A Career CFO

As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q2 2017 Issue

 

CHANGING INDUSTRIES CAN GIVE A CFO NEW PERSPECTIVE AND PROFESSIONAL GROWTH, SAYS ALISON CORNELL

The accepted wisdom is that CFOs tend to stay in one industry and build their success within that industry’s bounds, but Alison Cornell, who has navigated a career through telecom, health care, and specialty chemicals/consumer products, believes that “there is value created by moving between industries, not only for the CFO role that we perform, but also in developing a broad-based perspective that will be valuable in future Board of Directors participation.”

Ms. Cornell was the guest of honor at a recent CFO Studio Reception at the Governor Morris Hotel in Morristown, NJ. Andrew Zezas, publisher of CFO Studio magazine, introduced her to the assembled CFOs, noting that Cornell has shaped a nearly 30-year career in key global leadership roles in three different industries. She was profiled in the Q1 2017 cover story.

“We each set our own path,” Ms. Cornell began. “Some see limitless possibilities, others see limited possibilities… I’m in the limitless possibilities camp, believing that our financial skill set is fungible.” And so, she described five ingredients of a “winning formula” for a career path through successive industries, creating “a track record of consistently growing businesses, achieving sustainable results, attracting and developing talent, and taking businesses to new heights.”

The ingredients are: Be open to change; learn the business soup to nuts; make a difference while you’re there; be a positive and motivating force; and have the best team on the field. With regard to that last point, she said that when she arrived at Covance, a drug-development services organization where she worked from 2004–2015, she “changed about 75 percent of my direct- report team and built an awesome team that helped drive the business turnaround, sustainable growth, and the returns that we achieved.”

“Don’t pigeonhole yourself,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to fail.” (She’s not.) “Know what you’re passionate about.” (She does.) “And go there.” (She will.)

Copyright 2017