CFO Snapshot: Kelly Services’s Patricia Little

The staffing company finance chief shares advice for aspiring CFOs.
Kate O'SullivanJuly 25, 2012

Name: Patricia Little
Title: CFO
Company: Kelly Services Inc.

When did you know you wanted to be a CFO? When did you start to actively pursue that path?
I started to think about and then pursue the CFO track at the midpoint of my career. I decided to broaden my experience base in order to have all the experience necessary for a CFO position, including business support and analysis, accounting, auditing, treasury, and tax. I also found it very important to get exposure to the board and audit committee.

What was the hardest part about getting the CFO title?
Opportunity and timing are a big part of getting the title and they are hard to control.

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Who or what has been your best source of advice?
My friends at work! I think that the best mentoring is from people who know you and know your situation. I hear a lot about the importance of an extensive network, but I have found it is the dozen people you grow close with over the years who can make a big difference.

Of the many skills you need to be a good CFO, which one do you think is most critical?
To get out of your office. You need to get a grassroots understanding of the business operations and you need to communicate to all levels of the organization, from the board to the field organization.

How do you feel about the pipeline of women who are CFO candidates, both at your company and within your broader network? Do you think it’s harder for women to become CFOs than it is for men?
I think women have more choices than men. That’s a good thing, but it also means that there are fewer of them that push ahead with this career. I think men and women both have times when they are discouraged, but men don’t see a lot of alternatives to sticking it out, while women are more comfortable leaving the workforce or just adjusting their ambition. After a couple of decades of attrition, there are a lot fewer women left.

Your best advice for aspiring CFOs? What should they avoid at all costs?
Enjoy the journey. If you get so focused on following one set path with one set goal, you close out so many opportunities to learn and to have fun. And it’s when you are having fun that you do your best work. I would add: have integrity in everything you do. Integrity means your analyses are fair and thorough, your accounting decisions are unbiased, and you remember that it is the shareholders who own the company, not management.

What is your dream job?
I have a great job. I especially enjoy that I can combine my CFO role with my directorship on the board of McCormick. Both positions reinforce each other and have made a terrific combination.