From Teaching to Finance: An Unconventional CFO Journey

October 6, 2022 Lydia Adams

newly positioned CFO in meeting after an unconventional journey to her role

Many CFOs you meet today come from fields unrelated to finance and accounting. They could be marketers, salespeople, and even psychologists or teachers that took on a journey to become a CFO. Their unconventional paths garner lots of attention and get people wondering how they succeeded. After all, if it worked for them, it might work for you too.

For that reason, we invited Amy Huerta, a former teacher who became the CFO at Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. In this episode of CFO Weekly, Amy joins Megan Weis to discuss the benefits and challenges of taking what could be considered an unconventional route to the role of the CFO.

Show/Hide Transcript

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 you, our host, Megan Weis. Let's jump right in.

Megan Weis: My guest today is Amy Huerta. Amy lives in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota with her two daughters, her partner, and Mia the dog. St. Paul has been home for most of her life and she remains very active in the community, servicing on boards and committees that focus on bringing equity and art to the neighborhoods. Amy holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology with minors in education 5 through 12 in Spanish, and spent the first five years of her career teaching and managing programming in the public school system.

In 2006, she made the change to nonprofit management starting on the program side, and then moving into finance and operations in 2013 as a financial manager after the completion of coursework for a masters in public administration. Amy had always used business modeling and planning techniques in program development that lead to strong growth and sustainability of new and existing programs. The transition felt natural and opened opportunities to work across departments and lines of service. In 2015, Amy joined the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation as the director of business performance and financial analysis, and was promoted to chief financial officer in July of 2019.

In July of 2022, Amy left her role as CFO to launch into consulting and is building her own practice focusing on growth strategies for small to mid-sized businesses and nonprofits. Amy is a candidate for the Global Leadership MBA from the University of Texas, Dallas, and is a member of the Institute for Mergers and Acquisitions Alliance and Project Management Institute.

Amy has served on numerous local nonprofit boards focused on youth and families and music and education and was the chair of the city of St. Paul's Capital Improvement Budget Committee from 2018 to 2021. Amy loves listening to finance and true crime podcasts, reading, listening to live music, and spending time with her active family. Amy, thank you so much for being my guest today.

Amy Huerta: Yes, thank you, Megan, for having me on. This is exciting. I love to talk about finance and leadership. This is fun.

Megan: Perfect. Today we're going to be discussing your career as well as the benefits and challenges of taking what could be considered an unconventional route to the role of the CFO. I'm looking forward to hearing your story. Let's get started.

Amy: Okay, sounds great.

Megan: As always, let's start with you. If you could talk to us about your career journey and how it is that you got to where you are today.

Amy: Yes, sounds great. You already mentioned an unconventional path. I do often talk about, I had an unconventional path in getting to my CFO role, but really from a leadership perspective, it brought a lot of depth and energy that I found that really works, especially within a CFO role. I could talk about that a little bit more later. I was actually a teacher and a manager for a large school district in St. Paul, Minnesota early in my career. My bachelor's degree is in anthropology with minors in education and Spanish. As some people might have like "Oh, that's interesting. How did this all happen?"

I worked in the school district for five years before moving into nonprofit management, both in the classroom as well as out of the classroom helping to support teachers. When I moved into nonprofit management, I was a senior manager and then a director, and really worked with housing services, youth, and family, and working across the metro, and then later on, across the state for a very large nonprofit here in Minnesota.

It was right when the subprime financial crisis was happening. I entered into those roles in 2007, the subprime global crisis started happening in 2007, and a lot of nonprofits were struggling. I always loved business planning, I loved strategy, I loved finance. It was something that came very naturally to me. I was on the math team in high school. I always loved math and all of those different aspects.

I took those models and built very sustainable models and models for growth within my programs and my portfolio. When a lot of programs were closing, I actually was very successful, my team was very successful in growing, adding staff, taking smaller portfolios and making them larger, really applying those business planning and financial acumen models and using a lot of breakthrough models.

I really loved that. In 2013, I started thinking about what was next. I had just finished up my coursework for my master's in public administration, really focusing more on finance and what public-private partnerships looked like, and I started doing some informational interviews to find out what's next, what does this look like for me.

The senior director of finance at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, that's where I was at that time, he found out that I was looking for a new role, and he said, "Hey, have you ever considered being a financial manager? I have an opening on my team, I think you'd be really great. You can take some of the things that you've been doing and really help more broadly across the organization." Since it was an organization I was familiar with, loved the work, cared about the mission, and had a connection with so many people, I thought, "That sounds great. Let's do that, let's take that next step."

It seemed like the perfect fit. I was able to work with a portfolio of about $35 million, I used a lot of the same things that I had been doing in my own programs, but could do it across the organization more broadly. That really gelled for me. I found that it was a tremendous opportunity. Finance and strategy together are a tremendous tools to be able to help build stability and flexibility to meet the mission, and serve communities within the nonprofit space.

In December of 2014, after only being in that role for a little over a year, about a year and three months, I was contacted about the role at Wilder. They had an opening as a director of business performance and financial analysis. I initially declined, because I looked at the job description, and I said, "I've never done half of this. I'm not sure if I can do this." It was interesting because that very same weekend, I was reading an article that came across, I don't know how it came across to me, but from the Harvard Business Review by Tara Sophia Mohr on why women don't apply for jobs unless they're 100% qualified, and I was like, "Oh, this is interesting."

It was like the universe was correcting me and saying, "Hey, you made this decision a little bit too short. Maybe, reconsider." I read that article and I said, "Wow, that's exactly what I just did." I just looked at this thing and I said, "I can't do this. I don't know how to do any of that."

I ended up having a conversation with the recruiter that next week and he said, "Have you rethought your decision on applying?" I said, "Yes, I have." I went into that. I was an underdog. I knew I was an underdog. I had only had a little bit of experience technically and specifically within finance, but interview by interview, I was offered the position right before the new calendar year and started at Wilder in January of 2015. Had that role and it had some different iterations and gave me really great exposure to working with a board, doing a lot of analysis, working across the foundation, and getting great exposure to things that I hadn't had, but I'm a person where I dive into things to understand it.

In July of 2019, as we were having some transitions with our VP of finance and admin, who also served as our CFO, the CEO came to me and said, "I want you to be the next CFO." That really came forward after creating and proposing this really big plan to strengthen our financials and led to a lot of work with the board. At first, I was like, "Really? Are you sure?" She was like, "Yes." She called me in, I was right on my way out for a very long-needed vacation and the CEO was like, "Can you come to connect with me really quick before you head out?" I had no idea what it was.

She said, "It's been a great year, I know it's been a lot of hard work. Thank you for the budget, the board is really pleased. I want you to be the next CFO." I looked at her, I was like, "Really? Are you sure?" She was like, "Yes, I'm absolutely sure." That was really my kind of strange path into it. The rest, I guess, is history to where I am right now.

Megan: That's a very unconventional path. I've spoken with a lot of CFOs that have come from marketing or even psychology, but I've never spoken to one that came through teaching.

Amy: Yes, it seems a little odd, but [crosstalk].

Megan: It makes sense.

Amy: It does. It did. It made a lot of sense, actually. Yes.

Megan: You mentioned that you were maybe not the most qualified candidate for the role when you joined Wilder. Why is it that you think you got that role?

Amy: I actually asked the person who hired me, who was the VP of finance and admin at the time. She remains a really good friend of mine and a mentor to me, but I did, I asked her and I said, I have to ask you this. I probably waited a little while. I want to say it was maybe about a year into the role that I asked her because I wanted to make sure that everything was going to work out okay.

She smiled, she has a really great smile and she said, "You brought something that other people didn't bring and you could translate language and you brought a heart and a spirit and an energy where I knew that I could give you any challenge and you would take it on and you would do it in a way that would bring other people along with you." Like, oh, wow, I've never heard that before, but she just said there was just something about bringing together those heart and mind pieces and in the way that you connect.

I think looking back now and also being in the CFO role for a few years, I continue that work and it was just this very open door policy, translating, creating a very development approach, working with people, and collaboration is huge. I could tell the story of why it mattered and why that impact mattered to the families that we were serving. That had not been there before. That was just really critical for them at that particular moment.

Megan: Just curious, but why do you think we as women sell ourselves short so often, because I know I'm guilty of the same?

Amy: I've talked to so many women and I've done some mentoring and coaching for a couple of women this last year as they've been looking for jobs. There is just something I think, ingrained in us where society has told us for so long, well, you need to know how to do all of these things. You have to show us, you have to give us that experience. It just becomes so ingrained in who we are that as we're entering the workforce, we tend to just be a little bit more mindful of how we show up because so many different rules are like, oh, you have to look like this or you have to act like this. It's either speak up or don't speak up. All of these different, very strange rules and norms in society are confusing.

I think, and I guess I can speak for myself more specifically, I'm definitely a processor and I pay attention to my surrounding. Sometimes that gets in the way, it becomes this messy, noisy piece. I think we need to get comfortable with that messiness and the messy middle and be okay with it and still just say, no, you know what? I'm going to be bold. I'm going to be brave. I'm going to move through this.

Right now raising daughters, I talk a lot about being bold and it's great to make mistakes. In fact, you want to make mistakes because you learn more from your failures. It's unfortunate, but I look back at how I grew up and yes, there were a lot of mixed messages. It's either go forward, don't go forward, speak up, don't speak up. Just this need to always feel like you've had to prove yourself and it's hard. If you don't get that experience and you don't have the opportunities to do that, how can you prove yourself? I think we sell ourselves short a lot.

Megan: Would definitely agree with everything you just said. In your LinkedIn profile, you describe yourself as having compassionate grit. What does that mean?

Amy: I love the concept of grit. You think about Angela Duckworth and her concept of grit. I love her. I love her work and it's being bold. It is being self-aware. It is taking your experiences and what you have been through and really driving from that. I add the compassionate piece because I'm such a person where being connected to something is really important to me, and understanding the impact is really important to me.

While I can say, I'm going to be bold and I'm going to go off and I'm going to do these things for me or by myself, I don't quite function like that. The compassionate piece is when I am thinking about what's next, when I am working on projects, when I am being bold, I am looking at who else can be involved. How is this going to impact what's happening in my community, in the organization, in my family, whatever those layers are and really thinking about what is that long-term mission, vision and what do I want things to look like at the end?

I have talked to people about, resumes, and they're great, right? You can put all kinds of things. We're always working, especially as we're building our career to build those resumes and this is going to sound morbid for a second, but I like to spin it a little bit and talk about, but what does that eulogy look like? How do you leave the world in a better place or leave things in a better place, no matter how small by your compassionate grit?

That's what it means to me. Part of it is growing up, we didn't have a lot. We were a working class, poor family. I didn't have family members that went to college. I was the first in my family and I just needed a lot of that. I needed a lot of grit, but I also needed to also remember where I came from. That compassionate grit is really what has led me.

Megan: I like that. Let's talk about your current organization Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. What is it exactly that they do?

Amy: I always like to tell people first, because the foundation word throws people off a little bit, we're an operating foundation, which is unique. While a lot of foundations you apply, they grant funds, we don't grant funds to other organizations per se. Sometimes yes, we have partnerships and do some small support startup pieces, but instead, we use the endowment to fund the programs and projects that we are providing in the community. It's allowed us to try new things, leverage other dollars, and see what works for the community.

It's also more East Metro twin cities focused. It started as just St. Paul with the mission and the vision back in 1906, but we've had some expansions across the Metro, more specifically in our school-based mental health and some of our other community mental health models, but it is very specific to our mission and very critical work.

What I like to say is, Wilder has been always been very innovative and has transformed over the years, but the core is we provide support for the whole family. That is from prenatal to older adults and everything from housing, mental health support and everything that a family needs in between. We're really here for all families, whole families.

One of the things that's very unique and interesting for Wilder is we have a research division and that is also something that I always like to point out because a lot of our work is very rooted in that research and assessments and being able to test and pilot new things and then be able to assess it. We do a lot of that internal collaboration and being able to look at what works, and what doesn't work.

Sometimes this has even led to spinning off new partnerships or spinning new projects. The innovation is really very much still alive and present, but at the heart of it, we are here to serve whole families within the Metro area and look at ways to assess and research and find better ways to serve families in a more impactful and critical way. That's how I like to talk about what we do in a little bit of a nutshell.

Wilder has been a part of my life for a very long time, accessing services as a young person, and then also, referring a lot of families that I worked with over the years to the services that they provide. It was just like coming home and just a real connection when I started working there because of the work that they do.

Megan: I was going to ask you how can people or families tap into these services.

Amy: Yes, I obviously, through a website, there's a lot of opportunities to refer in through there, but we are very connected in through the schools, through a lot of other services across the Metro area, and it's just a matter of a conversation and sharing what do you need and what are you looking for and getting that referral. You can also self-refer. We're not just an organization that needs a referral, you can call us up, and you can talk to one of our amazing front desk people and say, Hey, this is what's going on, who should I connect with, and be able to get connected that way as well.

Megan: What are your proudest achievements since joining Wilder or maybe even before as you look back on your career, your proudest achievements?

Amy: Yes, well, let's say--

Megan: Your eulogy, I guess.

Amy: All right, yes, my eulogy, my proudest achievements. I would say, first and foremost, the partnerships and relationships that I've built have been really important and just to know that anywhere that I've moved on from and anywhere that I am, I have this amazing group of people that I can connect with. Definitely the relationships, the partnerships, and things that I've been able to kind of hold on to and move forward.

Another thing that has been-- Oh, they're many, which sounds silly, like to try to think about your legacy, I would say another thing that's been really big for my team and for I, especially these last few years, is we were in a place in 2018, where there was a lot of vulnerability with the financials and that came, again, out of that subprime crisis that happened when the endowment dropped significantly and Wilder was in a place where they had to divest a lot of their programs. We were all from other nonprofit spaces watching it like, okay, what's this going to look like? What's going to happen next?

They ended up divesting of a lot of work and went down to some more pro-core programming areas and there was a big hope that that endowment balance would grow but also at the same time, the needs in the community were growing. You get in this place where it's like, okay, we need to preserve, we need to save and we need to serve the community. That's a really big challenge. It's a big push and pull. The endowment balance didn't quite get back to where people were hoping and through a lot of work and analysis that I had done, myself and my team, I had seen that we were really just a 20% drop away from a very vulnerable situation.

The plan that I had referenced earlier that led to the CFO role, was working with the board and the organization, everyone, every layer across the organization to look at how we move this in a different way that doesn't greatly impact the services that we provide. Essentially, how do we reduce our spending from our endowment because at that point, we were spending over 8% and our returns were around 6% on average, but how do we do this in a way that doesn't hurt the community?

I really went all hands in across the organization, every area, every division in working to find the best ways to do that and over the next few years, which was just the last few years, we were able to significantly reduce our endowment spend from a total spend perspective and we did that through focusing in on core services, really honing in on that full family support, really driving into business plans and business models without sacrificing our services and I took a long dive and detailed approach into reducing our debt, restructuring our debts, increasing our underfunded status in the pension.

All in all, what were the results of that? At the end of this current fiscal year, which just ended here on June 30th, over a few-year period, we went from that over 8% to a 5% spend, which is significant, and that was not without sacrifice from across the organization but we actually grew. We grew in revenue, we grew the number of people served, and we grew in our FTE.

We made it through an incredibly tremendous time and COVID and we reduced our debt significantly and that allowed for us to move millions of dollars that we were paying to debt and other liabilities back to operations. That was huge. That's definitely something that I look back at and I say, wow, those really long weeks and weekends and all of those meetings, they were hard, they were challenging, there were a lot of moments, but it paid off. I'd say that's a big thing. I feel good about that.

Megan: Absolutely. That's a great story and something to definitely be very proud of. You mentioned that during that process, you worked across the organization, and also in your LinkedIn profile, you mention cross-functional teams. How do you get everyone to the table and buy in and develop the relationships that are necessary to work cross-functionally?

Amy: That's a great question. For me, and what I've done, and what my team has really focused on is, we have to stay focused on the mission, we have to stay focused on the community and the families that we're serving because without that, we really just lose our gauge and keeping focused on that, we all have a starting point for our value, what drives us.

Companies have value propositions and our value proposition is really ensuring that the community has what it needs and that we are providing the support that the community needs, whatever that looks like for them. We have to stay focused on that. I would say that's the big main point, and constantly having that forefront and at the very beginning of the conversations, the meetings, and what you're working towards, how does it go back to the mission? How does it go back to our end goal of serving the community? That's huge and even along the way, as you have disagreements or you're debating the approaches, we can always come back to that. That's one big thing.

Communication is huge. I can't stress that enough. When I was younger in my career, I used to think, "Oh, well, okay, I communicated this", and it's like a one-off. I've learned over the years to repeat, repeat, repeat and that's really because there's much going on in everyone's daily lives and everyone has many things to do that it is really important to continue to communicate, not just share the message, not just share the tasks, but constantly bring it back to the this is what we're hoping to accomplish.

This is what our goal is, this is why this is important. Communication is not just about sending an email or a memo, it's really making it intentional communication and bringing it back to that, but I can't stress that enough.

The last part I would say that has been really important for me as a person and that I have seen work is making sure that there is a broad and diverse set of stakeholders involved in that process. That you're not just connecting with the executive team or people on the finance team because everybody has a stake in what the outcome looks like and it is really important to invite people in and not just invite them in, but have them be a critical part, an inclusive parts of the work that they're doing or that you're doing.

Your program managers, administrative supports, people who are working directly with the families in the community, and have them be a part of that because you could miss something, it's very easy when you're at a certain level to overlook some of those critical components. I always feel it's really important to just have a very diverse and inclusive way of working through that process, and then sharing and communicating that out along the way. I'd say those are the three things, definitely, that have worked and are really important.

Megan: That's great advice and these days, it seems like it's easy to surround ourselves with people who think just like we do or to seek out a message because it's what we want to hear but I love your point to make sure we have a diverse set of people who might not always agree with us.

Amy: Absolutely. One other thing I can say around that too, through that process. There's also that post-process I think is just as critical and as important that a lot of times, the project gets done and we're like okay, we can table that. I don't agree with that but some people will call me a slightly a bit of a change junkie, but I think it's incredibly important to assess, loopback, do feedback loops, gather information, see how this is working and have opportunities along the way to evaluate and make changes and know that things change.

Things are dynamic and evolving all the time. We can't just say, oh, this is great. We're all set. We have to be able to question and ask more questions than have answers is what I always like to tell people. I'm not going to give you an answer right away, I'm going to ask you a lot of questions and then we will come to solutions together. That was a little bit of a change, I think, for some people who are looking for, just tell me yes or no. I can't do that, that we have to assess.

Megan: Yes. I think that the feedback loop is a step that most or not most, but many people forget about. That's a great point. What advice would you give to someone out there looking to get to the CFO position who also is coming from an unconventional background?

Amy: Yes. Oh, so many things run through my mind. I would say if you don't have the conventional background and experience, it's so important to seek opportunities, ask for opportunities and learn and grow, to showcase your talents and skills, and just continuously learn networking, getting involved in the organization, such as in groups or other different things.

A lot of times I think we can come into an organization or a company, we have our role, we do our role, but maybe we have sights set for something different but we don't expand we don't say, oh, I'd get involved with this brand launching if there's an opportunity to bring other people in or we have some learning teams at Wilder around values and PTO and some holiday things, and just getting involved and having an opportunity to work across the different divisions and areas. Be involved, understand how organizations work or how your organization works and get some of that firsthand exposure is incredibly important, and trying new things, and bringing new ideas forward.

I think that another thing that is very important is, we wonder, do I say something, do I not say something? Bring ideas forward. Bring them to other areas, ask to help on projects, gain that exposure, stay curious, and pay attention. Finance is dynamic and layered and there's so many different aspects to really know that there's more to know than one person can ever truly know and recognizing as you had just mentioned that there are diverse perspectives and diverse ideas. Get to know those.

Continuing to gain new skills is really critical. While I did not have that conventional path, I did along the way do-- We have a local university here in Minnesota that has this program, these mini master programs. In some of my roles earlier on in my career, I was getting a mini masters in nonprofit finance, and fundraising certificates.

It is really important to continue education, learn new skills, learn where your gaps are and find ways to fill those gaps is incredibly important. Staying up in technology, so much is changing, and then getting really comfortable with communicating, I would say, is very critical. I don't just mean writing a letter, being a very good technical writer, but more around that messaging, storytelling, presenting, bringing information to various audiences and again, I go back to being aware, knowing what your audiences are.

I've always been more of a storyteller with numbers, connecting dots, showing why it matters, where we should focus on things, but I always think about the audience and I think that that's a really critical skill and thing to develop if you're looking to move into leadership roles and be in a CFO role. I think the old thought around a CFO was a bean counter.

That is not where we are, that is not how I operate, how a lot of CFOs I know operate and it is very dynamic.

Lastly, I would say, find a couple of mentors in different areas. One that can mentor you on some of the technical sides and then the one that can mentor you on the soft skills, because those are just as equally important as a coach. I've used coaches a couple of times in my career, especially when I've been in pivotal moments where I've wondered is this where I want to be, I'm struggling here, what does this look like?

It just gives you added insight from another person that isn't your boss, that isn't your colleagues, not your family, not your friends. You get this unbiased and very safe environment to be able to talk about things and get some really great advice on how do I get to this next place. I can't stress that enough. I think it's very important to have that support network as well.

Megan: Just curious, how did you find your coach? Seems like there are a lot of coaches out there. How did you pick one that worked out?

Amy: There are a lot of coaches and the first time, it was actually through my supervisor-- Well, actually both times were through my supervisor, but the second time, I did a little bit more interviewing, but the first time was through my supervisor, we had worked together and I had been sharing with her that I wanted to start to think about the future and she had given me a list of a few people to connect with.

I had talked to a few people and I found someone where you really gelled and she was super helpful. We worked together for only six months, but it really helped me think about what those next steps were. The second time, it was also through a supervisor and having some access to be able to use some development dollars for that.

I had also reached out to other colleagues and said, "Who are you using?" Connected with a few people and did some interviews just to learn a little bit more about them. I think that is important. I think you do need to take some time to get to know them. I would also say too, it's okay to stop working with somebody if it isn't meeting your needs, keep that open mindset, and get comfort comfortable with that as well but that's how I found mine over the years.

Megan: You just recently, as recently as last week left Wilder, although you're continuing to work for them on a consulting basis, what went into that decision to leave first of all and what are your plans for the future?

Amy: It has been such a hard decision and I feel good about it. It was really a mix of a couple of things, reflection, I know I didn't talk about this a lot, but I'm very much a reflective person and I'm always trying to connect those dots. That's where that compassionate grit piece comes in and then also thinking about future a future growth and what does that look like for me?

When I started reflecting on the work that I had done, I was really excited about the projects, the refinancing, restructured work, some of those big things, leading through big change and new business strategies and ideas and Wilder is a fantastic place. While I've been able to do some of that there, I wanted to do more, I wanted to see what does that look if I were to focus on that work and be able to springboard that.

I also started to think, what would it look like to work with other organizations that need support like that? That really energized me and I was at this place I'm, "Okay, well, I could start to do this on the side, but I'm working a lot of hours and that doesn't really seem very feasible", but I really was energized by a future in helping other organizations. You can see where I'm going with this.

Immediately, I'm just taking a little bit of time to spend with my kids because it's been an intense few years but I am working and building out some concepts and some models and making my way into consulting. I am working towards having my own practice and a team in the next couple of years but for right now, I am focusing on partnering and working with other groups and getting my portfolio out there and talking to people and see what the opportunities are. Really trying to pivot and focus on growth strategies and really looking at getting into a little bit more of that post-merger work from mergers and acquisition.

That's my plan. That is what I'm working on right now and just starting to really move through that. Until then, though, I'm still working with Wilder on some projects and I'm still available, but this felt like the best decision at this particular time, but it was hard. This week I've already really missed everybody even though last two days, I still continued to talk to people. I'm like, oh, nothing really changed but that's my plan at this point. It was a hard decision but I feel good about it.

Megan: It sounds like the perfect next step for you and I look forward to hearing about where this next chapter is going to take you.

Amy: Thank you.

Megan: Lastly, just curious, do you have any advice for people out there who are searching for something, whether they're CFOs or just finance professionals, but they're searching for something more meaningful in the work they're doing? It's not always easy to find when you're in the finance and accounting profession, but we all want it.

Amy: Meaning of life, the meaning of finance business. [laughs] I think that's going to be very personal for different people and I'll start there. I think it really does have to be a personal journey and a personal reflection on what does that even mean for you? What does finding meaning or adding more meaning to something meaningful? That's going to look different for everybody. [chuckles] For some people, that is going to be very focused on where they work and how they work for their teams and they're very committed to the mission. For other people, it might not be at their company or where they're working, but it might be elsewhere. I think first, what does that even mean? What does meaningful work mean?

Then identifying, are you going to fill that bucket at work or are you going to fill it in other ways? Making those determinations and either one is great. There's not a right or a wrong to either of those. In fact, I've done a mix of those over my career, my life, and even working in the nonprofit. I would say having that or having the work be purpose-driven in your workplace, identifying again, what makes you tick? Are you excited about the work that you're doing on an everyday basis? Are you finding ways to connect? Are there other things that you want to learn? That goes back to my advice a little bit in what moving into a CFO or other leadership role could look like is that networking and connecting.

Sometimes just feeling more connected within your workplace and having opportunities to work across teams adds more value to the work that you're doing, and it doesn't take away from the everyday work that you're doing. Sometimes you find new things. You're like, oh, I never thought about moving into that department. That sounds really exciting. I've seen that happen through careers at Wilder even where someone starts in one area and then they move into another area. That has really been through that networking and in connecting. Find what works.

I would also, though, at the same part of that caution and say, don't push or spread yourselves too thin. That leads to burnout because while your initial intention was to find more purpose or meaning, sometimes it leads to spreading yourself too thin. That's just a little air of caution.

On the other side, if you are, "No, I'm just going to do my work. I'm happy with my work. I know that I'm making an impact in the work that I'm doing, but I also want to give back to the community." There are so many boards and so many organizations and even youth sports teams that would love to have people involved. Whether it's serving on a committee or helping on a one-off task or being an assistant coach or whatever that is, there's so many ways to fill that bucket and give back to the community in a different way that I have seen really energize people in the workplace as well.

Look for those opportunities. It doesn't have to be too far. It doesn't have to be huge. It can be something as simple, again, as helping out at your local high school concession stands once a week because you really support what's happening there. I think it's all of those different pieces and that's what I would have people do, but start with reflection and pay attention. Pay attention to how you're managing that and figure out what fills your bucket.

Megan: Great answer. Thank you for that advice. Thank you so much for being my guest today.

Amy: Yes, this was great. There are so many things to talk about in the world of finance right now as so many things are changing. To be able to focus on something a little lighter and the positive aspects of leadership is fantastic.

Megan: This was a great conversation. I've really enjoyed speaking with you and hearing about your experiences. Of course, I wish you all the best in this next chapter of your career.

Amy: Thank you. Thank you, Megan. It was an honor to be here today.

Megan: To all of our listeners, please tune in next week, and until then, take care.

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In this episode, we discuss Amy's path from teaching to finance, what is compassionate grit?, how to manage cross-functional teams effectively, and advice for future CFOs coming from unconventional backgrounds, amongst other exciting topics.

Having Compassionate Grit to Support Your Journey to Becoming a CFO

Quote compassionate grit in journey to become CFO

Angela Lee Duckworth presents the concept of Grit to illustrate a passionate, bold, self-aware, and persevering person. The compassionate piece describes Amy's consideration of how her action will impact the community, organization, and team members and her thinking about the long-term mission and vision.

“I add the compassionate piece because I'm such a person where being connected to something and understanding the impact is really important to me.”

Supporting Families and Communities

Quote Amy Huerta, CFO at Amherst H. Wilder Foundation

Amherst H. Wilder Foundation is a non-profit organization and operating foundation that funds programs and projects to support communities and families. One unique detail about Wilder is the research division which tests and looks to find better ways to serve families in a more impactful and meaningful way.

“We provide support for the whole family, from prenatal to older adults, and everything from housing, mental health support, and everything that a family needs in between.”

Managing Cross-Functional Teams Throughout the CFO Journey

Quote managing teams in cfo journey

Stay focused on the mission and value proposition and constantly remind people of them. Communicate everything that you do to be on the same page. Ensure you have a broad and diverse set of stakeholders involved in your projects. And get feedback constantly from people to understand how things are performing, evaluate what is not working, and make changes.

“Things are dynamic and evolve all the time. We have to be able to ask more questions than have answers.”

Advice for Future CFOs Coming From Unconventional Backgrounds

First, understand how your organization works and be open to opportunities to learn about it. Showcase your skills, gain new ones, and bring new ideas forward. Learn where your gaps are and find ways to fill them. Get comfortable communicating with various stakeholders and find a couple of mentors to teach you the technical and soft skills required for the job.

“If you don't have the conventional background and experience, seek and ask for opportunities to learn and grow.”

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