customer-facing processes.
But a decision in 2000 to move back to the US after 23 years of working in Europe opened more opportunities. Walker’s first step after Whirlpool was to become CFO of the $3.5 billion US controls division for UK-based Invensys — a larger and more global role than what he had in Italy, which was “heavily involved in the whole strategic architecture.” After a strategy overhaul led to that division being broken up, Walker put his name forward for the USPS job, a big risk given that he had never worked for a public-sector organisation before.
But Walker’s heaps of private-sector experience was exactly what the USPS wanted. A law passed in 2006, the year he joined the postal service, was about to change radically how the postal service was run, allowing it for the first time in history to make a profit and invest earnings back into the business as a private-sector company would. Any concerns about whether he could make the transition to the public sector soon faded. “What I found [at the USPS] was that there is a lot more that’s the same than there is different,” he says.