Partnering with the Business

Michelle Scheer of Thomson Reuters talks about the lessons of project management.

Michelle Scheer, vice president for finance at Thomson Reuters, is at home in the matrix. “Thomson Reuters has a matrix style of management,” she explains. “Instead of being organized into divisions, all with their own finance departments, we have five different product lines and five heads of those product lines, but we also have functional leaders, like myself, who manage things across all the product lines.”

This style of organization can make things challenging, Scheer says, but she calls that a good thing, because it means she and other functional leaders are always trying to manage all the product lines and “looking to see where the growth areas are.”

“That’s part of my role, coming up with those priorities, and putting funding in place to drive those priorities,” she says.

Scheer, 38, joined Thomson Reuters in 2009 after working in the treasurer’s office at General Motors, where her positions included director of business development and director of worldwide pension funding and analysis.

As assistant treasurer at Thomson Reuters, she led a project designed to model the company’s foreign exchange risk and devise a forex hedging program, a project that won an Alexander Hamilton Gold Award in financial risk management in 2010. While the project itself has “little application” to her current job, Scheer says the process of building and heading the team for that project gave her experience and skills that do carry over.
           

Michelle Scheer of Thomson ReutersHow has it helped?
That treasury project was a comprehensive forex strategy, which we needed because Thomson had just bought Reuters. So we were suddenly a global company and needed to develop a hedge program to deal with forex risk.

Doing that meant trying to manage a project that involved a lot of teamwork across the company. And it turns out that managing in a matrix is a lot like managing a project. Everyone has their own goals, and yet you need to win their cooperation.
           

What is the biggest challenge in your finance position?
Trying to make everyone understand the goals of what we’re trying to accomplish so everything gets done. All the product line heads have their goals, and we functional leaders have our goals. I have to get buy-in from the product line heads. Global growth is what we’re focusing on now, so we need to make sure we provide product development and product management with the resources they need. In the current economic environment, it’s more important than ever to have a strong finance operation, to focus on key growth areas and on efficiency, and to really support a lean business. Corporate finance is more important now than ever.
 

What do you like best about this job?
I really love being closely involved in the business operation side. I love being part of such a talented and motivated business team. It’s exciting!
 

Is there a downside?
Yes. Implementing expense controls. I don’t enjoy telling people they can’t spend money on an initiative that on its own might make sense. This company has grown through acquisitions, and people come up with good ideas all the time. Part of my role is to have the company focus on things that make the most sense, and sometimes I just have to say no.

What helped you get your career on the fast track?
It really hasn’t been any one thing. I have always tried to do my best in every role I’ve had. Over time, that gets noticed. I have also definitely benefitted from having sponsors who have given me stretch opportunities. My current position is an example of that. Before this, I’ve been in corporate-level positions, and I’ve been interested in moving into a more operational role in the company. I was made aware of this position, and had a sponsor who encouraged me to take it on.

Are you referring to mentors?
Yes, kind of. In this case it was David Shaw, senior vice president for finance at Thomson Reuters. I had first worked with him when I was an analyst. That was even before business school, when I was with General Motors. He got me interested in Thomson Reuters, and I came and worked for him here. He was treasurer at the time. That was a built-in support, and you need that kind of a safety net when you move to a new company. Having someone like that who can provide advice and career support is important. You get that kind of a relationship by doing a good job and getting noticed. He also was instrumental in getting me to move into my current position.

Do you do mentoring yourself?
Yes, but more informally. We also recently started a more formal mentoring program here in finance, and I’m involved with that.

What advice do you have for young people interested in corporate finance?
Try and find a way to partner with the company. Sometimes it’s easy to think of corporate finance as something separate from the business activity of a company, but it’s really possible to see it as closer to or even part of operations.

Are there any areas of finance that offer more opportunity?
There is no ideal path. Each company has its own growth areas. One that does come to mind is financial planning and analysis. Taking a role there, especially early in your career, can help you hone your technical skills and at the same time gives you a lot of knowledge about the business operations side.

Are there skills that you are still trying to improve?
Oh yes. I have very strong technical and analytical skills, but over time you transition from being a doer to being a leader. So being able to motivate employees and to develop a great team is important. That’s leadership skills, particularly around the idea of motivating people.

 

 

For the complete 2012 30 Under 40 list, see Ascending the Corporate Ladder. For last year’s list, see Ready to Take Charge.

 

           

           

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