Nancy Cooper faced quite a challenge when she joined CA Technologies as its CFO and executive vice president in August 2006. The IT management software company was under a deferred prosecution agreement after a Justice Department investigation into accounting irregularities, and Cooper was brought in not only to see the agreement through to its conclusion, but to rebuild the finance team.
And she has reshaped finance into a tactical advance team with a well-articulated strategy. “I’m on a whole new path with the finance team―having them focus not just on basic accounting but viewing finance as a source of information to help run the company,” Cooper says. “We worked toward articulating a strategy to be as efficient as we can.”
The key was changing finance’s identity. “They are not just bean counters but analysts,” she explains. “They have to be able to look at information and say, ‘What does this information mean and how can we as a company use it?’”
Determining what role finance should play in creating value was essential, Cooper says. “In a technology company, the business model is changing rapidly, and we have to enable that. So we can create value by providing strategic information as the business model evolves.”
After assembling the right senior leaders, Cooper focused on developing team members according to their skills and the company’s needs. “We set up a new, formal training program and a finance excellence council,” she says. “The council is like a self-improvement group made up of VPs, senior directors and directors, who look at what would create excellence in the organization. We then break out into teams to make it happen.”
This became a viral and highly effective driver of change, Cooper says. “It is very important when you want to transform that you have deep involvement of the leaders beneath you.”
The finance team at CA Technologies now has what Cooper describes as “bench strength.”
“If I was taken out of the picture tomorrow, we would be A-OK,” she says. “And that wasn’t the case five years ago.”
Cooper clearly thrives on overcoming adversity. “The crisis was an exhilarating time,” she says. “CA was non-investment-grade with $1 billion of debt coming due at the time. By 2009, we were one of the few companies to be upgraded to investment grade.”
CA, which had $4.35 billion in 2010 revenue, initially struggled to refinance its debt. But under Cooper’s management, CA improved its financial strength to the point where the major rating agencies lifted it to the next tier. Suddenly investors could not get enough of CA paper.
“We refinanced the existing debt, put out a new bond, and we have been upgraded many times since,” Cooper says. “We were counter-cyclical.”
See the complete coverage of Treasury & Risk’s 2011 Women in Finance list here.