When finance leader Carolyn Koehn looks back on her career to identify the experiences that she feels best prepared her for a CFO role, she shares a candid observation: “I went to places no one else wanted to go.”
Such was the case in the late 1990s, when she moved to Bogotá, Colombia, for Nortel Networks, after having helped the company’s finance leadership understand why she was a good match for a sudden job opening.
“I was the only interested candidate who wanted to go,” recalls Koehn, who says that her initiative and willingness to relocate helped her to become short-listed for other roles in Nortel’s Latin American finance operations. When a more senior role opened up in Mexico, Koehn’s Bogotá experience helped trump that of a second interested job candidate.
“When I look at those two opportunities in hindsight, they honestly were like mini-CFO roles, where you are pulled into everything from facilities and supplier relations to local communications, customer meetings, and more,” says Koehn, who in 2003 became a finance director at Dell, where multiple finance leadership roles would eventually bring her to the position of VP of finance for all of Dell’s global sales compensation.
“A lot of people would look at this as a thankless role, but it’s one of the most critical ones when it comes to turning sales strategy into execution,” she explains.
“This was about taking 31,000 salespeople and applying $1.5 billion in commissions,” adds Koehn, who credits the role with having challenged her “soft skills” as she became tasked with bringing different parts of the organization together to better inform her decision-making. A number of years into her sales comp tenure, Koehn began hearing about yet another opportunity in a different land. After spending most all of her career in helping to grow hardware and infrastructure technology businesses, Koehn became interested in a CFO role at one of Dell’s software-as-a-service businesses, Boomi. Not unlike the role in Bogotá, it was a match. –Jack Sweeney