Women In Leadership Series: Tracy Christian, CFO, Great Range Capital

This post is part of a series. To read the introduction, click here.

What has your career path looked like? After graduating college, I worked in public accounting in the Entrepreneurial Services Group on the audit side at Ernst & Young for 7 years. My work at EY and the type of clients I served made it apparent to me that there was a need for financial/accounting consulting services at many businesses that: 1) didn’t have a full-time need for a high-level accountant; and/or 2) couldn’t afford to pay the public accounting billing rates associated with consulting services. I made the decision to leave EY and go out on my own to provide these services and have been a self-employed CPA for the past 25 years.

Who or what influenced the path you chose? A couple of things influenced my decision to go out on my own. First, I had recently become a single mom and the flexibility of working for myself and setting my own hours was very appealing. Second, I was approached by the CFO of a potential client who had the exact need I saw—a need for a CPA with my level of experience in his department but not full-time and not at my current public accounting billing rate. He guaranteed me 6 months of work if I was willing to make the jump from EY to consulting, which took much of the risk factor out of the decision. 25 years later, I’m very thankful for that opportunity and the lifestyle and career path it has afforded me since. I left EY not to be a competitor in the industry but to position myself as a potential resource for them to serve client needs. Over the years, all of my clients have come to me through some kind of referral or personal relationship (many from friends and colleagues at EY). One thing I’ve really valued in my career has been the ability to be both on the business development side (meeting and cultivating new client relationships) as well as the service provider side. I have always gotten great satisfaction out of helping my clients run their businesses more efficiently and make better-informed decisions.

Have you had any particularly helpful mentors? One of the best things about my career path has been my exposure to many different leaders and management styles and the ability to see what works best in helping a business thrive.

Randy Buseman was a partner at EY who I worked with on a regular basis. He was my first mentor and helped shape my early work ethic and attention to detail by providing a great example as well as feedback. He helped me grow from a brand-new associate into a manager by the time I left.

I’ve learned a lot from one of my clients, Indigo Wild. Headed by Emily Voth, the business grew from a soap-making endeavor with her husband out of their kitchen into a highly successful business that manufactures all-natural products that are sold in retail chains throughout the U.S. I was always impressed and inspired by Emily and felt lucky to witness her creativity and management style. She provided a work environment for her team that was fun, flexible and welcoming. Employees could dress casually, bring their dogs to work, work flexible hours, listen to music and crack jokes over the loudspeaker. Employees enjoyed being at work, and I’m confident that her leadership style has played a major role in the company’s success.

Charlie Newell, a manager of a private equity group I’ve worked with for the past 20+ years, has also been an instrumental example and mentor for me. He provided me so many opportunities to learn new things and expand my skill sets while also teaching me the importance of expressing appreciation. Charlie has employed thousands of people over the years in his corporate offices and portfolio company locations and has always made a point of knowing his employees, being accessible to them and rewarding them. One of the best lessons I’ve learned from him is that the best reward is often just recognition and an expression of thanks for the work put in. While monetary rewards are great, just hearing “thank you” feeds an employee’s need to be noticed and appreciated. I’ve been the recipient of random phone calls from Charlie with the sole purpose of thanking me and telling me I’m doing a good job. Those calls have always meant a lot.

And for the past 10 years, I’ve been fortunate to work with the brother/brother-in-law duo of Ryan Sprott and Paul Maxwell at Great Range Capital. Ryan and Paul made the decision to come back to the Midwest after successful careers on the East Coast, going back to their roots to serve businesses closer to home. This driving mission for GRC extends to the work environment also feeling like home and the employees (myself included, even though I’m technically the outsourced CFO) feeling like family. Ryan and Paul have set an example of being hardworking and driven but also fun, flexible and caring. These qualities have served them well in building successful businesses as well as a successful team.

What advice would you offer to young women considering a career in finance? Finance/accounting is a great career pursuit if you have an interest in math, computer programs and understanding how a business works. There will always be a need for finance/accounting, so job opportunities should be plentiful. In addition, the skills learned in this career lend themselves to successful life management. Understanding what makes a business profitable and how to manage finances is really no different than treating your life as a business—understanding how to live within your means and save for retirement. The advice I would give that worked for me would be to first pursue employment with a public accounting firm if you can (either small or large) to gain exposure to a variety of industries as well as a variety of bosses, as you will glean valuable perspective from this that can help shape your future career path and goals. In addition, use and develop your network! Building relationships in and outside of your industry is instrumental to expanding your opportunities and forging a rewarding career path.

Have you encountered any barriers that are particular to women? Personally, I’ve not experienced any barriers that have held me back because I’m female. Commitment, follow through and a solid work product tend to shape one’s reputation, and if someone is strong in these areas it hasn’t seemed to matter if male or female.