A Non-Traditional Path To CFO

Having turned her interim role as CFO to an official one, Niki Heim has advice for other women rising in finance: ‘Don’t underestimate how important your presence is.’

Bringing a new executive on board is one of the most critical moments in an organization’s lifetime. Entrusted with making high-stakes decisions that impact both financial health and overall vision, the CFO at the helm can steer the company either to new heights, or to disaster. So how do you ensure you’ve got the right candidate? Sometimes they’re grown, not found.  

Niki Heim, CFO at LogicSource is one such example. Working as interim CFO while the executive team was hiring, she was relentless in learning on the job in order to attain the official title. Heim spoke with our Katie Kuehner-Hebert about her journey, and shared her wisdom for how women in the finance field can excel.

How have you worked your way to the top as CFO?

I came to LogicSource under unique circumstances. I was CFO on paper, then interim CFO within my first month on the job. While there was a lot of pressure, knowing that help was on the way at any time was comforting… meaning I continued to tell the executive team they should hire a CFO.

I had never done the majority of what I was tasked to do, but after a certain amount of time performing the job, it became motivation for me. I wanted to drop the “interim” from my title. I was figuring it out and building off each success. I felt empowered to make real changes not only in accounting process and policy, but across the business—time tracking, utilization, forward looking forecasting. 

To reach that official title of CFO, I identified areas of potential improvement in the business and started owning critical projects. I was never outworked because I wanted to prove my capability. It was important that I continued building relationships with those who could help me get to the next level—i.e. board of directors, key executives, employees who were equally passionate about making changes at the company that I could partner with.

I was also constantly looking to learn more, even if it was outside my direct purview. Ultimately, the more I learned about the business, the stronger I became in my own role.

How are you helping other women to pursue their passion in the field of finance?

I’d like to think I am a mentor to a number of rising female finance employees—both from a corporate accounting team standpoint and to those on our financial analytics team. I coach them based on learned experiences and try to give them opportunities to thrive.

I also speak at several finance-focused and women-focused events, and strive to be a visible female leader in the space. It’s important for rising female leaders to have someone they can relate to, so I don’t shy away from the fact that I had a non-traditional path and that I’m sometimes the working mom who’s trying to keep all the balls in the air.

What do you recommend to other young women aspiring to become CFOs?

Willingness to step outside the familiar. I was pushed into new and sometimes scary situations where I had to find a courage deep inside. Eventually, I was running toward those experiences because while still unknown and sometimes scary, I was able to pull on other successful experiences to grow and progress.

Speak up. Take ownership for projects outside core competencies and really grow relationships across the business. A successful CFO knows the goals and strategies of each department so they can support with the appropriate resource allocations. Be a valued strategist and someone who needs to collaborate company wide. The CFO better know the company’s long-range plan and strategy inside and out.

Don’t worry if you’re the only woman at the table and don’t underestimate how important your presence is.

It can be intimidating. Not only was I the only female on my team, but I was also the youngest—by a lot. Luckily, I grew up with a brother, a very motivating father, and played sports with the neighborhood boys growing up so I didn’t struggle with this as much as some others I’ve talked to. Nonetheless, I was excited to get more women around the table and in the business, so I helped make that happen. 

Be ready to make sacrifices. It’s true what they say—heavy is the head that wears the crown. While it’s certainly a rewarding and fulfilling leadership role, there are also a number of sacrifices that come along with being a CFO. Making the necessary sacrifices for the sake of your company and employees is just another task that comes with the job.

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