LDC: What/who encouraged you to focus on your acumen in accounting/finance?
MC: I started out as a mathematics and computer science major. I discovered early on that I had a passion for math and enjoyed advancing my knowledge in this area. However, I quickly realized that computer science wasn’t for me due to the lengthy computer labs filled with cumbersome coding exercises. After this discovery, my counselor at the time encouraged me to consider accounting. Later that year, recruits from the “Big Eight” accounting firms (the largest accounting and professional services firms) visited the campus and I decided to change my major and focus on accounting in order to gain a solid background for my aspiration to work in corporate America. I graduated with a Bachelors of Professional Accountancy from MSU, which turned out to be an excellent decision. I truly enjoy accounting and finance and I love what I do.
Additionally, my introduction to computer science and technology at the university level imparted an appreciation for information technology (IT) that has lasted my entire career. IT is the backbone of most businesses; it crosses all industries, is constantly emerging and provides innovative solutions for clients. Therefore, it really was a natural fit to advance my career as an accountant in the IT services arena.
LDC: Fantastic. So could you provide us with a brief description of the path to your current position. I think it’s important for women to hear the paths of their peers.
MC: Throughout my career I have worked my way up the corporate ladder. I started at Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in corporate shared financial services as the finance liaison for the company’s Accounts Payable System integration. I then moved into Corporate Financial Planning & Analysis followed by a move to the Communications Industry Group providing finance business support and interfacing with internal and external auditors for large programs. My next position took me into the Healthcare Industry Group where I provided business performance analysis. The next career move included a transfer to the Washington, D.C. area to support the company’s Government Industry Group. I became the CFO of the U.S. Public Sector business and have remained in this position through the acquisition of EDS by HP. As the CFO of the government business for HP Enterprise Services, I help execute our long-term growth strategy.
LDC: What is a typical day like for you at HP?
MC: Like most CFOs, a typical day for me includes multiple competing priorities, and a double or tripledbooked calendar with daily deadlines to meet. I am constantly reprioritizing the action items for the day and/or week to help manage my workload. I keep a list of the top three items to accomplish. In my business there is truly never a dull moment. I play an integral role in the operations of the business so each day is a new day; I love it. My role enables me to help shape new business, grow the existing client base, interact with senior leadership, improve processes and experience personal and professional growth and development on an ongoing basis. As a function of my work ethic, I try to be very focused and deliberate in my actions. You usually don’t get a second chance to do things right so I try to give it my best shot the first go around.
LDC: What is the most daunting part of your position?
MC: The most daunting part of my position is the need to responsibly and strategically juggle internal and external demands. First and foremost, I focus on helping to develop & deliver quality service to our clients. I also take on the task of ensuring a win/win solution for HP and our clients by balancing expectations and providing the most cost effective solutions to our clients while delivering the best value for HP shareholders.
LDC: You are a rarity in your position (given your gender, race), might you have any thoughts as to why there are so few of us in such positions and how that could change?
MC: I believe corporations must actively focus on recruiting executive talent and key personnel of diverse backgrounds. Equal Opportunity Employers should serve as advocates for diversity, helping drive change wherever possible and questioning the status quo. As a leader and as a minority, I know it is important to encourage others to dream bigger and bolder. Professionals at any level can help bring about change by mentoring and coaching others. As an executive sponsor and active supporter of mentorship programs throughout my career, I have witnessed mentor relationships increase professional development and promotional opportunities, enable key assignments and provide exposure to senior leadership. I am proud to work for HP, a company committed to the development of our employees and sees diversity as a key driver for business success. HP actively recruits and employs a diverse range of professionals while providing tools, resources and a supportive environment for all employees.
LDC: What is your advice to women interested in careers at technology companies, but not in engineering per se, such as yourself?
MC: My advice would be to learn and support the business, sharpen your skills, value professional relationships, and ultimately earn a seat at the table. However, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and help do the heavy lifting. Be bold in the pursuit of your career growth and development. Be a results-driven professional and build a track record based on achievements. During your career you should also be mindful to take on diverse experiences to gain a broad base of knowledge and expertise. Lastly, strengthen and showcase your ability to serve as an effective leader and as a member of a goal oriented team.
LDC: Why do you think the industry is always surprised when it sees stats such as African-Americans out-index on Twitter and mobile phone technology; and how can we begin to change this image in America?
MC: In 2011, it should no longer be a surprise that African Americans are at the heart of some of America’s greatest inventions. We are a connected group of people that are proactive in closing the digital divide. African Americans, like other minority groups, are progressive in our acquisition and mastery of technology to support our professional, social and personal needs. I see African Americans on the cutting edge of new technological discovery and brave early adopters of new technology. That said, I think Twitter, Facebook and other social media as well as smart phones and mobile devices should be seen as mere stepping stones in our progress.
Many thanks to Marilyn for taking time out of her busy schedule to share. Be sure to check next week for another hot profile. You can also learn more about me and the digital space at http://www.ldcoleman.com