Hopping between companies can boost your career prospects, but not always.
Consider Pamela J. Craig, the first female chief financial officer at management consulting company Accenture. Staying put took her from the back office to the C-suite. She joined the company in 1979 and never left.
Craig, 54, joined the company as an accountant in New York, moving into consulting in 1982. Positioning herself at the right time when the company went public in July 2001 gained her the trust of her superiors and ultimately won her the ticket to the CFO position.
FINS caught up with Craig in her midtown Manhattan office to talk about how to get attention from above, why lateral moves work and how to promote yourself without being obnoxious.
Julie Steinberg: You've stayed at Accenture your entire career. Would you recommend that to young professionals today or would you encourage them to move around?
Pamela J. Craig: For millenials, I think keeping your skills fresh is very important. Then you're flexible and ready to do whatever. At my company, the training was always good and we had the opportunity to move into other areas. I was an accountant and wanted to do consulting, so I did the training and learned how to program. The guy in charge said, "you were my surprise performer." I was able to pick that up and do it. This company just offered those kinds opportunities to build up skills. Before I became CFO, I spent two years as senior vice president of finance because I didn't have experience with tax, treasury or investor relations. I came in laterally after being a consultant and running part of the business. I was able to pick those things up. In my case it worked that I stayed here.
JS: How did you move from accounting to consulting back to finance?
PC: I made a lateral move from accounting into consulting and worked my way up in terms of doing projects. I became a partner in 1991 and in the mid-90s I had the opportunity to run a section of our business.
Then I was tapped on the shoulder in 2001. The month that we went public I was asked to come inside Accenture and apply the consulting to us because we were trying to transform from a partnership to a corporation that was listed on the NYSE and that filed documents with the SEC. We had a lot to do to become compliant. I ended up working for the chief operating officer first to get us organized. I was group director of business operations and services and was responsible for the IT functions, the travel program and for all the offices.
JS: Tell me about being tapped on the shoulder.
PC: I was in Japan. Toward the end of that 19 years of my being a consultant, my husband was transferred to Japan so I moved there and was responsible for one of our operating units. It was global so they let me do it from there. One Saturday morning in June 2001, I was in the shower. My husband knocked and it was Joe Forehand, our CEO at the time, on the phone. Joe asked if I wanted to come inside and do this role and apply what I had been doing with clients do it with the company.
JS: Had you had a lot of contact with him before?
PC: I had worked in his division before he was the CEO, so he knew me from that. I'm sure that helped a little bit. But we're also really collaborative that way. I'm sure he got a lot of suggestions about people, including me. The whole CFO thing was really serendipitous. In 2004, again I got that tap on the shoulder. They said "why don't you move into finance?" It was moving full circle because I started out as an accountant. I became senior vice president of finance and then two years later the CFO in October 2006.
JS: How did your decision to come back into finance come about?
PC: People say, "is it luck, is it fate?" One of things that always helps is if you telegraph that you're always open to new things as well as do a good job in what you're doing. I think that opens up new opportunities. In this case, we had a CFO whom I had been working with on this program to get ready to be a compliant company across the board. He was the one who thought, "oh Pam, you should succeed me." He ended up leaving, and I wasn't ready, I had only been there a month. The old CFO came back for two years so I could get ready. I had three years at the beginning of my career in accounting then two years of being SVP finance. All my consulting work was with CFOs regarding the finance functions of companies. That was my bent.
JS: If you want to move within the company, some say you better include your boss in that discussion. How do you telegraph your interest in new opportunities without alienating your boss?
PC: It's normal to want to progress in your career. When you have those forums, like a performance review, you get prepared for those and think about the kinds of things you want to do. You don't want to be rigid and say "by next January , I want to be doing this." It's more like, "this is what I'm interested in doing next. If these roles come up, I'd like to be considered."
Sometimes people are so good they get pigeonholed and the boss doesn't want to let them go. This happens to women, maybe even more so than to men. Because they're such good employees, they're so reliable and dependable, they're not necessarily aggressive about promoting themselves.
So you want to groom a successor, someone who would be good for your role. You may want to court someone, teach them a little and your boss can say, "this person is bringing me a solution if they want to leave."
I always believe it's better to be upfront, but carefully upfront. Don't do it in the middle of a crisis. How do you craft it so it's constructive and productive for you and the company?
JS: Has there been a moment in your career where you were passed over for a promotion or your work wasn't taken into account?
PC: Not so much recently. I think one of things we were talking about earlier is that we're all works in progress. This is a marathon, not a sprint. So your 16th mile might not be your best mile. That's OK. That's life. Did every project I was on go perfectly? No. but it's what you take to the next one. I did make two moves for my husband's career. Once for his going to school in Boston, once for Japan. For the Boston one I actually took a demotion from manager to consultant.
JS: How do you self-promote without being obnoxious?
PC: Self promotion for the sake of it, or when its really blatant, everyone rolls their eyes right? The way I do it is to talk about the team. Because you couldn't get there without the team.
JS: Do you get annoyed when people focus on your gender and not your accomplishments?
PC: I want it to be meaningful for the women coming up next. One of the things that does concern me a little about this is at some point we want thousands of women doing these things. We do want it to be normal. At some point this whole "first" thing, who cares?
Let's not ever take our eye off the ball. We need to always be thinking of how to take women along, about helping women behind you. Then you don't just have to write about the one.
The thing that gets me a little crazy sometimes is how the media will harp on the negatives of women. Why is it so celebrated if this woman didn't make it? Why is there so much press about that? That part bugs me. That part I really wish we could get rid of first.
Write to Julie Steinberg at Julie.Steinberg@dowjones.com