Leadership: Shaking the Globe

Blythe McGarvie

Dr. Relly Nadler:
This week we have Blythe McGarvie. She is the author of Fit In Stand Out: Mastering the FISO Factor, Key to Leadership Effectiveness in Business and Life. We will be interviewing her about the book and she has a new book also. Her book has reached wide distribution in the United States and was featured in Barnes & Noble and it’s been published outside the US including in the Spanish, Indian and Russian languages.

She has a new book that we will be talking about, Shaking the Globe: Courageous Leaders Connecting the World. This was published by John Wiley & Sons, and was available in January 2009. So we have a great opportunity here to get a preview of that.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: This week we are going to talk about global leadership and how your leadership impact is going to flow through the globe.

Blythe is a new associate but as a female author and one of the, I would say, in 1995 was one of only ten female CFOs in the Fortune 500. It’s an honor to know her and to have her on the show with us today.

Since about 2003, Blythe has been President and Founder of Leadership for International Finance offering a global perspective for clients seeking profitable growth and providing leadership seminars for corporate and academic groups. She has a pulse on developing leaders and helping them respond effectively to changing situations as a result of her extensive corporate experience and her service on several boards, including Accenture, Pepsi Bottling Group, The Traveler Companies, and Viacom.

The recent announcement from Viacom indicated that McGarvie is renowned for her perspective on leadership, consumer markets and worldwide economic trends.

Since 1999 and through December 2002, Ms. McGarvie was Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the Bic Group, a French company, and one of the world’s leading manufacturers of convenient, disposable products. I’m sure we have all had some connection with them.

For about five years prior to joining Bic, Ms. McGarvie was Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Hannaford Brothers Company, a multi-billion-dollar supermarket retailer.

Besides her international experience at Bic, Blythe was the Chief Administrative Officer for Sara Lee Corporation based in Chicago, where she was responsible for the finance, strategy, information systems and human resources functions for the personal products business in the Pacific Rim, Asia, Australia, and South American industries where she grew the division to $6,000,000 in sales over just a three -ear period.

Ms. McGarvie is a certified public accountant and she was the youngest person to receive a two year MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management. She’s been featured in numerous national and international publications and media, including the New York Times, CFO Magazine, Fast Company, More Magazine, Consumer Goods Technology, and Business Finance as well and CNBC. Blythe, welcome to the show.

Blythe McGarvie: Thank you again, Cathy, it’s a delight to be here.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well, we have some questions for you and as you know we like to be interactive so we may scoot around a little bit.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Blythe, what a great background. We want to be able to pick your brain a bit for some of the things that have worked for you and some of the things that you have seen. Why don’t we start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself and how you came to work in the field of leadership?

Blythe McGarvie: Relly, it’s nice to meet you. It’s something that I have studied since I was in college. I was always interested in what makes a strong leader, what makes an effective leader; there were some people you just wanted to follow and there were other people that were in positions and you said I wouldn’t go to that company or I wouldn’t work for that person if you paid me an inordinate amount of money.

So, I’ve been studying leadership really, since I was 18. Over the years it surprised me that there was a consistent message that kept on coming through and I’d love your facts and figures you shared with the audience earlier because there are proven studies like you site, that show with the right leader, with happiness, you can actually make a huge difference not only in your life but also in your business.

I was lucky, I knew very early in life, in fact in Fit In Stand Out I said at age 12 I decided I wanted to become a CPA, a Certified Public Accountant. People sometimes think, oh man, she must be a real nerd. But it was something that; I was good with numbers and I loved business, and combine that with trying to be a leader to help other people understand business, it just seemed like a natural thing for me.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I’m going to piggyback on that. Let me ask you a really kind of different question. If someone says that they are not good with numbers and the become bleary-eyed looking at financials, how do you get them interested in finance?

Blythe McGarvie: That’s a great question, because I also found as a woman, a lot of people said don’t go into accounting, you have an outgoing personality. Go into marketing or sales, do something like that. I kept on saying, well, but I am good with number and I do like numbers. I dealt with people who understand figures and those who are afraid to death of figures.

What I say to people, as you say, bleary eyed looking at financials, it is a process. Think about traveling. Most of your audience is probably gone on a trip outside the country and it’s really like traveling in a foreign land. At first we feel a little uncomfortable, even I did, like I don’t get this, I don’t understand this. Or what does this all mean, or how can you see trends. But as you start traveling in a foreign country or start traveling in the world of finance, you start learning the language. That is so much a part of about feeling comfortable with analysis and understanding what an annual report is saying, and what is going on with the company so you know you are not working for another Enron but you are working for a great company.

There are just so many clues that seem obvious. The first, like anything, you have to walk before you can run, you have to play with the language, you have to make mistakes, you have to try on a small basis and then you get more and more comfortable.

I really encourage people who might get bleary-eyed, to use your word—I think that’s a great word—it’s just like a foreign trip. You have to pack a few guidebooks, maybe get familiar and take pay some attention to the currency, and then really have a love of learning and just say, okay, what does this all mean and how can I then understand a little bit more about my own world by understanding finance.

I believe finance is so critical to business. If you are in sales, marketing, or if you are giving seminars or if you are doing operations. Whatever your position, you need to understand a piece of finance because it is the language of business.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Well that’s a great way of expressing it. I like your use of language as far as the metaphors you are using. I think some of this bridge; you were a Chief Financial Officer for eight years, and so now it sounds like what you are doing mostly is writing and speaking. What happened for you that allowed you to make that change or to want to make that change from being actually in the C Suite to being an author, speaker and writer?

Blythe McGarvie: Well, it’s very interesting. I worked at my very first job right out of school for Arthur Anderson & Company, one of the Big 8 public accounting firms. Over the years I always felt proud that I worked for that company because they trained us well, they spent 10% of their gross revenues on training, they have high integrity, and when they disappeared from the face of this earth in August of 2002, it shook my world. I did not have any allegiance with them at that time, but it made me rethink what I wanted to do, and that’s how I really decided to get into leadership.

I was the CFO and I was traveling between Europe and the US and it struck me. Being a CFO no longer seemed like the only choice. I felt personally that I needed to help restore trust in business. When a great company can stumble so quickly, I thought there must be something going on here that people aren’t looking at the clues, people aren’t seeing what I had seen, and I had expected it to happen, but never so quickly.

So I said to myself, what would be the best way that I could help restore trust in business. I said, well, I’ve always been a good speaker, it’s something I did in my 20s, it’s something I love to do, and I said I wanted to help people show them how they can make money in business, legally, maintain an independent integrity, and still have fun doing it. I always enjoyed my time in large companies and medium sized companies. In fact, I still feel I’m in the corporate world because I am very much involved through my companies whose boards I sit on.

I decided to leave my position and start my speaking career and creating these workshops teaching finance to non-finance professionals to do what I do what I call find the joy of business. Because it is a wonderful, wonderful opportunity that we in America enjoy with virtually less protectionism and interference than many, many other countries.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Let me just ask you going back to your first book, Fit In Stand Out, which seems to be about how to be a successful leader. Tell us a little bit about why you wrote that book and then how you kind of moved into the second book called Shaking the Globe.

Blythe McGarvie: The first book was really the thoughts I’d been accumulating and the research I had done in trying to understand if there is a pattern in being a good leader. A lot of people think they are until it may be too late. Are there some characteristics, and I didn’t mean just personality, because you are born with a personality and you can adapt some of it and heighten some of your personality experiences. I was thinking about characteristics that you can learn. It turned out that as I was doing my research it started boiling down to six major factors. Each of these factors have a yin and a yang. In other words, there was one side that was really important just to be part of a team, to integrate, that was the fit in side. Then there was the other side of the factor which was more how did you stand out, because you really need to stand out to transform a business, move it ahead.

One of my clients, for example, is American Express. We say to their participants in our workshops; listen, somebody had to invent the credit card. It’s 50 years old today, but that concept did not exist 50 years ago. It took someone to stand out and try and transform the business from travelers checks to credit cards. Today we just say, of course we have credit cards. Of course, we have that. Well it didn’t always exist.

What are those traits, those characteristics that are so critical to help you make a difference and get rewarded personally, help your company grow, and help your community? Those are the three things that I think are important. Everyone wants to be rewarded on their own merit if they work hard and they want to improve their company so it will last. Also, they want to improve their community.

The six factors:

  1. Financial acuity: It gives you the confidence in order to make decisions.
  2. Integrity: I talk about some specific examples to prove your integrity.
  3. Linkages: allows you to have access to people outside your immediate circle.
  4. Learning: Learning leads to innovation.
  5. Perspective: Studies show that the number one reason people fail in business is they lose their perspective.
  6. Global Citizen: Being a global citizen. That’s turned out to be one of the most critical because then you are not surprised when something happens in China or India, Mexico or Canada.

Don’t forget to listen to the entire interview, just click on the recording above!


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