Although women have yet to break into triple digits when it comes to CFO roles in the Fortune 500, there has been some exciting growth. The women who are becoming the top CFOs in the country are women who’ve climbed their way to the top steadily, rung by rung. Kathy Waller, the CFO is one such woman who worked hard over three decades to direct one of the oldest brands in the country.
Here is her story and what she tells young aspiring female CFOs.
Before Kathy Waller started her career, she got her BA from the University of Rochester. She started as a history major and didn’t have her sights set on the world of business yet. However, after a few months of working at the budget bureau for the city, the began to think more broadly.
She ended up managing the summer youth program for interns working for the city of Rochester. This work rewarded her greatly but there was still something missing. After a conversation with her sister, she realized there was more out there for her.
Her sister suggested she get her MBA and after much consideration, she agreed that it was a good idea.
Following her sister’s advice was one of the best decisions she ever made. Waller got into the Simon Business School with the help of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management. This program, focused on helping minorities who want to get into an MBA program, was instrumental in helping her start her career.
She began at Simon with the intent of studying finance. It took her less than a year to get into accounting and find that she enjoyed that. She shifted her major to focus on accounting.
She got a job at a public accounting firm in Rochester. After a few years, she got tired of the winter weather. A life having grown up in Atlanta hadn’t prepared her for the rough winters of New England, so she moved back to her hometown.
It was in 1987 that she began working as a senior accountant for Coca-Cola.
Building Her Career
While she was still young when she started working at Coca-Cola, she climbed up the ladder steadily. Through hard work and dedication, she moved from the research department into the role of chief of internal audit. It was here where she realized the power of Coca-Cola and how much she could contribute to the company.
Just a year after being named the chief of internal audit, she became vice president of the company in 2005. Before that, she worked as the Principal Accountant for Coca-Cola’s Northeast Europe/Africa Group and the Marketing Controller for the McDonald’s Group. She got a solid understanding of the global reach of the brand before she became vice president.
While working at Coca-Cola, she never forgot her beginnings. She still maintains a connection to the Simon Business School, serving as a member on their Executive Advisory Committee. This role affords her the opportunity to help new talent find a place at the school.
Waller serves on several boards because of her proven track record. She’s been named to the board of the Monster Energy Company, Delta Airlines Inc, and to Spelman College.
She serves to advise non-profit organizations that help to expand opportunities for women. This work is best exemplified by her work for Catalyst.
Spelman Board of Trustees
One of the ways that Waller gives back to her community is by supporting opportunities for young and emerging talent in her hometown. Having grown up in Atlanta, she knows that there are limited roles for women. As a black woman in America and one of the top CFOs in the country, she has broken barriers left and right.
She hopes to continue to do this for more women, which is why she chose to be a member of the Spelman College board of trustees. While she never attended there, she understands the role the school plays for the lives of black women in America.
Coca-Cola and Spelman have a long-standing relationship that involves philanthropy and research. She supports that continued relationship with her role.
She also continues the tradition of helping the women of Spelman reach their professional goals. By supporting this institution, she hopes to continue to offer women the best opportunities in business and industry.
When asked about how other women can help to become CFOs, she tells them to continue to dream. She advises young professionals to start their careers by taking jobs that they enjoy and to focus on learning new things at every turn.
Waller advises young professionals to always work to create new relationships because there’s no telling which people could help them in the future.
She also thinks about the future of Coca-Cola all of the time. Whether it’s through innovation based on new soft drinks and new products, there are all kinds of growth opportunities. Companies like hers can take risks knowing that there is room for experimentation.
Like any good business person, she puts her consumers first and gives them everything they ask for. While she’s working with an old brand, it’s one that has tried lots of products that the public hasn’t seen before.
With someone like her at the helm, we’re sure to see some exciting growth in the coming years.
More Top CFOs Are Women, With More To Come
As more women are getting recognized as leaders of industry, there are more women assuming executive level officerships at companies. Even the biggest companies in the country are now affording those roles to women. While the climb may be steeper for top CFOs that are women, the victories are just as sweet.
If you want to hear more busted myths about the limited roles of accountants, check out our latest guide.