When it comes to financial leadership, what style do you prefer? Delegative, participative, or maybe authoritarian? Our next guess, Melissa Hurrington, believes in the power of servant leadership, which is about working for the people to start driving business growth.
Melissa is the Chief Financial Officer and VP of Operations at Premier Claims. In this episode, she talks about financial leadership, getting winners in your team, and the secrets behind growing a business at a great rate.
Welcome back to CFO Weekly, where we're talking with financial leaders about how to build efficiency in their teams, create time for strategy and ultimately get results, with your host, Megan Weis. Let's jump right in.
Megan: Today my guest is Melissa Hurrington, CFO and VP of Operations for Premier Claims. Melissa is a respected finance and business professional with a seasoned career across multiple industries. She is a servant leader who sees beyond the numbers, and instead sees the impact people make on a business.
Aside from her husband and two children, nothing makes Melissa more proud than watching her team's individual growth under her leadership. Melissa has been with Premier Claims from almost the beginning, and has contributed greatly to the exponential growth they have experienced in recent years.
Prior to joining Premier Claims, she has taken on challenging roles in public accounting, a publicly traded company in the technology industry, a nationwide nonprofit company, where she still serves on the human rights board, and has also spent time in the hospitality industry managing the finances of events all over the country.
Melissa believes in showing up as the best version of yourself every day. Learning and growing is a necessity in both her personal and professional life. Her belief in pushing yourself to be 1% better has become an unofficial motto of the entire team at Premier Claims. Melissa, thank you so much for joining me on this episode.
Melissa: Thank you for having me. I appreciate the invite.
Megan: Today we're going to be discussing your career journey and some of the lessons you've learned along the way. I'm looking forward to hearing your story and learning from you. Let's go ahead and get started.
Melissa: Sounds great.
Megan: As always, let's start with you and your career journey to date. How is it that you got to where you are today?
Melissa: Growing up, I am one of those odd ducks, I always knew accounting in finance was what was meant for me. My parents actually owned a bar growing up. I'm sure they'd be so mad that I said that. They owned a bar and it was from like a young age, just absolutely obsessed with counting the change in the drawers or whatever it was. Math, numbers. Then getting older and getting into just some basic accounting classes. I knew right away. I don't know what that says about me, but accounting and finance, it was just meant for me.
I knew right away that this is what I was going to do. The one thing that was not the path I was expecting is I was so dead-set-- as I'm sure a lot of young people are-- that I was going to do the public accounting route and become a partner. That's what I was going to do. That's where I started out, is in public accounting for a small firm here in Omaha, Nebraska. I learned so much working there, as you do. I was focused in the audit department, and then during tax season, anybody in public accounting is a tax accountant, but the audit department.
That was my very first real job. I attribute the couple of years I spent there, still to this day, to so much of the learning and growing that I'm continuing to do, because with audit, you went into a new company, new processes, new reports every two weeks. You had no option but just to jump in and figure it out. What are your processes? You got exposed to every accounting software that is out there. Anything from nonprofit, to government agencies, to for-profit businesses, private, public, all of it. You just had to jump in and you saw different team environments, different office setups, all of it.
It really fed my constant need to learn something new, to change things up. The cubicle life is just not for me. I don't want to go and clock in and sit at my cubicle and be left alone with my spreadsheets and clock back out. I love talking to new people, exploring new things. That was my first real introduction into this world, and I loved it. I learned so much. I learned so many things to do, so very many things not to do.
From there, I got an opportunity. I actually went into the nonprofit space. I worked for a national nonprofit company that serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. That fed my accounting brain and heart, but then it also just really-- I think my heart grew 10 sizes there working with the individuals that they serve. At that point in my career, I learned how much I wanted to love what I was doing and feel good about what I was doing and the impact that I was having there.
Really enjoyed my time at that nonprofit. I attribute that part of my career journey to learning how to be scrappy with a dollar. I tell everyone, I joke around that we were a real nonprofit where there was no profit to be found, where the bathrooms weren't necessarily always functioning. You really learned how to be scrappy with a dollar, how to make things work, and understood the impact sometimes of even tiny little changes of, if we increase people's hourly wages 10 cents, how much that adds up over time, and learned so much there in that aspect. Then also again, just the fact that I want to love what I do and feel good about what I'm doing at work every day.
From there, I got recruited out and worked for a publicly traded company. Learned a lot, grew a lot, was challenged, was in more of a traditional staff accountant, senior accountant, that type of a role. Had a wonderful CFO at that company. It was the first time that I saw CFO, and I saw him routinely in and out of the cubicles, walking around the office, very public presence that he had in the office, and he was real. He joked around with us. He knew my kids' names despite the fact that I was, at that point, four steps on a hierarchy chart away from him, asked about my kids, told us ridiculous stories about his children and his family.
Everything about that experience taught me that's the kind of leader that I want to be. I don't want a corner office. I don't want to be on a pedestal. The job comes with a lot of pressure, and I get that, but he was still so real and just down in the trenches with us. We had an atrocious month-end process.
While we were there, we were certainly working on getting through it. Obviously, it was years ago when things were not automated, the opposite of automated, but he would be in there just suit jacket off, sleeves, literally rolled up and helping us figure out, why won't this Rec balance? Why aren't we doing this? My Excel sheet broke." That learning process and that piece of my journey was, that is the kind of leader that I want to be should I ever reach that level?
From there, I actually went to the hospitality industry. I worked for a company. I was the controller that ran the hospitality, the concession stands, weddings, all of that, for an arena and convention center, and a ballpark that hosts the men's college world series here in Omaha, Nebraska. That was the time of my life. When your office is backstage at a Lady Gaga concert, or at the National Championship game of anything as a sports fanatic, I just couldn't get any better of an environment than that.
We had our second baby, and the thing is, Taylor Swift doesn't do concerts on Tuesdays at 10:00 AM. They're Friday nights, and they are late Friday nights. I was there for years. The schedule didn't work for me and my family anymore. There, I really fell in love with operations and the analytics side of operations.
By the end of my tenure with that company, I knew if it was raining outside exactly how that was going to affect beer sales. You knew that if it was raining outside, the women are going to come into a concert and they're going to head to the restroom and they're going to fix up their outfit or their hair or their makeup or whatever it may be, and your sales are actually going to tank as a result of that. Or understanding yields on kegs or all of these things I didn't expect to be involved in, but for me, it was a super interesting study on how that 1% could have such a change of trying to control.
You can't tap too many kegs if you don't also have a concert tomorrow because those are going to spoil. You need to tap enough kegs so that you can get enough people served during just a 15-minute intermission in the concert or whatever it may be. Worked really closely with the Operations Director there. The two of us were two peas in a pod, and worked really closely together to then analyze those financials after every single event. That was just love at first sight for me of getting into those things, getting into the weeds. Loved, loved my time there. Again, that schedule just didn't work for my family.
I actually got recruited back to that nonprofit that I was working with before. The CFO, I ran into him in line at Starbucks and made a joke. One thing led to another and before I knew it, there was a text message coming my way and I was giving notice. It was just serendipitous timing for me. That nonprofit forever had my heart, and they still do. I actually serve on our human rights board now. Went back there for a short period of time in a more elevated role, certainly than I was at earlier in my career, and still loved it.
Out of the blue, the owner of Premier Claims-- we still don't know how it happened or how he found my number or anything else, we certainly have two different sides of that story-- reached out to me and said that he was a brand new company, just getting started. He had just moved to Omaha, Nebraska two weeks before. I found myself sitting across my conference table with him having a conversation. One thing led to another, and of all the things I had done in my career, from public accounting, to nonprofit, to for-profit, to publicly traded, I had never spent time with a startup. I was terrified, absolutely terrified.
You know when you just click with someone in a conversation? Him and I just clicked, and I was like, "Let's do it. Let's try this out. Let's try something new." I came on and I assisted him in a 1099 consulting almost role. I'd tell him I get all his financials from my kitchen table. Then when the time was right, I left that nonprofit full-time and jumped in as the CFO and VP of Operations, my current role with Premier Claims now. That was about four years ago this upcoming month, and have been here ever since.
Megan: Tell us about Premier Claims. What is it that this company does?
Melissa: We are a national public adjusting firm. We work property insurance claims, something that maybe doesn't sound that exciting on the surface, but I could talk roof and insurance all day long now at this point. We actually advocate on behalf of the policyholder.
When you have a loss that takes place at your property, typically those are a result of the weather event, a hail storm, a tornado, a hurricane, whatever that may be. You contact Jake from State Farm, and he comes out and he gives you a quote, and you feel like that quote was underpaid or potentially even wrongfully denied. You could hire us as a public adjuster to advocate on your behalf.
We go toe to toe, head to head with Nationwide, All State, State Farm, the big names, the deep pockets, the funny commercials and we ask for more money on its surface, but essentially all we're doing is negotiating and advocating on behalf of the policy holder to ask your insurance carrier to pay out your property insurance claim appropriately according to the policy that you pay premiums on.
Megan: That's interesting. I didn't even know places like that existed.
Melissa: Yes. I didn't either, until I was sitting across from Kyle and having that conversation. I think everyone when we talk about it, they're like, "I could have used you." I tell everyone it's almost a sad reality that we're a company and that I have a job here. I wish there wasn't a need for us, but there's a pretty significant need for the service that we provide.
We're really great at what we do. There's no denying that. I brag on my team, but it's almost a sad statistic that, on average, every claim that comes to us over the history of the company, we increase that claim on average by 911%, which is mind-blowing, and kudos, the best team hands-down.
At the end of the day, that shouldn't be a reality. There shouldn't be a need for that. Obviously, there is. Mother Nature, she's a beast. They have a bottom line that they're trying to protect, I get it, I do at the end of the day. We advocate and do the best that we can to make sure that we can make our clients whole again.
Megan: What's right is right. You're the CFO and the VP of Operations?
Melissa: Yes, and the Keurig water filler-upper. A lot of hats for sure. It really goes back to my time in hospitality as I was working side by side with that Director of Operations. I was so much better of a finance professional when I understood the operations.
The numbers tell a story. I think accounting and finance, which there's been such a dramatic change in the last decade, but historically, prior to that, we were just these reporters of old news. I'll add up the numbers and I'll tell you what we did. Sometimes when you have those crazy month-end closes, I can tell you-- hopefully here on June 21st, I can tell you what we did in Q1 and let you know what the results of that was.
The pace of the world has changed I feel like. Really, instead of these historical reporters, the information that is just too little too late, your finance professionals, accounting and finance, all of it, you're just immersed into these operations. What better person to be able to say, "Hey, the data is telling me that there's a trend going on. There's something going on over here in the sales department that we need to dig into."
Or what if my adjusting department, since we're public adjusters, what if they could get just 1% more approved? How does that affect things in that future space? The operations, for me, with a company that was relatively fresh when I joined them, I was like, this is something I want to all roll up to me so that we make sure that these numbers tell a story, and that we know how to read it while we're still writing the story. The operations piece funnels up to me, and then all of the company support as well, HR legal, IT. Those things are all coming right on up to me.
Megan: You mentioned that you were terrified to join a startup. What was that transition like, and how do you like it today?
Melissa: What was that transition like? I'm not going to lie. Kyle, if you're listening, you know I respect you. Friday of my first week, I texted my husband and I was like, "What am I doing? It is the wild west out here." It was such a culture shock at first, but I took that opportunity. I was scared. I'm risk averse just naturally. That was the opposite of my personality for sure.
There was something about this company, about Kyle, about the owner that I knew, if I didn't take that leap, it would forever be the one that got away. I saw the potential in this company. I saw the need in the industry, in the country for what we do. I don't know something about it, it was magnetic, and I just had to take that leap.
I had to find out for myself.
My husband was so tired of watching me pace the kitchen and talk it out with him for months, it felt like, before I finally said yes. It was a culture shock for sure at first. I have since then learned to love the pace. I love that there's none of the-- I don't know if red tape is the right term at this point-- but we could see a need for something and say, "Hey, I want to hire a position" or, "Hey, I want to move somebody around," and could take immediate impact on it instead of, "Submit your proposal to your director and then they can go to HR. We can have a conversation and we can discuss it and see what this looks in 2023s budget proposal."
Instead, it was like, "You know what? You're right. I love this. Take immediate action." The pace of that and the ability just see needs, whether talent or even different systems and software or a change to the process. To be able to just huddle up, have a conversation with all the deciding players, and implement was such a freedom to me. It's been really exciting to know that I put my fingerprint on a company in their history, no matter what the future holds. That I had this once in a lifetime opportunity, because that's really what I felt like to me at the time, to come in and set this company up for its future success.
It was so exciting, and it was too good to walk away from, but it was terrifying. There are still days that it's a little bit terrifying. I feel like we're finally out of that true startup space, but there's the occasional, could just one day be normal? That normal doesn't exist anymore in the world, let alone in startups.
Megan: Sounds like an exciting place to be. You mentioned, early on in your career, liking the change in scenery that was associated with public accounting. It sounds like you get that every day.
Melissa: We get it every day. I'll tell you, probably 364 days out of the year, I love it, and then there's that 1 day that I'm like. Just 24 hours. Can you give me 24 hours to get my bearings here? It feeds my need for that constant change and growth, and something new, and everything looks different. It was such a good fit for me, as much as I would hope that the company would say I'm a good fit for them. It's just as much filling up my bucket.
Megan: I think I saw in your LinkedIn profile that you are a believer in servant leadership.
Megan: First, tell me what that means to you. Secondly, how does that play into the type of leader that you are?
Melissa: I believe strongly that my role as a leader in this company is to take the barriers that my employees, my team members are seeing down the road, and remove them before they get there. I work for my team, not the other way around. All of my conversations are, "What do you need from me? What do you plan on achieving this week, this month, this year, whatever time-frame we may be talking about, and what do you need from me to get you there?" That is what servant leadership is to me.
I don't think there's any right or wrong to those different leadership styles, as long as you're a good leader and you're leading with the right intention but it just naturally suits me. What I'm most comfortable in is that taking the hierarchy and flipping it upside down.
I see, instead of talking direct reports, it's this is how many people are counting on me. This is how many people I need to make sure are taken care of, and that they have what they need from me. Versus the other way around of, are they meeting my expectations? Am I meeting their expectations? I sure hope so. I work every single day towards that, of just making sure that I am showing up as the best version of myself and staying out ahead of them, and trying to keep that pace and just spotting the issues. Or sometimes they tell me where to look and where the issues are at and I'm like, "Got it. Let me run with it from here and see what I can make happen."
Megan: That's awesome. That sounds like what a true leader should be.
Melissa: I think so, but I know not everyone. There's all those different opinions out there. That's the nice thing about opinions, is everybody gets to think that theirs is right
Megan: When you posted on LinkedIn that you love to hear new ideas and philosophies and read about other successes, and that you love reading about their learning lessons from their failures too, what failures in your career have shaped your journey?
Melissa: I love that question. I love failure. Period. I think it's so important. There's no teacher quite like failure right, of just learning it yourself. As long as you take that failure and you just pause and look at it and say what could I have done differently, and what will I do differently going forward, I think it's so huge and so pivotal. Those are just lessons that stay with you, which is why big believer in failure.
I also think if you're not failing, you're staying in your comfort zone way too much. If everything is going right 100% of the time, have you tried anything new? Pretty comfortable with failure around here for sure. As far as my career journey, there's been lots of missteps in there. I'm sure of them. I feel like I fail probably 10 times a day in what I'm saying or maybe a decision that you make or anything else. I had made a really big failure on a big implementation at a nonprofit where I just botched the ROI calculation and how I was looking at it, and just had the total wrong viewpoint on it.
I should have asked for help. At the end of the day, that's what it was. I should have gotten more information. I should have asked more questions, and I should have asked for help. Instead, I was trying to prove myself. It was an ROI calculation. Obviously I could do it. I was so confident in myself at that. I was worried that if I had asked those questions that maybe my direct supervisor would think I wasn't capable or something, and I botched it. I made terrible assumptions. Just made some bad decisions in that.
Again, at a nonprofit, we were collecting pennies from fountains, it felt like it was a mistake. I learned a lot from that of knowing what questions to ask and knowing when to ask for help. Here at Premier, there was a time that we grew too fast, and it was a big giant failure at that point. It exposed every single hole in our process when we were growing and scaling, and then overnight just took on way too much that we weren't ready for, we weren't staffed for at that point. It blew every hole in our boat. That's for sure.
It was also such a pivotal time for us as a company when we discovered that. There was a lot of new leadership positions that developed out of that. There was a lot more trust, I think, between Kyle and I as professional relationship of when I'm saying, "Yes, I'm risk averse, but we need to slow down" that we really need to run this stuff past each other.
We took our CRM and invested a ton of money into people to get our CRM really locked down and our process tight so that things, when it slipped through the cracks in the way that they were, not necessarily loving the result of that time period as the company, but we absolutely would not be the company that we are today if we didn't go through that pressure cooker of a failure at that time.
Megan: Premier Claims has grown 20 times in the last 4 years. Is that correct?
Melissa: That's right. 21x.
Megan: That's amazing. What do you guys attribute that exponential growth to?
Melissa: I attribute it to my team at the end of the day. They're brilliant at what they do, and results talk. There's no denying that. If we weren't providing a service that is, a, needed, b, done well, then that growth would be impossible. The team, hands-down number one reason that we've been able to grow at that pace.
I think a lot of it after that point is attributed to, Kyle has brilliant vision. He has a brilliant vision for this company. There's no one in the market doing it the way that we are doing it. He's followed that vision and has stayed true to that. Your typical mom and pop public adjusting shop has maybe a handful of people, and everybody does all the things.
What we did is, we took the process and we broke it down and we let experts be experts of what they do. I have my field staff all over the country that goes up on the roofs. I call them our boots on the roofs instead of boots on the ground. They are really great and have spent their lives outside in the elements on roofs inspecting things. They know what they're looking for. They have a trained eye for it, and asking them to sit a desk 40 hours a week would be their actual nightmare. Go be great at that.
I have a negotiating adjusting team that are brilliant negotiators, are trained at negotiating, have no problem with their backbone of picking up the phone every single day and asking for more money, demanding that we are right, and not our assumptions, our research, that the insured is owed more money. They are brilliant negotiators. They would not be great going up and down ladders all day every day.
Taking that stuff and separating it out into all of the departments that we have today, and just hiring really great people who can execute on-- I don't want to say one thing-- it's not that simple. Stay focused on what it is that they are great at, and then go be great at that. It has been a huge piece of them being able to grow at that pace. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it's the team that gets the results that we've been able to get. They are hands-down the reason that we've been able to scale at that pace
Megan: How are you managing to find great people these days and to track them and retain them?
Melissa: What a loaded question. That's a lot. You got 45 minutes. The market's changed a lot. Two years ago, we weren't facing near the challenges that we are facing today. This also lends to what I was saying earlier of what I love about the startup space is just being able to make decisions.
I hire people and I focus on hiring people. What I mean by that is, we've had people come through the door applying for one position and then they're sitting across from me and I'm like, "You are a right person, but this is not right seat. I want to work with right people for the company." We hire winners at the end of the day. If I think someone is a winner, I will find a place for them at this company.
I realize I'm only able to do that because that we are scaling and growing, but for every company, that's not necessarily an option, but if somebody's sitting across to me I'm like, "You are who I want to work with. You are who I want to spend this amount of time with. You are a winner, but this is not right seat for you. Trust me. If you can out of this basic interview here, join us and let's find the right seat."
Sometimes I'll create a position around them. We've actually had a handful of people that have started that are still unaware of what their job title is. That's no small ask. I get that. If you trust us, if you see the vision, if you see what we're doing here let's come in and commit to figuring it out together. I have people on my team that have worked across all departments.
The one story I always tell is one of my best employees, hands-down. She joined us in the marketing department and did a great job. There is no denying the job that she did. Did a great job but quickly realized it just didn't fill her bucket. "I'm producing this work, and it's quality work, but it's draining me rather than exciting me." I was like, "Okay let's figure it out. What do you want to do?" She fell into an HR role. We moved over to the HR department, and she did such good things there.
Then we had a conversation, I think a year into that, and she's like, "This isn't it either. I don't know what it is." I was like, "Okay, so let's talk about it. What did you love about your job, your role here? What do you not love about it?" We found out that what she loved about it was the fact that she was the first person in an HR seat that I hired, and I offloaded it off of my plate. She loved creating the process. She loved making the rules. She loved shaping out the department but not the actual work.
It was like there's a need for process here. From there, she moved into the seat that she's currently in as our Process Improvement Director. We had the freedom to do that. I have people that have been hired for a specific role and stay in that role and are great at it. We've had people that we've hired, unsure what that role is but committed to figuring out together.
Then I've had people that have been hired, and have not only been promoted, but completely changed departments, divisions, career paths, really, with us but let's figure it out together. If you see a need, point it out to me and we'll make it happen. Going back-- I guess we went on a journey there-- the biggest thing for me when I'm looking for people is I want to work with winners. I want to work with people who want it, who are willing to put in the work with us, who are equally fine with failure and change, and what this company looks like today might not be what it looks like next week, which is a reality for a growing and scaling company, and that excites them because that doesn't excite everyone.
Megan: It does take a special person.
Melissa: That's some people's nightmare. I think almost every person leaves an interview with me and is like, "That was not what I was expecting." They call our recruiter and they're like, "Melissa is transparent." I'm transparent probably almost to a fault, but it's a two-way street. They're interviewing me and this company just as much as I may be interviewing them. Here are my cards. Here's the pros of working here. Here are the cons.
You have to decide if that works right for you, because once somebody's here we are all in with them. I'm all in. I'm committed to you.
I don't want you to come here and a month later and be like, "You know what? This wasn't what I wanted. This wasn't what I expected. This wasn't what was "sold" to me." That's my nightmare. Now, there's people that I come here and are like, "I said I wanted this and turns out I don't." That's okay. That's cool. Let's have that conversation and see what's next for you.
For the most part, just having that conversation and keeping it pretty fluid. A lot of things we do here stay pretty fluid, but staying fluid in just having those conversations of, let's figure out what your skills are and how we can apply them, and then not stay too rigid in that. I've been turned away for jobs in the past before like, "I love you but you're not right for this position." That's the end of the conversation.
I'm good at what I do. I bring the value to every company that I have worked with without a doubt. I just saw so much missed opportunity in that, and I got the opportunity to do it differently here. Just to figure it out and create it around the person. As far as hiring, that's the strategy. As far as retention, it's felt like a bit of an uphill battle here lately, but I think that servant leadership plays a big part in it.
I love appreciation. They can laugh at my cheesiness that I have around this place all the time, but we have an appreciation station that I love, and is my absolute pride and joy. I feel like I will talk about it for the rest of my career. It's in our break room. While you're migrating your meal, write an appreciation station card for someone else. It is peer to peer. "Hey, I noticed you did that small thing. Thank you." That thing fills up weekly. Nobody gets anything for it. There's no incentive around it. We've just built that appreciation into our culture as a company.
We have a weekly all hands meeting, a weekly conference call every Monday at 8:00 AM. The whole company gets together and we talk about the week, we talk about last week. We celebrate wins. Every single division has a weekly MVP that we nominate. It is almost always small stuff. To be honest, I was struggling with my headset coming into this conversation with you, and Danilo, one of the people on my IT team, spent 20 minutes trying to figure out my Bluetooth situation with my computer and really saved the day for me and my moment of panic. He's absolutely probably going to be my weekly win next week.
It's not always big stuff. It doesn't always have to be this huge mountain to finally be noticed. I believe strongly in giving the appreciation, noticing all the small things that just makes this place run every single day. I can tell you it's not from my office. I do good work here, but what keeps this place going is not happening. as a result of me sitting at my desk. It's every single person out there doing what they do best and taking pride in their work and doing it well. I want them to all be recognized.
The leadership team is great. Like I said, we do that, but that peer-to-peer appreciation is so huge to have people do good work and have somebody notice it, because people go the extra mile then all the time of, "Absolutely, I'll do that for you because the last time I did that for you, you noticed it."
Megan: It is important. People, they want to feel like they're appreciated and noticed, and not invisible or doing meaningless work.
Melissa: Yes. We have a high-pressure job as far as what we do in that public adjusting space. It is not a low-stress moment for our insureds when they experience a property loss, especially if it's their own residential home. There is nothing more stressful than going through the experience of a tornado, or a house fire, or whatever it may be, and now I'm living in my mother-in-law's basement while you negotiate with my insurance carrier. Believe it or not, I thought property insurance was going to be pretty dry, and there's a lot of emotions involved. They come to us frustrated.
Megan: I'm sure.
Melissa: When our clients come to us, they've already been let down, and they're already frustrated. It's already been too long. There's already been not enough money paid. It's a pretty intense environment, I guess you could say. Whatever it is that we got to do to cross-department step up for each other, somebody's having a tough day, somebody needs something. I hear all the time like, "Let me get that for you. I'll take care of that. I know you've had a day," whatever it may be. Just showing that appreciation.
I think, further than that, it's built such strong connections within the company. It's built such strong cross-department collaboration as well, that then we see people supporting each other when they a lot of times need that support without ever having to ask, because people don't want to ask for the help ,myself included.
Megan: You're a mother, you're a wife and you're a CFO. How do you balance all of that?
Melissa: Well, I always tell everyone, first of all, I don't. I don't have some magic schedule that I run by or anything else. I saw this video years ago, and I've never been able to find it again. For as much as I talk about it, I've never been able to relocate it. Maybe somebody will hear this and they'll send it to me. It was on YouTube. I think maybe it was a TED talk.
They were talking about, when you are juggling a bunch of balls, that the thing that's important is to know which ones are glass and which ones are rubber. I'm going to drop balls. I'm going to let things slip through the cracks. I'm going have to tell people, "No, I can't make that commitment," whether that is my husband or my children or my employer. It's knowing which ones are rubber and can bounce and which ones are glass and are going to shatter and there's no going back, and just staying focused on that priority.
I tell everyone-- and that's probably where you saw it on my LinkedIn. My employees here, I start saying it and they hear it so much I think sometimes I get some eye rolls that I'm a wife first, a mom, second, and your employee third, and I'm not interested in re-arranging that. Now, that's easy to say. It's a totally different thing to do, but I am steadfast on sticking to that and being pretty unapologetic about it.
To me, that means I miss almost every single one of the happy hours at work. I've got to get home and I've got to put on my mom hat. It means that I miss some things here, and sometimes it's important things because I need to go home and spend time with my husband, and see my children, or show up for the big stuff.
A very recent example that I use a lot when I'm talking about this is we work property insurance claims and those claims happen after storms. That's a reality. Hurricane Ida hit on August 29th of last year. My sales team is literally driving into the middle of the eye of a hurricane and it's my daughter's first day of preschool. Sorry, it's my daughter's first day of preschool, but I'm not sorry. I'm unavailable. I understand that my team is driving down to Louisiana as a hurricane is making landfalls that we can go and support our insureds and our clients there and be there as soon as that storm clears and they're going to need us most, but I'm walking my daughter into preschool.
I don't get distracted. I'm actually going to turn my phone off because I know when it's buzzing and making noises and everything else, I'm going to not be able to stop looking at it, but I'm walking her in un-distracted. My husband and I are then going to go have breakfast because, thank goodness, all of our children are officially out of the house.
Then I'm going to go pick her up, and I'm going to ask her how her day was, and she's going to be excited and we're probably going to get ice cream, and we're going to live in that moment. Then I'm going to say-- we talked about it. She knows. She's prepped for it. "Okay, mommy's got to go to work." I'm going to hug her and I'm going to kiss her goodbye, and I'm going to put my phone back on, and I am now full-blown CFO hat back on, what do you need from me? How can I help?
I think people try too much to multitask. I believe strongly how I balance those is by taking those quality moments. It might not be quantity. I work a lot of hours, and there's absolutely no denying that, but it's focusing on those quality moments and segmenting them as much as you can. I communicate strongly to my team that you guys can have me 24 hours a day. I have my phone on DnD. Text me in the middle of the night if that's what you need to do. If I'm asleep, it's not even going to wake me up. If for whatever reason I'm awake, let's make it happen.
From 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM, I am no one's CFO. If the building's on fire, call the firefighters. Don't call me. 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM, I'm going to go home. I'm going to ask my kids how their day was. I ask them every single day, "What was the best part of your day?" They ask me what was the best part of my day. We're going to have dinner together. That all sounds beautiful and wonderful. Really, we're racing to gymnastics and baseball and wherever else we've got to be because that's the phase of life I'm in now. Playing their taxi driver, but we're going to go do those things.
I'm going to be present. That 8:00 PM, when I kiss them goodnight, I have zero issues getting my laptop back out or my phone back out and catching up on those texts or emails or whatever it may be. From 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM, that hat is coming all the way off.
It would have to be something pretty significant for me to interrupt that time. The amazing thing about setting those boundaries is figuring out how quickly people respect them. Send me the text, send me the email. Just understand you're not going to get a response from me during that time-frame. I'll get texts from people who report to me or from our owner directly. They'll be like, "Hey, what do you think about X, Y, and Z?" Then a follow-up text, "Shoot, it's dinner time. Didn't realize what time it was, Get to me back later." You didn't need that apology.
Sorry. There's people dancing outside of my office right now trying to distract me. I didn't even need that, "Sorry, get back to me when you can," because sorry, I'm not going to get back to you until I can. That was such a learning lesson for me as well is if I set the boundaries of what works for me, people will respect them and also set their own boundaries of what does that look like for them, and what works well for them in that capacity.
It's a balance. It does feel like I'm letting a lot of people down, a lot of times. There's no denying that, but learning to be okay with it. Then going back to that YouTube video, which I would take a copy of if anyone can find it, of just learning which one of those rubber balls can bounce and which ones are glass, and making sure that you keep those front of mind.
Megan: It isn't easy setting boundaries, but it is important. Otherwise you end up being good at none of your roles.
Melissa: Exactly. Trying to do all of them. I struggled with that at first. The first time I had CFO on my business card, I just felt like the game changed for me, the expectations changed for me. I needed to be something that I wasn't. Burnout is so real. I learned that lesson that hard way in all capacities.
Kids are watching and they notice. While I think, oh, we're just watching a movie. What does it matter that I'm texting? My son had no problem giving me side-eye and then just straight up telling me, "Oh, we're not watching this movie?" In my head I'm thinking, what does it matter? We've seen this movie a hundred times, but to him that's what he wanted to do with mommy, not with Premier Claims' CFO. I really had to learn how to set those boundaries and respect them, and I am happier as a result of it. Hands down.
Megan: Melissa, thank you so much for being my guest today. I've really enjoyed this conversation with you.
Melissa: Thank you for having me. It's been fun.
Megan: I appreciate you taking the time to be here with us today. To all of our listeners, please tune in next week. Until then, take care of yourselves.
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In this episode, we discuss why CFOs should learn operations, the power of servant leadership in finance, how to grow your business at a great rate, how to get winners onboard, amongst other interesting topics.
Driving Business Growth & Getting Into Operations
The pace of the world has changed, and financial professionals should adapt to the new reality. Now, they have to lean more into operations and use the numbers to forecast possible trends and deal breakers.
“I was so much better a finance professional when I understood the operation”
Work for Your Team
Melissa is a believer in servant leadership. She focuses on working for her team, not the other way around. Servant leadership is about taking the hierarchy and flipping it upside down. As a leader, you should think about how to better serve and help your team members work their best and develop constantly.
“I believe strongly that my role as a leader in this company is to remove the barriers my employees and team members see down the road before they get there”
The Secret Formula for Business Growth
Premier Claims has grown twenty times in the last four years. If you wish the same for your company, learn the following. Provide a product or service people need and assemble a great team to develop and maintain it well. But it all starts with a visionary leader that inspires people.
“At the end of the day, it's the team that gets the results that we've been able to get, and they are hands down the reason that we've been able to scale at that pace”
Getting Winners Onboard
When hiring, ensure you get the right people for the right job. If the seat is not right, be flexible and think of either moving the person to another role or creating a new position for them. Work with winners who are willing to put in the effort, are fine with failure and change, and are aligned with the company's values.
“I want to work with the right people for the company, and we hire winners at the end of the day”
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