My name is Valerie Finch, and I’m the controller at IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants). Although I didn’t start my career in the accounting field, I learned a lot through going back to school, studying for my CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certification, and being mentored by one of IMA’s own. Yet, without the support of my mentor and my family, I wouldn’t have been able to overcome the challenges and become a true business partner.
SUPPORT OF MENTORS
When I graduated high school, I was the second person in my family to go to college. My older sister went into teaching, so I did, too. But when I graduated college, there weren’t many jobs available for teachers. So, I decided to jump into the business world since I had a flair for numbers.
One job I landed was at a travel agency. I worked there for a few years in an administrative role, and then I moved into the accounting department; that’s when I met Doreen Remmen, who is now IMA’s CFO. She must’ve seen something in me since she began to mentor me on accounting principles and regulations. I had no accounting degree, yet I was doing a lot of accounting work. So she encouraged me to go back to school for a concentration in accounting.
I attended community college after the college accepted many of my previous course credits. I took my courses one at a time, one semester at a time, and eventually graduated top of the class. Graduating with a concentration in accounting allowed me to speak like an accountant and take the next step into the business and accounting world.
I did all of this while working a full-time job, being married, and having a child.
SUPPORT OF FAMILY
While I was pregnant with my son, the travel agency I had been working for was sold. After staying home with my son for a while, Doreen called me with a job opportunity.
I worked at that privately-owned company for a few years, progressing from accounts payable to the controller role. During the last few years of my tenure, management told me that they wanted to sell the company and needed my help with the analyses and projections.
Because the company wanted its staff to be marketable to other jobs, Doreen recommended I sit for the CMA exam. I tried so hard to earn my CMA; my husband and son would wake up in the morning and ask me questions to help me study, but that didn’t really help me.
So, I switched gears and went back to school for my MBA (master of business administration) instead. By the time I graduated with my MBA, I was able to immediately turn over into a new job as controller of a small publicly traded company because of my experience and my degrees. That takes my story to 2008, around the time the stock market crashed. I was at that company for a few months before its funding dried up and was forced to declare bankruptcy.
In spring 2009, I received another call from Doreen—she had landed at IMA and had another job opportunity for me. I started my career at IMA in the human resources (HR) department, since I had HR experience during my time as a controller. Of course, I was again encouraged to get my CMA. I ultimately earned my CMA certification in 2010, and it has been great ever since. From that temporary HR role, I progressed to a financial analyst, then director of financial operations, and then to my current role as controller.
THE VALUE OF SUPPORT
During my time studying for my MBA and CMA, I had to overcome a variety of challenges: The business I worked for was being sold, I was working 40 or more hours per week, I went to school full time for a year and a half, I had a son in elementary school, and my husband worked. Without the support of my husband taking over at home, I wouldn’t have made it through. And without Doreen’s mentorship, I wouldn’t have pushed myself to get my MBA and CMA, which really helped me become a true business partner.
What challenges have you had to overcome, and how did you overcome them? What tips would you give to other professionals in those situations?