“I’m a constant learner. It’s critically important to be continuously learning, even if you’re in a very senior position.” That’s what Tracey T. Travis, EVP and CFO at The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., told me.
I sat down with Travis recently after she was honored with a Legacy Award during Black Enterprise’s annual Women of Power Summit. The award honors those who’ve defied the odds and changed the world for future generations. “It’s an acknowledgment of a career that has been well beyond my expectations,” she says. I usually talk numbers with Travis, but this time, I asked her about her career journey.
“My first job was as an engineer at General Motors,” Travis says. “I thought I would have a career in operations management.” But that all changed when she earned her MBA. “I took my first finance class and fell in love with finance,” she says. Travis then pivoted to financial roles at General Motors, including on the controller’s staff, where she worked on international product programs, joint ventures, and divestitures.
Travis, who joined cosmetics giant Estée Lauder in 2012, has navigated a more than 20-year career in financial leadership. She was an SVP and CFO at Ralph Lauren and an SVP and CFO of Intimate Brands for Limited Brands Inc., to name a few roles. And Travis spent a decade at PepsiCo Inc. and the Pepsi Bottling Group in financial leadership and operations management positions.
At PepsiCo, a pivotal moment in her career trajectory included both sponsorship and profit and loss management. Travis was the CFO of a business unit at the company, and the chief operating officer at the time was a woman, she says. In a discussion about talent, the COO heard from people who spoke highly of Travis’ work in finance roles, she explains. Travis was eventually offered a general manager position.
“There weren’t very many women general managers at that time, and certainly none that had done a cross-functional role from finance and general management,” she explains. The role “really expanded me in terms of the remit of how I thought about the business,” she says. “And how I thought about being a business partner when you’re managing P&L.”
Advice for CFOs
As Travis has seen the role of CFO evolve over the years, I asked her to share essential skill sets for a modern finance chief. Here’s her advice:
1 — Be strategic. “When you think about the last couple of years, the pandemic, and the impact it’s had on business, CFOs have played a significant role in making sure that businesses, particularly consumer businesses, were able to survive during this time, as well as prepare for an acceleration in growth,” she says.
2 — Be inclusive. “Talent is increasingly difficult to get,” Travis explains. “And you can’t just seek the skills you’re looking for in a narrow segment of the population. By being broad, you’re going to get the best talent. At every CFO forum that I go to, attracting, retaining, and training talent is at the top of the agenda.”
She continues, “More than 80% of Estée Lauder’s employees are women, and more than 60% of leaders at the company are women as well. We have many public initiatives as it relates to increasing minority female representation at all levels, recognizing it’s more challenging, quite frankly, for Black and Hispanic women, and particularly Black women, to progress.” For example, the From Every Chair Program, where the senior executive team provides mentorship.
“It was a game changer for the organization,” Travis says. “It’s been a game changer for me in the past as well when I participated in mentor programs.” About 20% or more of participants in the program have been promoted within the company, she says.
3 — Obtain digital skills. “Every company is increasingly digital,” Travis says. “Fortunately, I have responsibility for IT, and a couple of the outside boards that I sit on as well are technology enabled. I try to immerse myself in all the new technologies. When you’re working with the CEO on the strategy for the company, allocating resources toward what’s important for future growth, and helping the company not become obsolete, having digital skills is critically important.”
Speaking of technology, Travis says her finance organization at Estée Lauder launched an initiative called “Digital Finance,” where they’re exploring how to further digitize end-to-end processes, and “definitely one of the areas is forecasting.”
Travis is indeed a constant learner and pays it forward as she continues her journey.
Have a good weekend.
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A Gallup report finds that women are more likely to currently be working in some form of hybrid work arrangement, as survey respondents point to the benefits of flexibility and well-being. And women are more likely to say they'd prefer a hybrid or remote arrangement in the future. To retain top talent, organizations must ensure hybrid work won’t limit opportunities for women. "To help mitigate the risk of creating broader gender divides, managers should encourage the women they lead to be intentional about cultivating their network and investing time and effort in relationship-building," according to the report. "Hybrid and flexible work arrangements are here to stay—something that most employees, especially working women who tend to shoulder more of the primary caregiver and domestic responsibilities, have celebrated as a win."
Here are a few Fortune weekend reads:
"The economist who won the Nobel for his work on bank runs breaks down SVB’s collapse—and his fears over what’s next" by Shawn Tully
"Peter Thiel is swearing he kept $50 million of his personal fortune at SVB while his Founders Fund bailed on the bank" by Tristan Bove
"Ryan Reynolds cashes in on his budget wireless provider Mint Mobile for a cool $1.35 billion" by Chloe Taylor
"5 foods a longevity expert eats each day to stay biologically 20 years younger than his age" by Alexa Mikhail
Here's a list of some notable moves this week:
Carolyn Burke was named EVP and CFO at PG&E Corporation (NYSE: PCG) (the parent company of Pacific Gas and Electric Company), effective May 4. Burke was most recently EVP and CFO at Chevron Phillips Chemical Company and previously EVP of strategy at Dynegy. Before Dynegy, she served as global controller of Investment Bank, and Global Commodities at JPMorgan Chase.
Kate Ferry was named CFO and executive director at Burberry PLC, a global luxury brand, and will join the company by early September. Ferry will succeed Julie Brown, currently Burberry chief operating and financial officer. As announced last year, Brown will leave Burberry on April 1. Brown will become CFO at GSK PLC, a health care company. Ferry is currently CFO of McLaren Group. Before McLaren, she was group CFO of TalkTalk Telecom Group PLC.
Sean P. O’Brien was named CFO at UGI Corporation (NYSE: UGI), effective on April 11. O’Brien succeeds Ted Jastrzebski, who announced his intent to retire. Most recently, O'Brien was with DCP Midstream, where he spent the past 14 years and served as group VP and CFO since 2012. Before DCP Midstream, O'Brien was at Duke Energy Corporation and served as a business unit controller and CFO.
Elaine Birkemeyer was named CFO at Tactile Systems Technology, Inc. (Nasdaq: TCMD), a medical technology company, effective March 20. Birkemeyer will succeed Brent Moen, who is retiring. Birkemeyer joins Tactile Medical from UnitedHealth Group Inc., a managed health care company that operates UnitedHealthcare and Optum. She began working for the company in 2014, most recently serving as CFO of UnitedHealth's Care Solutions portfolio.
Greg Fisher was promoted to CFO at Alamos Gold Inc. (NYSE: AGI), effective May 1. Fisher will succeed Jamie Porter who will be leaving Alamos to pursue another opportunity in the mining industry. Fisher has more than 20 years of progressive experience in the mining sector, including 13 years at Alamos Gold. He joined Alamos in 2010 and was appointed VP of finance in 2011 and SVP of finance in 2021.
Saloni Varma was named CFO at Thorne HealthTech, Inc. (Nasdaq: THRN). Varma most recently served as CFO of MotifFoodWorks. She was also the former CFO of ByHeart and has held various leadership roles at companies including Chobani, Dove, and Talenti. Varma has worked in investment banking in New York and Tokyo at UBS, and she began her career in accounting at KPMG.
"Whereas the frothy market of the last five years favored the best-connected founders who were also best at pitching, this new moment will favor a new type of entrepreneur. The grittiest ones. The ones with purpose. The ones who will get up time and again, who will brush off a catastrophic crisis, who will doggedly pursue their dream and are determined to succeed come hell or high water, whether it is on this startup, the next one, or the next."
—Leslie Feinzaig, founder and managing director of Graham & Walker Venture Fund, wrote a Fortune opinion piece about having all of her capital held up in Silicon Valley Bank as it collapsed.
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