During her senior year as an accounting major at Temple University, Sue Vestri had second thoughts about her career choice. Would she get bored in accounting? No, it turned out. Not only was Vestri good at her first accounting job at a large national real estate company, but she also enjoyed the work.
After moving into more responsible accounting positions there and later at a tech company, Vestri had opportunities to work with senior leadership on projects — including an acquisition — that exposed her to finance beyond accounting. It gave her the confidence to reject a CEO mentor’s advice to follow his career path and pursue a CPA designation and get some experience as an auditor.
When an accounting manager’s position with a high-growth, fast-paced internet company exposed her to areas outside of accounting, Vestri was ready to get – and stay – on a finance-focused track and accept a promotion to vice president of finance. Vestri has since served in three CFO positions, primarily at tech companies. At Greenphire, she oversees the finance operation of a leading provider of clinical trial payment solutions.
- First CFO position: 2008
- Notable previous employers:
- Artisan Mobile
- Dell Technologies
- Orange County High School of the Arts
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
SANDRA BECKWITH: How did your career history help you rise to the chief financial officer position?
Sue Vestri: I’m a firm believer that the finance and accounting organization can’t sit in a silo. At each new position throughout my career, I became increasingly involved in operations, which helped me grow. In most of my CFO positions, my responsibilities included legal, human resources, and office operations, too. At Greenphire, the CEO and I work closely as business partners, talking through situations and bouncing ideas off each other. That’s possible because I bring more than finance experience to the CFO role.
How do your experiences affect how you do the job?
Vestri: All of your past experiences help shape where you are at any given point. I think this is important. During the orientation I host for new employees, we talk about that – how they all bring experiences from someplace else and how those different viewpoints can help us here. I want them to feel connected to our business, too, so we discuss the ownership structure, how we make money, and the company's financial targets.
How do you determine who you hire in finance?
Vestri: I want people who complement me. For example, I looked for a person who loves to do tax work because it is not my favorite thing, nor am I an expert in it. I also look for diversity in skills and personality, and I want people interested in learning because that’s how we grow.
Are there any challenges you're dealing with?
Vestri: Right now, the challenge comes from change. Greenphire was acquired last summer, so I’m spending time learning about and implementing the new owner’s preferences. In addition, new approaches often require new skills, so I’m assessing where my team has skills gaps. The company continues to grow, and that needs focus as well.
While we work through all of this, I also need to be careful to keep my finger on the team’s pulse. I don’t want to lose people because they’re overly stressed. I’m very proud that most of my team has been with me for a long time. I want to keep it that way.
Would you recommend the path you followed to others hoping to become CFOs?
Vestri: Yes. People benefit from working for a large organization because they learn about established processes and controls. When I went to my first startup, I felt like I was losing some stability and job security; but I fell in love with building companies and implementing all the processes and procedures I had learned.
Don’t expect someone to tap you on the shoulder and say, “I think you’d be great for this next job.” You have to be willing to work hard, look for opportunities, and go the extra mile. I’m proof that you don’t have to work for a CPA firm or become an auditor to be a CFO. There are other ways to get there.”