Learning From Hard Times

Dell Financial Services’ Scott Thacker thrives on freedom to innovate, change and challenge.

The financial crisis was a learning experience, says Scott Thacker, 38, executive director of finance at Dell Financial Services (DFS), the financing arm of $61 billion computer maker Dell. The economic downturn showed him the importance of managing well, sticking to a plan, and keeping up team morale.

One of the fundamentals he learned is discipline. “Set your parameters, know your approach, and hold to it. If you do that, when you hit tough times, you’re going to come through it,” Thacker says.

“I’ve learned a lot more about how to keep the ship on course, keep my employees focused, than when the times were really good,” he adds. “You get through it, and you realize that you’re a much better leader, better manager and effective business person, because of what you went through.”

Thacker’s first job was as a consultant with Arthur Andersen, which gave him the chance to see a lot of different businesses and industries. He was drawn to the analytical side of the business, he says, which led him to finance. He worked in finance at Sprint and Verizon before joining Dell about 10 years ago. With a degree in human resources management and an M.B.A. from Baylor University, he had to learn a lot on the job, he says. Thacker plans to continue to hone his management skills so he and his team will be ready for whatever comes next.


What has been your most rewarding project so far?
Expanding our business globally. [This spring Dell announced plans to acquire Dell Financial Services Canada, which was a partnership between Dell and CIT Vendor Finance, as well as CIT’s Dell-related assets and sales and servicing functions in Europe.] Being part of an organization that’s growing again is a lot of fun. You come out of the economic cycle and you feel beaten up, and you start growing again.

What has been your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge has been learning to manage a bigger organization. I’m a person who really likes to engage with my people. I like to be close to them, and help them develop in their careers. In a team of seven or 10 people, that’s very achievable, but it becomes a challenge when you’ve got 35-plus professionals. I now find other ways of communicating, of being visible and getting groups together. And I have to learn how to influence them through my direct reports.

What do you like best about your job?
I like the challenge of it. Dell’s a very fast-paced company, and technology is a fast-paced environment, and financial services adds another twist to it. They give us a lot of freedom to try new things and look for ways to make the business better. To be able to have that freedom of innovation and constant change and challenge is something I thrive on. The other thing I really love about my job is the people.

How did you get on the career fast track?
I’ve always thought that if I focused on doing what was right for the business, my career would follow, and that’s proved true. Those things you do to make a difference for the business get noticed. I’ve found ways to make material and noticeable improvements. As a result I’ve been rewarded with more responsibility, bigger jobs, bigger organizations, and that’s continued to progress.

Did you have a mentor?
I’ve had a lot of mentors over the years, both people above me, and my peers. They give you a different perspective. A lot of times they’ve steered me in a direction I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. Sometimes it’s hard to take that counseling and advice, but the times that I’ve done it, it’s always proven to be very beneficial.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in finance?
If finance is what you want to do, get the formal education. It’s important to have that. You can learn it on the job, but it’s going to be harder. I work on it myself. If you want to advance, it’s really about being inquisitive and really looking for things outside your realm of responsibility. You’re going to differentiate yourself by finding things you can do to make the business better. Go beyond what’s expected of you.

What areas offer the most opportunity?
There’s a huge opportunity for folks who are in systems finance. You need people who can understand the tech side of the business, general ledger or reporting tools, but really translate that into making sure it fits for the business.

What skills are especially relevant today?
When I’m out recruiting, there are three things that I look for: initiative, problem-solving skills and communication skills, not just verbal, but written, and also the ability to influence others, to take the idea they have and influence the other people in the organization. I want my organization to influence the direction the business moves.

To see the 2011 40 Under 40 list, read Ready to Take Charge.

You can find complete coverage of the 40 Under 40 list here.


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