Focus on doing a few things well. Don’t spread yourself so thin that you can’t go deep in a few key areas. When you try to take on too much, you may wind up accomplishing very little. For example, at this time of the year, I review the goals I set out for the team the year and it was clear that I was overly optimistic. It is important to analyze your team’s current workload before committing to new projects and initiatives. Make sure these initiatives are realistic and align with the company’s growth strategies, However, also realize that priorities change, and you can’t be afraid to adapt as a result.
I had the pleasure to interview Sue Vestri. Sue is the CFO of Greenphire, one of the global leaders in financial software for clinical trials.
Thank you so much for joining us Sue! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I graduated from college, I was managing a restaurant, wondering what in the world I was going to do with a degree in Accounting — It seemed so boring. Within a year of graduating, I moved to California where my sister was going to school. Since I was essentially starting over, I decided give Accounting a try, thinking mostly that it would make my parents proud. I ended up taking the lowest level job with a national real estate company, and my career in accounting had begun.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading within your company?
A major transformation has taken place over the 3 ½ years I have been at Greenphire. We have evolved from an ambitious start-up company to a mature, professional, high-growth organization. The caliber of the leadership team and staff that has developed over the last couple of years, has been amazing to watch and be a part of. There is tremendous collaboration and a willingness from the entire team to work together to solve problems and provide quality products and services to our many clients.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
What comes to mind is underestimating my own abilities. Entering the workforce, I was afraid I had not learned much in college that would apply in a real-world accounting environment. I took an Accounting Assistant I job where I was doing tedious things like filing reports and delivering on administrative tasks. It took me about 37 seconds to realize I was capable of so much more. Thankfully, I was promoted very quickly and continued to thrive. In hindsight, there is a lot of benefit to working from the bottom up and learning from your experience. Also, everyone entering the workforce is in the same position, so it is okay to have confidence in your college education!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Greenphire is extremely passionate about the industry we serve, providing our clients with solutions that make a difference, improving the clinical trial experience for all stakeholders from Sponsors to sites and participants. We truly believe in our purpose and are dedicated to doing our small part to help speed the pace in which clinical trials are conducted, and lifesaving treatments are brought to market.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Greenphire is always innovating and collaborating with our clients to ensure we are aligned on ever changing market needs. As such, our business has expanded from participant payment workflow automation to a platform which includes global travel services, investigator payment workflow automation, comprehensive financial analytics, contract execution and budget negotiation services. We have established ourselves as the market leader, delivering technology enabled solutions and services that enhance all clinical payment processes and our focus continues to be on solving business problems in clinical trials, removing the financial pain from patients and sites.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
First and foremost, as a leader, you have to demonstrate to your team that you are willing to “walk in their shoes”. By that I mean, not doing their jobs, but being there to jump in, help prioritize, and guide them. I like to lead people to the solution, rather than simply giving them the answer. I want people to be not only vested in the company, but also in their role. As such, I try to empower and encourage people, enabling them to bring not just issues to the table, but new ideas of how issues can be solved — take ownership and move the ball forward. Your team may not always get it right, but each time, they will get better at it. By enabling your team to be self-thinkers, you can maintain focus on the strategic initiatives without being drawn into every detail. Instilling trust in your staff will enable them to learn, grow and thrive, becoming an important part of your team and the organization.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Whether male or female, I firmly believe that you need to surround yourself with people who can help you achieve your goals. While you do not have to be good at everything, you should be able to assess your strengths and weaknesses and therefore, hire people who can fill in the gaps to complement your skill set. It is important to be able to delegate and have your staff take the lead in certain areas with clear definition of roles and responsibilities. If you do not feel like you can empower your staff, you have probably hired the wrong people. Everyone on your team should feel like they have a voice and that their ideas and opinions matter. Establishing a clear feedback mechanism can reduce the need for micromanaging. I feel that an open-door policy with your team, and even with those who are not your direct reports is crucial to ensure constant communication.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am very fortunate to have had several mentors along my journey; the first being my boss at my first Accounting job in California. I had progressed as far as I could within the company and it appeared there would be no available leadership positions for some time. An opportunity came across my path for an Accounting Manager role with a new company. When I brought this to my boss’s attention, he said, “you have to go”. I was a little taken back. I loved working with him, and he clearly appreciated me. He gave me tremendous opportunities to grow and had complete trust in me. How could he want me to go? He explained that if I stayed, I would never let go of being an individual contributor and I would not continue to grow. So, I took the new role. This role proved to be pivotal for me as it was the foundation for my leadership growth. In this position, I went through my first acquisition, and had the chance to work for the best CFO I could have hoped to learn from. As another key mentor in my career, he remains a friend today and will always be someone I can turn to. When the acquisition transition was over, he helped me land my next role, which propelled my career further, eventually leading me to my current role as CFO of Greenphire.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to give as much time as I can, not only to my team and to the company, but also to the community and my family. I have donated services to various organizations, including a performing arts high school in California. I sit on the steering committee of a local CFO group and along with providing service at my college alma mater, I try to mentor others as much as I am able, including giving time to the Girl Scout organization with my daughter and providing thought leadership when asked. Ultimately, it is a passion of mine to provide guidance and leadership, sharing my experiences to help others grow and become successful.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Work with leadership that is passionate about the company’s purpose. Don’t just take any job. Before accepting any of the positions I have taken, I made sure that I was interested in what the company was doing, and that I believe in the vision of the CEO and Board. In every successful company I have worked for, the senior leadership team has been cohesive and in alignment with the Board. In those that have not been successful, there has been friction and disagreement.
- Create a great culture. It is a very tight labor market for technology companies in our area in which folks are always being presented with new opportunities. You can be a hard-working, dedicated, fast-paced company, and still create an environment where people like coming to work. Appreciate your employees; not only is it incredibly expensive to replace them, but so much of the company’s success relies on the team. You can have the best product in the world, but if nobody can sell it, deliver it, and support it, you will end up with nothing. Treat all employees with respect and foster an environment that enables them to thrive.
- Build an organization that has a high degree of integrity — a company that cares about delivering high quality products and services and demonstrates attention to detail. Be customer service focused. The best sales tool and brand builder is a referral or reference from a happy client. We have been told that we are one of the most collaborative partners our clients have ever worked with and this resonates both within the company and throughout the industry.
- Focus on doing a few things well. Don’t spread yourself so thin that you can’t go deep in a few key areas. When you try to take on too much, you may wind up accomplishing very little. For example, at this time of the year, I review the goals I set out for the team the year and it was clear that I was overly optimistic. It is important to analyze your team’s current workload before committing to new projects and initiatives. Make sure these initiatives are realistic and align with the company’s growth strategies, However, also realize that priorities change, and you can’t be afraid to adapt as a result.
- Ensure you are engaged with the company. No department should sit in a silo as we all depend on one another in some way. During new hire orientations, I stress how every person has an impact on revenue, expense, and the overall success of the company. I often use the analogy of climbing Mount Everest. You should have a guide, but also, everyone needs to work together in order to get to the top and achieve success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I truly believe that hard work drives results. I think we need to lead by example and teach when the opportunity presents itself. This can be in the form of teaching our kids, mentoring others, helping employees grow and sharing stories of hard work and successes. It makes me extremely happy to see people get promoted, and even take chances by pursuing new opportunities. One day, I would like to go back and teach a college class to aspiring Finance and Accounting folks. It would be great to share real-world stories and experiences. I think only a few lucky people have success thrown upon them, the rest of us have to make our mark by hard work and determination.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I really love the quote,” If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” I think you need to be a catalyst to make things happen. You can’t sit around and wait for opportunities to fall into your lap or for someone else to solve the problem. Take the initiative and be a leader. Have confidence in yourself, and don’t be afraid to fail. Some of the best lessons I have learned have been through failures and I live by this in both my personal and professional life.
How can our readers follow you on social media? https://www.linkedin.com/in/suevestri/