Career Rewind: Vanna Krantz’s journey from the lobby of PwC to top CFO
How do you get to be a top CFO at not one, but four name-brand companies? We asked Vanna Krantz to walk us through the zigs and zags of her career path, which started when she left Canada and arrived in New York City without a job. Since then, Krantz has navigated the male-dominated world of finance, worked near the Twin Towers on 9/11, started a family, and became a streaming expert and supported the launch of Disney+, among other adventures. Read on for a unique look at how she navigated the corporate ladder—and takeaways for how you might as well.
Vanna Krantz’s career path:
CFO at Passport (present)
CFO at Masterclass
CFO at Disney Streaming Services
CFO at Bamtech Media
Divisional CFO roles at Thomas Reuters
Global Head of Business & Financial Analysis (Asset Management Division) at Credit Suisse
VP, Finance & Reporting Analysis (Investment Management Division) at Morgan Stanley
VP, Business Analysis at Merrill Lynch
Principal, Financial Risk Management at PwC
How I got started
“I walked into PricewaterhouseCoopers on Sixth Avenue. I just asked the security guards who the HR person was. One of the guys said: ‘Let me call her up. I know who she is. She has the most visitors.’ I’m practically shaking in my boots. I go up to meet her. And [after talking] she says, ‘You seem like you’re qualified. Why don’t you join one of our Super Saturdays?’”
This was how Vanna Krantz, the new CFO at Passport, a transportation software and payments company, got her first job in the U.S. in the mid-1990s at age 27. A chartered accountant with a degree from the University of Waterloo and experience as an auditor, Krantz relocated from Canada to New York City with her husband so he could pursue an M.B.A. at Columbia University. The Ottawa-native didn’t have a job lined up. So, she walked into PwC without an appointment and was willing to take a gamble. As a finance chief, Krantz works to minimize risk. But when it comes to her managing her own career, Krantz has a “willingness to take risks,” she said.
‘I had three offers’
“I showed up [at PwC] on a Saturday at 9 a.m.,” Krantz began. “I guess there was about eight partners [present] and all these guys who had graduated from business school. And I literally had three offers by the time I left. I would say it was a little bit of luck, but also a little bit of skill.” Before coming to the U.S., she worked at the Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto. In doing risk management at the bank, “I felt like I was out of my league,” she said. But little did Krantz know the knowledge she gained would help her land a job in the U.S. “I met all the requirements for immigration to stay in the country; thank God, because I’ve got this husband who’s already going to school, and so somebody is supposed to be paying the rent,” Krantz quipped.
She joined PwC as a principal consultant in financial risk management amid a male-dominated environment. “Working in the bullpen of one of these accounting firms is a phenomenal way to learn,” Krantz said. “I learned from all these guys.” But the learning curve included pointed feedback. “I remember that one of the partners in the first year said that I just didn’t have the same fire in my belly as everyone else did,” she explained. “And I thought, okay, no problem, here I go!” The job really helped her to prioritize work and learn the fundamentals of controls and auditing and finance at the accounting level, Krantz said. At the beginning of your career, it’s great to learn your job in person in the office, but the pandemic may have changed that, she noted. “I just saw that PricewaterhouseCoopers is allowing 40,000 employees to work remotely, so I kind of wonder how these people are going to learn in the same philosophy,” she said. “What PwC did for me was it got me acclimated to the pace, the vigor, the exactness, and the level of excellence that you needed in New York to be successful.”
‘We’re not staying in our seats’
After four years at PwC, Krantz decided to move on to Merrill Lynch becoming VP of business analysis. But about two years into her time with the company, the U.S. experienced the devastating terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) on September 11, 2001.
She was working in Merrill Lynch offices in the World Financial Center near the WTC. After the onset of the attack on the Twin Towers in the WTC, “even though most of the security guards were saying to stay in your seats, this gentleman, I have a lot of respect for him, said ‘Nope, we’re not saying in seats our seats, we’re leaving.’ We were on a really low floor and walked out. All I can say is we lucked out.” Consequently, Krantz changed jobs and began working Morgan Stanley as VP of finance, reporting, and analysis in the investment management division. During her time at the company, she had her second child. Krantz remained for about a year, “mostly due to the fact that I probably wasn’t as interested in the work, and I think like a lot of women might do, I struggled with what’s the right answer here for me?” she said.
At this time, Lawrence Haber, the CFO Krantz worked with when she was at Merrill Lynch, became CFO at Credit Suisse Asset Management, which was in Midtown Manhattan, she said. Haber was looking to hire someone with the designation of a chartered financial analyst (CFA), “so they would have credibility with all the investment managers,” Krantz said. She had earned a CFA and wound up joining the company as global head of business and financial analysis in the asset management division. “Luckily, that worked out for me,” Krantz said. Haber allowed for a flexible schedule of four days a week in the office, and one day working from home, she said. “It was kind of all I needed.” Krantz said. In the year 2003, “I was an anomaly,” she commented. And at every job since then, Krantz has worked from home on Fridays, she said. “I got all my work done. I was really effective. It was just this thing that I started doing and people accepted it,” Krantz said.
‘I remember crying on my 40th birthday’
Part of what was exciting about her position at Credit Suisse was the exposure and opportunity to be involved in high-level processes as a relatively junior person, she said. When her boss got promoted to be the COO of Credit Suisse Asset Management in Zurich, she decided to join a new company. “It was a tremendous opportunity [at Credit Suisse] but it was just time to move on,” Krantz said.
“Now, I’m going to Thomson Financial,” she began. “I got hired as senior vice president of financial planning and analysis, developing financial plans, forecasts, and long-range models, and meanwhile, I’ve never done FP&A … I’m there for two weeks, and they buy Reuters. So, now I’m on the deal team of bringing these two companies together, for a year.” In 2008, Thomson Corp. and Reuters Group Plc merged into Thomson Reuters Corp. In her role, Krantz interacted with the CFO of Reuters and the CFO of Thomson Corp. “I’m trying to bring not only the finance department together, but obviously, the businesses, and [determining] how the pro-forma financial statements would look like once we get rolling as a combined company—all things I have legitimately never done,” she said.
Krantz worked hard, and at one point, the stress took its toll. “I remember crying on my 40th birthday because I’m in the office, and I’m working on something that I hardly understand, and I’m trying to figure it out,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘Is this really a better life?’” But turns out, the answer was yes, she said.
“I did figure it out,” Krantz said. “I definitely had great relationships and connections with both of those CFOs.” When the organization decided there was going to be four divisional CFOs, “I was chosen to be in the bakeoff for those roles,” she said. That’s how Krantz got her first divisional CFO role— finance chief at Reuters Media. “I didn’t know the first thing about media; I was basically a financial services person,” Krantz said. “The CEO of the media group thought that I could be a good CFO.”
Krantz referred to this role as “my CFO in training wheels job.” She continued, “I interacted with the board, and learned how to communicate with everyone in the business. I learned how to kind of argue or defend the business’ growth projections. I just learned a lot of things in that what I would call safe environment.” After four years, she moved on to become the CFO of institutional equities, “the bigger kind of more the main wheelhouse of Thomson Reuters,” Krantz said.
This was between 2010 and 2011, “the time where there was a big cloud over financial services,” she explained. “We were definitely scaling back. We were thinking about where we could win … I get a lot of credibility from other finance folks because I can be a little bit dispassionate [about a business decision]. So, that’s worked in my favor. And I think for that kind of consolidation, and cost savings time, that came in handy.” After two years, she was chosen to take on the role of CFO in the wealth management division. “That was a money-making machine,” Krantz said. “I learned how to be a real growth company [and] tech company CFO.”
She remained in the role for four years. After a 10-year run in total with Thomson, “I really wanted to be an independent company CFO,” Krantz said. “I was really fortunate,” she said. “I got connected to the big brand executive recruiters, and that was before they were necessarily really looking for women, if you know what I mean.” Now, at many big companies, there’s more of a push to have diverse candidates in senior leadership hiring slates that include more representation of women, Krantz said.
A tech CFO
“At Bamtech Media, I was a pretty decent technology CFO,” she said. “And Bamtech Media was a technology company that ended up being purchased by [The Walt Disney Company] to do Disney streaming. I’d literally been there about two weeks.” Krantz wanted to work as an independent company CFO. “And, now I’m going to be a divisional CFO, again,” she said.
However, it worked in Krantz’s favor, she said. “What a lucky move because now you get to be the CFO for Disney+ and ESPN+.” She initially thought the chairman of Disney would want a new CFO, “because I thought this is your biggest initiative in the last 10 years, and you haven’t known me for two weeks,” she said. But it turns out Krantz was chosen because she was tech CFO, while many other candidates were legacy or entertainment CFOs, she said.
“I didn’t know one thing about direct to consumer, and you know who I learned it from—my boss,” Krantz said. “I basically had a morning tutorial every single morning for, no lie, a year and a half.”
“I am now working on the biggest strategic initiative of The Walt Disney Company in 10 years,” she said. “Bob Iger himself is flying to Chelsea Market in New York City, where we worked. Once every two weeks we are having meetings continuously about how to launch this product. And I’m lucky enough to be in the room. I’ve never been so energized in my life.” Krantz built the finance team from scratch, she said. Her boss became a mentor knowing her background would be an asset, she said. “Even though I didn’t know how to do direct to consumer video streaming, I knew how to do a lot of great finance stuff,” she said. “So, I think that’s why he was willing to invest some time in me to teach me this particular vertical.”
After three years with Disney, “I went back to trying to be an independent company CFO, and so I went to a company called MasterClass,” Krantz said. Working at the streaming education platform was a great experience, she said. As a startup, “as soon as I got there, I did a fundraise and interacted with VCs,” she said. “You really are thinking about your stakeholders in a much more tangible way,” Krantz said. In comparison, at Disney, “I didn’t think about our shareholders, I thought about our customers and how to provide the best product and user experience,” she explained. “At MasterClass it was more about me demonstrating to investors the growth trajectory of the company, and why it made sense to invest in the company.”
Krantz was at the company for less than a year, when she was asked to move to San Francisco where the office is headquartered. “The CEO really wanted the CFO to sit beside him,” she explained. “I just couldn’t move to the West Coast.” She ended her tenure with the company in September 2021. In August 2021, Krantz began her role as finance chief at Passport. At the transportation software and payments company, she partners with the CEO in developing operational strategy, prioritizing initiatives for growth, and scaling as well as communicating with stakeholders.
“The most wonderful thing about the first week was the leadership team that [CEO]David Evans has put together truly is excellent,” Krantz said. “Each discipline has a leader that is highly experienced. What I like about that is everybody is there for the business to be successful.” Passport is used by more than 800 cities in North America to manage their parking and mobility infrastructure. The company’s digital platform provides end-to-end operating system for managing mobile pay parking, parking enforcement, digital permitting and micro-mobility. “At first, you just have to get the accounting right, you have to know your customers, the business has to run smoothly,” she says. “But as you get more mature, there’s just so much more to it. I think that [includes] thoughtfulness about how we really should be utilizing our resources.”
When summarizing her career thus far, Krantz put it this way: “I have now learned to be uncomfortable in a very comfortable way.” For example, “I’ve just joined a company that is a completely new space for me, a fintech,” she said. “I’m pretty close to a video streaming expert, I would say because Disney made me that. And of course, that was highly uncomfortable. I can assure you that I’m no longer scared about learning something new. I actually think I can and probably with speed.”
This story is part of new series called Career Rewind, where we ask executives with interesting career paths to recount how they climbed the corporate ladder. If you have an idea for a fascinating exec to profile, please contact Sheryl.Estrada@fortune.com.