While economists fret about deflation, Rosemary Pitts, vice president of finance for the nuclear pharmacy services division of Cardinal Health, found her most recent challenge involved a major price hike.
"We had a large cost increase in one of our raw materials in the nuclear medicine business," says Pitts. "There are only five reactors in the world that make medical isotopes, and one of them was shut down, so 20% of the supply was gone and our costs went way up."
Given the price hike, "we had to either lose profits or convince our customers--cardiology clinics and hospitals, who themselves were suffering from falling demand and reimbursement pressures--to agree to our passing on the higher prices," Pitts says. "Because we were the first supplier to raise our prices, we had to do a lot of work with our sales team, but we ended up being successful at getting our customers to agree to higher prices."
Pitts has been finance chief for the $1.6 billion nuclear pharmacy services division of $99 billion Cardinal Health since 2006 and led the integration of finance activities for a multibillion acquisition. She also worked at Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield and Deloitte & Touche.
How did you come to work in finance?
My interest in finance began in high school, when I took a course in bookkeeping. I found out I really liked the subject and ended up majoring in it in college. Then after graduating, I went into public accounting and learned a lot really fast. But I didn't stay in the accounting side; I moved into finance. I like that because it gives me a really broad view of the business.
What has been your biggest challenge or learning experience?
What really shaped my career came when I was working in the finance operation of the Syracuse, N.Y., region for Excellus Blue Cross. My boss moved to the headquarters in Rochester, and suddenly I became the top finance person for the region. Most of my peers were VPs or senior VPs, and I was just a director. I'd lost my crutch but gained autonomy and responsibility. But I really took to the job. I had a lot of support from my peers and the management team on site. That's when I really grew into what I wanted my finance career to be: a "finance partner" in the business.
What do you like best about your job?
I've positioned myself to be more than just a numbers person. I am very engaged in the business as a finance partner, so that my general manager is as likely to come to me as to his operations or sales or strategy leader. I feel like I have an equal voice around the table. I picture myself as a business person with financial expertise.
Did you have a mentor? If so, how important was that?
I did have a mentor, and he is still a mentor. I think that is important. One person I worked with for six years really appreciated me, and gave me a lot of responsibility early in my career. He also taught me about finance's role in the organization, and about the importance of being a business leader and not just viewing things through a finance lens.
What advice would you give a young person starting out in treasury and finance now?
I'd tell people to try and seek out roles that give them a wide breadth of experience. Don't necessarily go for the ideal job right away. I've had positions that weren't exactly right, but that gave me experience. Also, be sure to speak up about what you want in your career and be on the lookout for opportunities. It's important to be well-rounded. My time working in treasury, for example, gave me a different perspective that was valuable.
What finance area now offers the most opportunity?
Public accounting is a great way to start out. You see a lot of companies, and you also have a chance to interact with high-up people---directors, controllers, etc.
What skills are the most sought after now?
The roles we have trouble filling are in the tax department and analytical jobs, so I'd say tax experts and senior analysts.
What skills of your own would you like to improve?
Credit management and collection. If I want to be a CFO or CEO someday, I'd need that experience. Also, I'd like to do something outside of finance, to see things from another side.
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