A Mentor Makes a Career

A young accounting manager who didn't see herself as CFO material trusted the judgment of her employer's famous audit committee chairman, and wrote a success story.

How do you become the CFO of a public company at age 35, despite never having imagined it, let alone actively pursued it? One way is by having a champion who believes in you even more than you believe in yourself. And it doesn’t hurt, by the way, if that champion is one of the business world’s most well-known, well-regarded executives.

Now 40, Katy Murray is in her third CFO seat, at Taleo Corp., a $180 million provider of talent-management software used by human resources organizations. But in January 2004, when she got the first one, she had been principal accounting officer at i2 Technologies, a Dallas-based maker of supply-chain-management software where she had worked since 1998, for less than a year.

After i2′s previous CFO had made known his intentions to leave, the company began seeking external candidates for the job. Murray says she did not feel angry, slighted, or even surprised; she figured it was the obvious and right thing for the company to do, since she doubted whether her experience was adequate for the task.

It took someone with unique vision to see a CFO where no one else did. That person was the chairman of i2′s audit committee, former American Airlines boss Robert Crandall. Why, he asked company management, are you opening this up, when you’ve got someone you can promote from within?

Crandall, says Murray, trusted her accounting, her knowledge of internal controls, and her credibility with auditors and the audit committee. “I think to some degree, because he had gone through his own challenges, with re-audits and restatements, he believed that I was above board in that everything had to be done a certain way,” she recalls.

Katy150When Taleo Corp. finance chief Katy Murray was offered her first CFO job, her reaction was, “Are you sure?” A lot has changed in the five years since that time.

The board, the audit committee, the CEO, and the outgoing CFO all agreed to trust Crandall’s instincts, and Murray was offered the job. “I was like, are you sure?” she says. “I questioned myself, wondered if I was the person who could do this.” But her famous mentor’s advocacy, she says, was “overwhelming.”

“He told me, ‘Katy, you can do it. You’re the one. Take the opportunity.’ ” So she did.

If I Can Make It Here…
A measure of Crandall’s wisdom was that within a year and a half, Murray had gained so much confidence in her ability to run a finance organization that she began to itch for the challenge of doing it somewhere else. “When I took the role at i2,” she says, “I already knew the business and the management team. This was about proving to myself that I hadn’t just been handed the job, that I really did have the capabilities.”

She landed at EXL Services, a business process outsourcing company with its corporate base in New York and business headquarters in Delhi, India. She was attracted to the idea of moving to New York, where she had worked for a year earlier in her career and loved, and also to the fact that EXL was gearing up to go public.

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