It Started with a Bet: An Interview with ACF Technologies’ CFO

From a law school hopeful to the CFO of a growing tech company, Heather shares some insights on how she ended up where she is.Heather’s career goals faced a different direction in the beginning. She initially wanted to be a lawyer but chose a different, more family-friendly route. She holds an undergraduate degree in Entrepreneurship and a MA in Accounting. Little did she know that the accounting degree would pay off. Heather had a friend that bet her that she couldn’t score higher than her on the GMAT and if she did she had to move on to graduate school. Heather, being a lifelong leader and highly motivated individual did in fact score higher, thus bringing her closer to where she is today.

From women’s issues in the workplace to a general perspective on how to be a successful leader, Heather shares some insights that aim to motivate and support others.

Q & A Time:

  1. Has being a woman in the tech industry inspired or played any role in shaping your success?
    The opportunity presented itself, but it wasn’t my mission. I enjoy technology and shiny things though!
  2. Describe your leadership style and how you “lead” others. Is it different from your male counterparts?
    Jan  (owner) is the risk taker, and I am the grounder. [That is how they balance their partnership. They are also very competitive, which has been a huge driving factor for the company.]
  3. What were your dream goals for your career?
    [She wanted to be an attorney but very much wanted a family, so she put off law school to pursue that path. She is happy that she did. Her next phase in life will be a nursery (plants) or bakery. ]
  4. Who inspired you to be a leader and why?
    I was very fortunate to be surrounded by strong women throughout my life, whether it be family members, teachers, co-workers, or friends. With a strong support system, I felt safe taking risks, therefore allowing me to learn and grow from my mistakes. Not one, but several from teachers to professors to family and an entire network of leaders that have helped me in life.
  5. When you began your career many years ago, did you ever imagine that you would have a leadership role in this profession/organization?
    Early on, my goal was to learn and gain as much knowledge and experience as I possibly could, but it was a goal to be in a position of leadership eventually.
  6. What motivated you to step up and become a leader in the organization?
    I knew I could make a positive contribution. I wanted to be in a position to teach others and motivate them to chase their goals. I feel very passionate that people need to be given an opportunity and to know that someone believes they will succeed. I like to fight really hard to help people to achieve their goals.
  7. What factors impact a woman’s ability to lead others?
    Confidence. You have to believe in your own abilities in order to have influence over others.
  8. What are the benefits of having women in leadership?
    Compassion and attention to detail. I feel that women are more willing to take on messy and complicated situations and work through them with compassion. Women can navigate difficult and tense discussions while being able to remain empathetic and approachable. This often leads to more open conversations, allowing people to feel comfortable sharing their experiences and opinions. [In her experience, not being intimidating as a woman offered the opportunity to make the company more approachable.]
  9. What benefits have you received from your leadership experiences?
    Being able to offer people opportunities to learn and grow. Instilling in them to become a mentor to others. [Building relationships and maintaining relationships. Being open, as a woman, as a person, make it easy for her to understand and listen and nurture.]
  10. What struggles have you had as a woman in this role?
    I was not treated differently but struggle to find a balance between friendships and maintaining professional authority. I found the hardest part of my career was struggling to find the balance or line between nurturing and professionalism. [When she realized she couldn’t be everything for everybody, she had to make that shift to more CFO and less office mom.]
  11. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
    Developing the confidence in yourself to know your value and where you can have the most positive impact. Learning how to be assertive without becoming unapproachable.
  12. Why aren’t there more female leaders?
    I believe the struggle to balance a career and family is a large obstacle. Regardless of drive, without a strong support system surrounding you, a career will take a back seat to family.
  13. What’s the most dangerous behavior/trait that you have seen derail female leaders’ careers?
    Overcompensating for perceived weaknesses. Countless hours, verbose explanations, and struggle to control all of the details and outcomes.
  14. Do you experience resistance when you are leading men?  How do you deal with it?
    While I have experienced this a few times, it isn’t often. But I feel that it is important to not position yourself differently just because you are a woman.
  15. How did you navigate power structures EARLY in your career versus LATER in your career when you had a more formal leadership role?
    I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question. It takes time and most of all, experience. I struggled A LOT in my early years trying to find how and where I fit in. Rather than learning to navigate the power structures, I spent time watching and learning from every interaction.
  16. How do you push for systemic change around ideas that are new or not that popular?
    I think it is critical to give everyone a voice. Reach out for opinions and feedback. Allow employees to talk because oftentimes resistance is born from fear and a lack of communication.
  17. Have you ever been afraid on the job?
    Many times. Never afraid of the challenge, just fear of the unknown.
  18. Have you ever been so discouraged you wanted to quit?
    Many times. Growing organically in a small business is NOT easy. There are so many obstacles that arise and can become overwhelming. Learning to balance your workload and prevent early burnout is imperative.
  19. How do you encourage women to not give up?
    Get a strong support system. Never stop learning and be persistent in reaching YOUR goals. On the really tough days, grab a friend and a glass of wine, tomorrow will be better.
  20. How have you built confidence and/or resiliency over the course of your career?
    Experience is the best way to build confidence. Education, peer mentoring.
  21. How do you balance your career, personal life, and passions? Is there such a thing as balance?
    That’s a heck of a question. I believe it is personal for each individual. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to life balance.
  22. What are the ways you stay grounded and take care of yourself?
    While I understand how critical self-care is, this is not my strong suit. However, in the past few years, I have made this a priority. I use my lunch break to ride my Peloton and take my dog, Zoey for a walk. I also make it a point to take a day off occasionally, even if only to just relax and hang around the house.
  23. How can women develop their leadership skills?
    Join a peer organization.
  24. How important is it to have a mentor to grow as a leader?
    Critical. Everyone needs a sounding board.

We are grateful for Heather’s insights and happy that she opened up and shared some work/life tips and more about herself. At the end of the day, Heather is far from all business. She is an avid traveler and outdoor adventurer, especially when heights are involved. You can find Heather outside of work honing her skills in her newfound loves: carpentry and creating welcoming spaces, with a little exploration into stained glass making.

Leaders like Heather are inspirational in their drive, their support, and their willingness to help others with their goals. Thank you for taking the time to be here reading this.

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