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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

October 7, 2020
Question

Shannon Nash – Chief Accounting Officer, Reputation.com

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Shannon Nash is a force: Lawyer, CPA, Producer, Director, Certified Zumba Instructor and mother to three boys. She is Super Woman personified. Shannon currently serves as Chief Accounting Officer at Reputation.com, a business-to-business online reputation management and customer experience management company.

Shannon began her professional career as tax expert and attorney. After receiving her law degree from the University of Virginia and a stint at KPMG, Shannon followed the Big Law path where she worked as an associate with K&L Gates and Cooley LLP. She moved in house to Amgen where she served as General Counsel to 12 of the company’s European affiliates. Given Shannon’s many professional talents, she spread her wings to the entertainment and design world and transitioned to the Debbie Allen Dance Company as its Executive Director and then to Sunseeker Media and Insidesource as CFO.

Shannon is a role model to many and possesses a powerful voice and point of view. She was kind enough to take the time to provide her thoughts on the impact of the pandemic as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. I know you will enjoy what she has to say because I always do. Thank you Shannon!

From an executive’s perspective, how can an employee increase his/her value to the organization during these challenging times?

I’m likely stating the obvious here – but we are all adjusting to a new way of doing business during the coronavirus pandemic. The extent to which our world changed overnight was most certainly not a case study in business school, included in many well-considered business continuity plans, or even a scenario mapped out exactly right in a risk analysis model. So business leaders, myself included, are figuring it out as we go along and doing our best to give employees as much information and guidance as possible.

I’ve found that the employees and teams that are flexible and remain open to discovering new ways to succeed at their job have the best opportunity to increase his/her value to the organization. Executives are leaning on their teams for a lot these days, all while asking them to do more with less. Employees who have a unique perspective and fearlessly challenge legacy processes are rising to meet the challenge and setting themselves up for success later in their careers.

You are an attorney AND an accountant. How did you transition out of a legal role to one as a successful finance executive?

I have always found motivation and success in finance and numbers – I was a CPA by education and training before I went to law school. After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law, I worked at several law firms, including K&L Gates and Cooley.  I spent the better part of a decade working on corporate, transactional and tax matters. At a certain point, I hit a fork in the road and realized I wanted to work closer to the business. The idea of business operations and owning a P&L energized me, and I felt a career shift back to finance was a more effective way to achieve my goals.

After making the transition back into finance, I was fortunate to have a series of various roles in corporate finance and accounting departments, which eventually led to positions as VP of Finance with Cumulus Media Inc and CFO with Insidesource Inc.  I found that the depth and breadth of my role at Insidesource helped transform me into an operations-focused finance leader and prepared me for my current position.

As Chief Accounting Officer of Reputation.com, I manage Accounting, Finance, Sales Operations, Payroll, and Procurement. This role has me focused on traditional finance and accounting roles, including implementing new accounting standards (ASC 606 Rev. Rec and ASC 842 Leases).  I also focus on automating routine and manual processes, managing technology, and data analytics, and ultimately evolving the Accounting and Finance functions, freeing up our time to focus on more strategic issues. Finally, I’m partnering with our business leaders and go-to-market teams to help the company run more efficiently and effectively, which is particularly critical as we rapidly scale the business.

I believe having a background in both law and finance has made me a better executive. Part of my role as CAO is to perform a risk analysis within the business. CPAs are trained to see things as black and white, whereas attorneys often see things as shades of gray.  This level of critical thinking is part of my DNA now as you never lose your legal/analytical skills.  This has ultimately helped me develop positions that can be substantiated and serve as a basis for decision making.

           Shannon Nash

What is your advice for staying nimble and managing change through Covid-19? 

Say yes to new opportunities, remain flexible, and put on your creative thinking cap. During this unprecedented time, we’re all taking on new roles and responsibilities. We’ve had to adjust priorities, workflows, and P&Ls overnight to ensure business health and continuity for our customers. Nobody had a pandemic line-item in their 2020 forecasts – so the rapid amount of change that happened overnight hit us all head-on, and the only way to survive that impact and thrive is to remain flexible. Also, be realistic – companies are trying to weather this storm. A big part of that is solving people problems like reduced headcount, a hiring freeze, and retaining high performing employees who have suddenly had to pick up the slack and expand their portfolios. Finally, like all things in life – this too shall pass – so look at it as an opportunity to grow your skillset, build lasting relationships, and try something new. It’s the glass half full argument.

What has it been like to take on a new position in the middle of a pandemic? How have you managed to become acclimated to working with a set of new teams and new people? What’s been the most difficult for you?

This is unchartered territory and has forced me to use my skillset and training in so many different ways.  A big part of starting any new position is forging relationships and building trust amongst colleagues and the executive team.  I never thought I’d be leading such a critical business function over Zoom!

It can be challenging because you miss those verbal social cues, the impromptu meetings in the breakroom, or brainstorming for 5-10 mins. It’s made me more intentional about my interactions, and communications with co-workers, such as planning get to know you 1:1’s, social distanced meetings in the park, Zoom happy hours, etc.  It will also make the inevitable return to the office a truly unique experience.

How do you think the pandemic will affect how we conduct business?

From my perspective as CAO, there are two areas of business operations where the pandemic has profoundly and forever changed – talent acquisition and retention and systems automation.

As with most tech startups in Silicon Valley, we are competing for talent in disciplines such as finance, legal, and engineering within the same geography as Google, Apple, Facebook, and approximately 10,000 other venture-backed companies is insanely difficult. But now, with entire industries working from home, location-based hiring isn’t as much of an issue, and we’re hiring the best person for the job. While this isn’t our first foray into remote work, it’s fundamentally shifted the approach and is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

At the same time, we are all doing more with less these days. Business leaders are focused on automating corporate processes and controls – from supply chains to HR to finance – to free up human capital for more effective endeavors.

The virtual month-end close is now a reality. But this also brings up new internal control risks and compliance issues. This has accelerated the trajectory of automation and transformation projects – implementing AI into routine processes, new software integrations into ERP systems or even completely changing ERP systems.

Automation typically conjures up images of robots replacing valuable human capital (à la car manufacturing) and spreads the fear of job loss and narrowing future opportunities. However, I believe that human relationships are still at the heart of the business, and automation should enhance, rather than replace, interactions between company and customer.

What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?

That’s easy – I MISS PEOPLE! I never thought of myself as someone who thrived on an abundance of interaction with people. Call me an extroverted introvert. I cherish my alone time too. However, so much of what I do as a finance executive is forging relationships around the company and building trust amongst colleagues – and that’s hard to do over Zoom! I never thought I’d miss catching the elevator with a colleague or grabbing an impromptu coffee with a new employee as much as I do. It’s the soft skills doing business and building a career that we aren’t exercising the same way anymore.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, what is your advice to the business community and its leaders on how they can approach diversity and inclusion to effect real and positive change for people of color?

Tech companies thrive when they innovate. And the best innovations – across every function of a company – come from diverse teams and diverse leadership. Companies need to reflect on past practices that have led to a lack of diversity in senior leadership roles. If you’re an executive and trying to make a positive change within your business, look at how you can reimagine your recruiting and retention policies in a way that sets the goal of being diverse – a metric that matters.

When our CEO joined the organization two years ago, one of his primary goals was to diversify the executive leadership team and move away from the stereotypical white male tech executive. In the last six months, the company has added three C-level executives in essential finance and marketing roles. Each new executive was both the best person for the job and represented a diverse background, whether by gender, race, color, or religion.

I think this is a great start, and I’m thrilled to work for a leader who has put diversity at the top of his list of priorities. With the national spotlight now focused on social justice issues, companies are looking at their D&I programs and reassessing what they’ve done, or not done, to promote a more diverse workplace. It will take the efforts of many – from schools, non-profit organizations, and companies – to start to affect real change. I think there is hope that we can make progress, but that progress will not happen overnight.

Finally, business leaders have focused on hiring for diversity, and not spending enough time creating a company culture that accepts and supports people of all backgrounds, the “I” in Diversity and Inclusion. I’ve seen many programs focus solely on getting diverse employees in the door and then do nothing to retain them. There should be more effort made to create and implement inclusive policies and a culture that supports people.

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