…Talk about credit cards; Explain how borrowing at high interest rates can quickly be crippling.
…Manage cash flow; The surprising revelation about individuals filing for bankruptcy is that many are people with high incomes; they just happen to have even higher spending. When my daughter wanted to rent her first apartment at college, she delighted me with a text “what is my budget?”
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suzy Taherian.
Suzy Taherian is Chief Financial Officer at Wrightspeed. She started her career with Exxon, Chevron, and Accenture, and went on to become CFO of eCullet, a national glass manufacturer, which she successfully sold. Taherian delivered strong shareholder returns as CFO of publicly-traded NobleIron, in the forklifts, excavators, and construction equipment sector. She was most recently CFO of Kinetics, a global engineering and construction company, growing it over 100 percent in three years. Taherian currently serves as a board member at NewHold Industrial Corporation (NASDAQ:NHICU), and guided it through an IPO on July 31, 2020. For the last 10 years, she has been an adjunct professor at University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management in International Business and Finance. Taherian is also a frequent contributor to Forbes on topics concerning CEO’s, CFO’s and boards of directors. She holds an MBA from Kellogg School of Management and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from UC Davis.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I had arranged a business meeting by email with a contact in the Vietnamese consulate. I wasn’t familiar with the Vietnamese name so didn’t know if I was meeting a man or woman. I met with a gracious man. The meeting went well. At the end, I admitted to him that I hadn’t known his gender by his name. He smiled in embarrassment and sheepishly brought out the gift of a lovely silk tie that he had bought for Mr Suzy. Cultures and languages can create chasms. Humanity and humor can bridge them
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I recently joined Wrightspeed, an innovative company that is driving the range extended electric powertrain market. As CFO, I will be applying my legacy of experience to the company’s day-to-day financial operations and mapping out its financial future. Being part of a company that is shaping the future of transportation is very exciting.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Commercial vehicles account for 4% of the vehicles on the road but account for 30% of the emissions. Urban transportation vehicles are among the world’s great polluters and need cleaning up if we hope to achieve a more sustainable future. Wrightspeed’s range-extended electric powertrains are setting a new standard in regional transport by reducing greenhouse gasses, meeting regulatory needs and noise ordinances and improving total cost of ownership.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
Some doors were opened by progressive “white boys”. Some doors were pushed open by women and outsiders who delivered impressive results and earned respect and attention. We have the opportunity to open more doors.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
A) Individuals: Ask for opportunities. Research shows that women (and also minorities and introverts) are often reluctant to ask for promotions. People who are not heard, can be overlooked.
B) Companies: Have the right filters when searching for talent. Often companies will nominate new candidates from the network of existing employees, unconsciously putting a narrow filter on the search, and duplicating the same employee profile.
C) Society: Evolve our stereotypes. I was born outside of the US. It wasn’t until I was in college in US studying engineering, that my classmates explained that “girls are either pretty or smart”. I was amused that given those two limited choices, they had decided that I must be smart.
Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
The causes are probably low math aptitude, cultural reticence to discuss money, and lack of financial courses. Athenian, a local high school, had some popular financial games that were effective learning tools: insurance roleplay (assigning risk and charging premiums), a stock market investment competition (diversification and return on investment) and a grocery shopping challenge (value/quality tradeoff and price comparison)
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
- Learn about saving; my local credit union offers a savings account of up to 1,000 dollars for kids (under 18 years old) with 7% interest. When my kids turned 7, I opened an account for them and explained to them that if they deposited their birthday gift of 100 dollars now, at the end of the year, they’d have 107 dollars.
- Learn about investments; we bought our kids about 200 dollars of stock from Disney and Chevron. Then we would check back on our stock from time to time and talk about what drove the stock price. I just wish we had bought Apple and Netflix.
- Talk about credit cards; Explain how borrowing at high interest rates can quickly be crippling.
- Appreciate the value of each purchase: Our kids could earn money in different ways (dog sitting for a neighbor.) It was amazing to watch how carefully they spent the money they earned.
- Manage cash flow; The surprising revelation about individuals filing for bankruptcy is that many are people with high incomes; they just happen to have even higher spending. When my daughter wanted to rent her first apartment at college, she delighted me with a text “what is my budget?”
None of us are able to 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’m incredibly grateful to my husband. He’s an attorney and we balance both our careers while raising 2 intelligent kids. We’ve moved many times for my career, living in different states and countries. Every time we moved, he would have to take another Bar exam. He has now passed the Bar in four states.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?:
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill. I’ve always been an optimist.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There’s a great quote from Trevor Noah, the South African commentator, that “if you want a man to eat every day, it’s not enough to teach him how to fish; you must also give him a fishing pole.” Whether trying to start a successful business venture or create a societal change, it’s not enough to have a great vision and entrepreneurial spirit. There also has to be access to resources and capital. As investors, board members, financial managers, thought leaders, public representatives, government officials, we can make better decisions on access and allocation of capital. One way to do that, is to incorporate ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) metrics into capital investment decisions and improve the measurement of capital efficiency.