Julie Connors jumped from the role of adviser as a partner in the enterprise risk management practice at Deloitte to executing strategy as chief risk officer and senior vice president of audit for advertising's $6 billion Interpublic Group, the holding company for agencies including McCann Erickson.
"As a service provider, you think you know everything about a particular industry that you've been working in for years, but you still learn so much when you're looking at things from a different perspective," Connors says. "I miss being part of the revenue stream because there's such a rush when you sell new business. But at the same time, it's been very rewarding to execute strategy."
Since joining Interpublic in February, Connors, 39, has restructured the risk management group's responsibilities and is working with the business units to increase the efficiency of risk management operations.
How did you come to be working in finance/treasury?
Truly by accident. When I was in college [at Rutgers University,] I was an economics major. And just as I was about to graduate, I realized to get the job I wanted, I'd have to get a Ph.D. So I retooled by getting a second major in accounting. That turned out to be very helpful since it gave me a broader perspective on business.
What's been your most rewarding project so far?
Implementing an enterprise risk management framework at IPG.
Is there something about risk management for an advertising agency that is more specialized than for general corporate?
Social media is an emerging area of risk for us. That whole market is still being defined. And we're involved just as it is emerging. And intellectual property is very important to us: it's one of those heightened risks that we're taking a deeper look into. That's what's so interesting about this business: just how fast it is changing.
How long have you been at IPG?
Since February 2010. But I cheated a bit: I was a service provider for IPG prior to joining. That made the transition easier.
How did you get on the career fast track?
I was lucky to have joined Deloitte when I did. It was at a time when Deloitte was getting serious about supporting women in the workforce. Within a year, with only a few projects under my belt, they had designated me as a high performer. And then that opened so many doors for me. They put me in special programs where they had training for high performers. I also had the opportunity for one-on-one coaching.
Did you have a mentor and how important was that?
I've had many--some of them were formalized. And some were mentors who didn't realize they were acting as a mentor to me. My advice to people just coming out of school is to think very carefully about the relationships you forge and keep in mind you can always learn from the people around you.
What advice would you give newbies starting out in treasury and finance now?
Of course you need to work hard, be smart and be capable. But the softer skills are what are going to help you excel. The softer skills--how you work with people, being optimistic and the way you communicate--are really going to impact someone's career. I think pessimists, for whom everything is a challenge, are much less successful than people who are optimists, who look upon challenges as an opportunity.
What skills are the most sought after now?
Beyond those soft skills, I think it's the ability to step back and look at the data and understand what it's really telling you.
What skills of your own would you like to improve?
It's not so much skills, as experiences that I'd like to gain: I'd like to learn more about global and emerging markets. Places like China, India, Brazil. And it's really great because I've gotten the opportunity to go to those places. And it's been eye-opening.
In what way? How business is conducted? The people?
All of the above. The people interact differently and you have to be sensitive to that. They conduct business differently and we at IPG need to be comfortable with the way that they want to do business.
What are your goals in the next two years? The next five?
In two years, I'd like to be able to show how the change in the alignment of the risk function has dramatically served the organization. And in five years, I'd like to move on to the operations side and move out of finance and see a little more broadly than I do today.