Name: Caroline Dorsa
What path did you take to the CFO seat at PSEG?
I joined Merck in 1987. I was in finance for 18 of the 21 years I was there. I started in finance, stayed 5 years, spent 2 years in marketing finance, then went into the treasurer’s role and stayed in that role for 13 years. I left Merck in 2007 and went to Avaya and to Gilead Sciences, and then I went back to Merck as the VP of strategy in marketing, working for the person who is now chairman of Merck.
I worked for Judy Lewent [longtime Merck CFO] in two capacities: in a financial-planning role and when I was treasurer.
What were the most important career moves you made?
The most important career moves I made were when I stepped out of something comfortable; in my case, going from finance to marketing. In both cases, I’ve come back into finance, and in both cases, I think I came back stronger and able to add more insight than I would have if I had stayed on track. It’s very valuable.
Who were some of your mentors and sources of inspiration?
Number one was my father. He always told me the most important thing to do is something you want to do that the world wants done. My father was an electrical engineer who worked for GE. Number two was Judy Lewent, who always was trying to push us to think in new ways and add value in new ways, which was part of the reason I got to work in marketing. Number three is our current CEO, Ralph Izzo, who is extremely inspirational to this organization in terms of operational excellence and challenging us to look beyond the current day.
Did working for a female CFO make a difference in your career?
Probably, but the majority of executives [at Merck] were men, so it was about who brings the best to the table. Some of the guidance I got from Judy is to know your numbers first. Then you get a seat at the table. Frankly, that’s very gender-neutral advice.
What advice do you have for aspiring CFOs?
Make sure you really love finance. That makes you motivated to go the extra mile. Make sure you know the numbers. Many of us in finance like to sit and think and work out problems, but the senior role is about your ability to make your argument and project your insight. You have to want to present your perspective and engage other people.
What do you think is the most difficult part of being CFO?
The buck stops here. You realize there was always someone else to go to before, but now it all has to land with you.
What’s your dream job?
This job. CFO is the role I always wanted. It’s like peeling an onion — this role is so far from done.