What to Do on the Way to CFO

Taking on new challenges keeps the job fresh for female controllers, treasurers, and vice presidents of finance.

There seems to be little room at the top of finance for women these days. According to CFO magazine’s recent count, only 9% of the Fortune 500 have female finance chiefs. But if female controllers, treasurers, and vice presidents of finance face a long wait to become CFO, that doesn’t mean their careers have to stagnate. Several female senior finance executives say that taking on increased responsibilities has kept their current roles fresh and dynamic, helping them build essential skills for the top job.

“Our vice chairman and CFO [John Mahoney] is extremely supportive of giving me new challenges,” says Christine Komola, senior vice president, controller at Staples Inc. since 2004. Last year, when the company acquired Corporate Express, Komola “did a lot of the predeal modeling and synergy work — how do you go about integrating these businesses, and how do we make sure we have the right capital structure when the capital markets are falling apart?” Managing in that environment, she adds, “has been a big learning experience.”

When Lisa Papageorge joined Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages in February 2008 as an assistant treasurer, she took on a new task for her: going public. “We were essentially given a blank sheet of paper and told to figure out how to do it,” Papageorge says of the May 2008 IPO that spun off the business as Dr Pepper Snapple Group, where she became vice president and treasurer in February 2009. “I came in to execute the back end of the financing in a very volatile market, and I would say that it was one of the most challenging things I’ve experienced in my career.” Papageorge’s boss, senior vice president of finance Aly Noormohamed, has been “very supportive” of her efforts, she adds.

Likewise, Linda Harty, executive vice president and treasurer of Cardinal Health, says CFO Jeff Henderson has backed her goal to become a finance chief, giving her new roles to tackle. Recognizing her treasury experience, Henderson gave Harty “the opportunity from January 2007 to May 2008 to be a divisional CFO of Cardinal Health’s Healthcare Supply Chain Services segment for my own development,” she says. Then, in 2008, when Cardinal Health was preparing to spin off its medical products division, she moved back to treasury to execute that transaction. Harty says her experience in those two recent roles have developed her skills as a business partner and a business leader.

Komola of Staples has developed her leadership skills as well. “I have a great team, and I’ve been able to take on more accountability so they can do more work themselves,” says Komola. “I’ve watched team members grow by getting more responsibility. That has made me more of a leader versus a tactical controller.”

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