FEI's 2022 Financial Leadership Summit: An Opportunity for Transformation

As challenging as change can be, by having an optimistic attitude, our brains shift from “have to” to “get to.”

The FEI's 2022 Financial Leadership Summit was held in Cleveland, OH, the largest city on Lake Erie. The city was established in 1796 and has reshaped its identity for more than 225 years. Starting as a center of industry, then a manufacturing hub, to a key stop on water trade routes, to being the birthplace of rock and roll, and now, a beautiful city with incredible parklands and cultural life. Day one of FEI’s signature leadership event started with Andrej Suskavcevic, President and CEO of FEI, and Bret Lawson, incoming FEI Board Chair, presenting Distinguished Service Awards to John Briscoe, from Houston, Deborah Southwell, from Dallas, Rick Stover, from Dayton, and Josette Ferrer, from San Francisco. Congratulations, and thank you, honorees for helping to shape FEI into what it is today.

Mark Schulman, rock star drummer for pop artist P!nk and author, launched our day of learning with an incredible display of drumming, audience participation, and emotional stories from his career touring with Foreigner, Billy Idol, Cher, Simple Minds, and P!nk. Mark weaved three core principles - ABC: Attitude, Behavior, and Consequences - through a series of stories tugging on our heart strings reminding us that life is truly lived in the now. In times of indefinite uncertainty, focused effort guides us to not react to the new world using old mental models, but instead to intentionally respond from being present and engaged (what Mark called the “drummer’s high”). Over the last 2.5 years, we’ve all been nudged to reshape parts of our identity. As challenging as change can be, by having an optimistic attitude, our brains shift from “have to” to “get to.” Because the most important transformations begin in the relationship you have with yourself, Mark’s keynote served as a blueprint for how we can rewrite our life’s story.

Thank you to friends and sponsors ScottMadden, Prevedere, Brown and Brown, Workiva, and The Siegfried Group for their morning breakout sessions.

Finance executives naturally see patterns in, and relationships between, hard numbers. The pandemic offered you opportunities to reshape your leadership identity by applying those skills to identify new relationships with and between your employees, vendors, clients, and community. Robert Half’s Trisha Plovie and Protiviti’s Fran Maxwell led the next general session shedding light on future-proofing your workforce. Whether you call it the great resignation, reshuffle, or regret, Trisha and Fran shared recent survey data and offered client examples displaying just how drastically the American workplace has transformed. For example, 28% of respondents were willing to quit their job without first accepting another offer, 55% of employers are increasing their starting salaries in hopes of attracting top talent, and 71% of companies are now using contract talent to combat shrinking labor pools. I really appreciated their point that the purpose of an office is no longer the place where work happens 9AM - 5PM, it’s now an environment where stakeholders connect and collaborate episodically. The more flexibility you offer employees, the more you’ll note deeper levels of connection shifting employee behaviors to closely support corporate strategy.

As I noted in my Opening Reception summary, Rick Allen, Def Leppard’s drummer, tragically lost his left arm. With much practice, he built a new relationship with the drum set using his feet. Music is often construed as the relationship between human and instrument, between one note and the next, and between musicians and fans. Across mankind, music truly is a universal language. In the first afternoon general session, Margaret Merritt, Sam Ropos, Haleigh Shankle, and Adam McCutcheon, all leaders in Ernst & Young’s Financial Accounting Advisory Services practice, reminded Summit attendees that the transforming role of the CFO is increasingly focused on operationally creating safe places for new, trust-filled relationships. They shared insights into how deep levels of trust help organizations recover from reputation risks, using data to make different choices freeing employees to facilitate value add activities positively affecting stakeholders, and the power of simply getting started and iterating as the environment around you shifts. By celebrating small wins continually, communicating transparently, and surrendering how goals are accomplished, your team can remain committed to your mission.

Thank you also to friends and sponsors PSyn, Workday, and UiPath for their afternoon breakout sessions.

In addition to rock and roll, Cleveland is the birthplace of DC Comics’ character Superman. FEI was formed in 1931, Jerry Siegel created “The Man of Steel,” a symbol of truth, justice, and hope, in 1932. As the story goes, Clark Kent’s parents raised him to be a representation of the inherent goodness of the human spirit and of the capacity all humans have to do right by their neighbors. The day’s final presenter was Lara Abrash, CEO of Deloitte’s US Audit & Assurance business. A superwoman herself, Lara vulnerably shared stories of her son Nicholas’ challenging childhood and teenage years helping us to see why DEI - Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion - is so important to her and how it influences her team’s culture. She offered examples of how she embarked on a listening tour investing hundreds of hours understanding the mindsets of team members at all levels and across many functions. As she mentioned, leadership is what you do, not what you say.

Coming Together can have different meanings - reconnecting with familiar and meeting new faces, emotion filled and memorable experiences, sharing Mark Schulman’s ABCs with colleagues, knowing your, and others’, purpose, or seeking advice from peers about how to reshape your identity. One of the lyrics from the Beatles 1969 hit Come Together struck me, “One thing I can tell you is you got to be free.” You are an integral part of the FEI family. Whether you show up in pajamas and slippers, as Andrej did to kick off Summit, or your best rock star outfit, as many did during the Opening Reception at the Rock & Roll Hall, or the business casual you’re accustomed to wearing, I encourage you to lead by example and express your most authentic self. With FEI, you can reshape your identity, you can be vulnerable, and you can be free in the way that best helps you write your life’s next chapter.

Executive coach Michael S. Seaver served as emcee of the 2022 Financial Leadership Summit. For more of his insights on emotional intelligence, managing change, and discovering purpose, visit michaelsseaver.com.