10 questions for Market Force CFO Shauna Callahan

10 questions for Market Force CFO Shauna Callahan

Name: Shauna Callahan

Age: 42

Time with company: 4 years

Education: Bachelor of Science in Accounting, University of Colorado

Company headquarters: Louisville, Colorado

Number of countries: The company has a physical presence in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, with coverage in all the major European countries as well, including France, Spain, Italy and Scandinavia

Number of employees total: 500

Number of employees the CFO oversees: 11

CFO's areas of responsibility: accounting, financial records and reporting

About the company: Market Force measures store-level operations and customer attitudes through mystery shopping (store assessments via anonymous agents), customer feedback, retail audits and merchandising services, and provides analytics to help companies make targeted improvements. Its customers are business-to-consumer companies including major retailers, restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, financial institutions, entertainment studios and consumer packaged-goods businesses.

1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?

I started out of college with Arthur Andersen here in Denver. It was a fantastic learning experience, but after spending three years there I knew I wanted to work in a company where I could more directly influence business decisions. So I went to work for a company called Coram Healthcare. That was a consolidation of four different companies and it was extremely challenging, but I was hooked on figuring out how to pull all of that together. A couple of years later, I was approached to do something similar in Australia for Corporate Express. They were rolling up nine companies and I jumped at the chance to get involved.

I came back to Colorado in 2000. Since then, I've been fortunate to get quite a range of experience working for small companies, large companies, public and private companies. That experience has really allowed me to be open to new opportunities. I thrive on challenge and that has led me to make career changes to have increasing levels of opportunity in new environments.

2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?

Who I worked for has been a huge factor for me in where I've chosen to work. I can honestly say that every boss I've worked for has been influential for me. The one that jumps to mind was my CFO at Corporate Express, Neil Guest. He challenged me to do things faster and smarter. The second week on the job he erased our entire [organizational] work chart, which was about 50 people, and asked what we would do if we could start over from scratch. That was really empowering.

In addition, he paired up accounting with the sales executives to develop a return-on-investment model with our largest potential customers and he gave each of us in accounting a sales quota. What a way to focus on how to add value to our customers.

3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?

The challenges are multifold. First is clearly the speed of change, especially around technology. How does your company stay ahead of the curve, how does technology potentially disrupt the market you're in and how can you make sure that your technology is being disruptive?

Second is the level of regulation in terms of financial accounting standards. You throw international standards and tax considerations into the mix and it's really challenging.

Last, business is becoming more and more international. It's no longer good enough to do what you do just in the United States or even in North America. The complexities that come with that, with culture differences and regulation, and time and language differences, add to the challenges. It used to be an issue for big companies, but now it's everyone.

4. What is a good day at work like for you?

A good day for me is one where I help solve a problem that moves the business forward. That can be as grand as helping set the corporate direction for the company for the next three years or helping to make a go-no-go decision on an acquisition or something smaller like setting quarterly sales goals for our sales team. The day that I leave work and feel that I have been able to make an impact on the business is a good day.

5. How would you characterize your management style?

I'm fairly hands-off. I expect the people I hired are capable and competent, and I stay out of the way and let them do their jobs. As part of that, the team's goals have to be very clearly defined. I hold weekly meetings with my team to make sure that their priorities are in line with my priorities and the company's priorities.

6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?

Self-starters and people who like new challenges. In a small company like Market Force they also need to be flexible, capable and adaptable to change. I have found that cultural fit is more important than technical expertise. You can teach people the technical side of things, you cannot teach them the culture.

7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?

My favorite technique is to identify a meaningful experience in the candidate's career and do a deep dive in that experience. I especially like to explore experiences that were a challenge -- something that didn't go as they planned and how they dealt with that.

Alarm bells go off when someone can't answer something on a practical level, when they answer theoretically -- for example, if they say, "In that situation I would do this and in this situation, I would do that." I want to know what they actually did. If they can't answer that, it sets off alarm bells that they don't have experience in an actual situation.

8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?

Much of what sets it apart is the company itself. We're growing and we're transforming how our customers use customer intelligence. We've grown recently through two acquisitions that added to the international presence that I mentioned. And it's also the caliber of the management team. It's an honor for me to work with this group of people every day.

9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?

This question made me laugh. I have an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old. They don't give me much time to unwind. But once the email is turned off and the kids are in bed, I love to sit down with a good book. I like to do puzzles, jigsaw puzzles or Sudoku. And I like to travel to unwind even if it's just getting into the mountains for a couple of days.

10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?

Something that would involve more travel. Spending time in different places and in different cultures gives you a great perspective, even if it's travel in the U.S. And one day I would like to get more involved in nonprofit work. I have a friend who is starting a nonprofit to help special-needs kids and their families. I'm inspired by people who are passionate about helping others who are less fortunate.

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