Alissa Vickery recently added interim CFO to her duties as chief accounting officer at FLEETCOR Technologies, an Atlanta-based global provider of business payment solutions. The shift has forced Vickery to pivot “from being a core accountant at heart to more of a strategic thinker in the context of how an investor would think.”
She spoke with StrategicCFO360 about how she’s making that pivot, the new skills she’s acquiring—and tips for how to make a similar move.
You are currently serving dual roles as interim CFO and chief accounting officer. What has made you comfortable in such a position?
I’ve been with FLEETCOR for about 12 years on the accounting side, so I’ve been behind the scenes since our initial public offering in 2010, helping to ensure the accuracy and quality of our financial reports. Before any financial information is shared externally, we go through an internal vetting process, consolidate the results, determine what the appropriate disclosures are and then prepare those filings for the market.
As somebody who has grown up with the organization to a great degree, I have always been in the trenches helping with deal valuations and integration from a finance perspective, understanding how new acquisitions fit into the bigger picture, knowing how the operations of the businesses function—and bringing them all together.
When our most recent CFO left, I was presented with and humbly accepted the opportunity to stand in as the interim CFO.
That backstory, that journey, is important because FLEETCOR is complex—we have different products across diverse vertical markets. I understand the numbers and have vetted them, giving me insider knowledge that’s been building since I started my career here as vice president of financial reporting in April 2011.
And so, this gives me confidence when stepping into the investor-facing side of the company to speak to the numbers, using my own voice, not my CFO’s voice, and to do that in an ad hoc setting on the road for the investor community.
What kind of skills are you acquiring now and what are your new responsibilities?
The most significant shift in skillset is pivoting from being a core accountant at heart to more of a strategic thinker in the context of how an investor would think.
One of the jokes among my accounting colleagues is “I speak ASL—accounting as a second language.” Then with my tax counterparts, we like to joke that we speak “tax as a second language,” but that’s a version of English for me.
I share that anecdote because the language financial folks speak can be convoluted and confusing to others outside the profession. So, I try to break down complex, hard-to-grasp concepts in a simple way, to enable a general conversation with somebody about what we do, how we do it, how we execute it and how that produces results, in a way they can understand.
That is something I’ve never had to do among other accountants or tax pros. I’ll call it trial by fire for sure—just being thrown into it.
How are you building trust in this new role?
Internally, my long tenure at FLEETCOR has allowed me to build a rapport with lots of colleagues across the organization. I was already doing site visits and one-on-one meetings with various operators around the globe—building relationships within the company in an accounting capacity.
In addition to being an accounting advisor, I’m also trying to advise on the budget process, and when our CEO says something, I can clarify how we’re executing. I am that point of reason as a strategic business partner for each of those operators as we engage our CEO.
From our CEO’s perspective, I have collaborated with him for a dozen years. And so, I hopefully make him comfortable that behind-the-scenes processes are built from a budget perspective and the numbers for the quarters and year-end are seamless.
From an investor perspective, I believe that they appreciate that I have tenure with the company and know it inside and out. At a recent investor meeting, when I mentioned that I’d been with the company for 12 years and listed the roles I’d held, their posture changed immediately. Knowing my background at FLEETCOR, they feel comfortable that I have the acumen and can speak to the numbers and the facts in a way that gives them confidence.
What is the most challenging part of your new role?
Managing all the moving pieces as I juggle my role as chief accounting officer and interim role as chief financial officer. As an accountant at a public company, I always refer to the time period between October 1 to March 1 as the great sprint. It’s a busy season from the time the fourth quarter starts until we file the Form 10-K. So, just managing all of the complexities that are inherent in that timeframe, along with the responsibilities of the new role and making sure I’m not letting anyone down. I’m definitely spread thinner but am figuring out whom to ask to step up and step in.
What tips would you offer to someone else who is considering a dual-role position or serving as interim CFO?
Ask for advice and help from those around you. Our departing CFO was quite gracious and spent as much time with me as he could before he departed to transfer knowledge.
Here are some things I have learned and would like to pass on to someone serving a dual role and/or as interim CFO:
- Lean on others. Rely on the network of people around you for advice, whether they’re inside or outside your organization.
- Build a solid team. If you have a strong team, you don’t have to be the subject matter expert at everything. Take a step back and trust the individuals that surround you. I can ask smart questions and trust the people around me to get the right answers when I don’t have the capacity to figure it out myself.
- Lead well. Outstanding financial skills are necessary but not enough. You must lead well and guide the financial team, operations team and others in your sphere of influence.
- Create trust. Part of being a great leader involves establishing an environment of trust. Build relationships with your teams, have an open-door policy, let them know they can always speak their minds and make suggestions for improvement without fear.
- Be a strategic partner. Know areas outside of finance and recognize the importance other departments play in strengthening the company. Working well cross-functionally with other teams like sales, acquisitions, credit, customer service, etc., helps all to achieve overall stronger decisions and results.
- Be a change agent. Refuse to do things the way they have always been done when new methods or technology come along. Push the envelope and encourage modifications to improve the company’s short- and long-term goals.