The calculations it took to become a CFO


Becoming CFO was not on Robin Washington’s radar as he grew up near Detroit. She did this twice as an adult. Now she wants to help other women and minorities to achieve positions of power in companies as well.

Ms Washington, 59, was CFO of biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc. and Hyperion Solutions, a software company acquired by Oracle Corp. She is currently a board member of three leading companies: Alphabet Inc., owner of Google; the industrial conglomerate Honeywell International Inc .; and cloud software company Inc.

After her education in Ecorse, Michigan, and her college at the University of Michigan, Ms. Washington began her career as a chartered accountant before trying different roles, including a job with the Federal Reserve. What opened her mind for a leadership role in corporate finance was moving to the Bay Area, joining a corporate-sponsored financial development program, and meeting a black CFO. . Ms Washington said she deliberately wanted to get her MBA and work internationally to stand out.

“This experience and meeting was crucial for me to really start to internalize what I could be and how I could climb the corporate finance ladder,” she said.

She now works with various organizations to help diversify boards, including the Executive Leadership Council, the Black Women on Boards initiative, and the University of Santa Clara’s Black Corporate Board Readiness program.

“I remember getting promoted and someone said to me, ‘You have great sponsors that you don’t even know you have,’” she said. She realized that as she moved up the ranks “it was important that I became that godfather too.”

Here are four of his most trusted advisors:

Virginie walker

Founder and Managing Partner of the Jamison Group; former CFO and independent member of the board of directors

Ms Washington sent Ms Walker an unsolicited email in the late 1980s to see if she would speak at a fundraiser for the National Association of Black Accountants after reading about her in the local newspaper . Ms. Washington was eager to learn more about Ms. Walker; she had never met a black financial director before.

Ms Walker invited Ms Washington to her office to learn more about fundraising and the two struck up a lengthy conversation about their backgrounds and experiences. Ms Washington said she was inspired to learn how Ms Walker got to where she was then CFO of biopharmaceutical company Scios while raising children.

“I had never imagined myself in this senior role before,” Ms. Washington said. “Seeing her in this role only solidified in me the opportunities I might have in the future if I wanted to pursue them.”

Ms Walker spoke at this fundraiser years ago and was keen to thank Ms Washington in her remarks. The two stayed in touch; they are now working on programs to boost diversity on boards, including at the University of Santa Clara and the Black Women on Boards initiative.

Marc Benioff

President, CEO and Co-Founder of

Ms. Washington met Mr. Benioff in the early 2000s when he was CEO of Salesforce, and she was a corporate controller for software company PeopleSoft Inc. Later, she interviewed for a position at Salesforce. When she didn’t accept the role, Mr. Benioff called her and expressed his dismay.

Ms Washington said she told him she was ready to become a CFO, which was not the position she interviewed for at Salesforce. Mr Benioff said he understood and wanted to stay in touch, she said.

They did it. In 2013, Mr. Benioff called Ms. Washington and asked her to join the Salesforce board. She agreed with conditions: because she was busy as CFO, she would not join a board committee for a year. She became the first black person on the software giant’s board.

Mr. Benioff taught her to take the beginner’s gung-ho approach, an attitude that allowed Salesforce to innovate during the pandemic, Ms. Washington said. For example, she said, Salesforce created new products to support businesses and got creative in the way employees worked. Ms Washington said she also learned more from Mr Benioff about the wider impact businesses can have on the community, whether the topic is equal pay for women or supporting LGBTQ communities.

Barry lawson williams

Retired entrepreneur, CEO and corporate director

Mr Williams first contacted Ms Washington when he was looking for other black corporate directors a decade ago, Ms Washington said.

Mr. Williams, who has served on more than a dozen boards, including Kaiser Permanente, Navient Corp. and PG&E Corp., brought together dozens of black professionals and board members in the Bay Area. As part of this work, he wrote a report on the experiences of black corporate directors to help pave the way for the next generation.

Ms Washington said Mr Williams has since taught her how others can be a part of her heritage, promoting diversity and helping others advance to board positions. “He plays a very important role in this mindset around legacy and leadership,” she said.

They both now participate in the University of Santa Clara’s Black Corporate Board Readiness program, which helps prepare black leaders for board positions and connects them with related networks, as well as at the Black Corporate Directors Conference, which focuses on ways black directors can encourage diversity.

Tony Coles

Chairman and CEO of the biotechnology company Cerevel Therapeutics

Several years ago, at the JPMorgan Chase & Co. healthcare conference, Mr. Coles and Ms. Washington bonded while working in the biotechnology field as black executives. Mr. Coles was then CEO of Onyx Pharmaceuticals.

He has since mentored and helped her navigate the changes in her career as she envisioned board roles, her post-Gilead career and how she can give back to her “pillars of focus.”

Mr Coles, who is also co-chair of the Black Economic Alliance, discussed how Ms Washington could pivot in her career and continue to add value in a different way. She said the advice was factored into her decision this year to help venture capital firm General Catalyst find new investments in the healthcare industry.

“He played a very important role in sharing his philosophy around this with me as he moved through his career.”

(This story was posted from an agency feed with no text editing)

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