- 01:39 – Laura outlines her career path from school to VP of Finance
- 02:30 – Laura liked using the Sage Intacct product so much at a former company that she wanted to become part of Sage Intacct
- 04:25 – What's the difference between accounting and finance departments?
- 05:22 – Laura's excited to work on the tools that will help 'eliminate' the month-end close
- 06:15 – Laura talks about what CFO 3.0 means for her and her team
- 06:52 – You really have to open up your mind to new possibilities and see things from different angles in order to embrace the new technologies
- 07:57 – Those who get into accounting in order to get the bird's-eye view of a company are the ones likely to move into higher positions as they progress
- 08:41 – Wanna be a CFO? Don't be a tree. Move around, meet people, and learn new things, constantly
- 10:40 – Laura's passion and big focus centers around mentoring, and making sure employees feel like they're learning, growing, and contributing
- 12:26 – Are employees an asset or an expense? Laura and Blake disagree | Harvard Business Review
- 13:21 – Laura talks about the gender gap in accounting, and what Sage is doing to turn that around
- 14:50 – We talk about why women-led businesses excel | CNBC
- 15:11 – Diversity is great, but you need to have the open, transparent culture to back it up, otherwise, you're going nowhere
- 15:45 – As former guest, Jina Etienne, stated, there's no diversity if you're not free to just be yourself, no matter what your ethnicity, or gender
- 16:23 – Laura's advice for women entering the accounting industry - be confident, know your strength, own your voice, and don't be afraid!
Connect with Laura
- Laura Wiler, VP of Finance & Business Operations, Sage Intacct
Episode Art Photo Credit:
- April Blankenship
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Meet Blake in person!
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Laura Wiler: Being willing to change and kinda look at things differently is gonna be really important to be able to embrace that kinda technology.
Blake Oliver: Welcome [00:01:00] to The Cloud Accounting Podcast. I'm Blake Oliver.
David Leary: I'm David Leary.
Laura Wiler: I'm Laura Wiler, VP of Finance and Business Operations from Sage Intacct.
Blake Oliver: Awesome! Thanks so much for joining us here live at Intacct Advantage in Las Vegas.
Laura Wiler: Glad to be here.
Blake Oliver: So, I understand that, as VP of Finance, you are in charge of the whole finance operation for Sage Intacct. Is that right, like that ...?
David Leary: Well, you're an accountant, first.
Laura Wiler: I'm an accountant, first, yeah, but I quickly moved [00:01:30] into the world of finance, where we could have a little more impact on the overall business as a whole.
Blake Oliver: So, you started the CPA route ...?
Laura Wiler: I didn't actually.
Blake Oliver: Oh ...
Laura Wiler: I came straight out of school into a very small startup software company in the Portland area. Got to wear a lotta different hats, not just accounting; but decided, after about seven years, that I was gonna get my CPA. So, I did so. Most of my work was [00:02:00] around technical accounting, and those types of things-
Blake Oliver: Got it. Straight into industry.
Laura Wiler: Yeah, straight into industry.
Blake Oliver: Specifically the software industry-
Laura Wiler: Indeed.
Blake Oliver: How long have you been with Intacct?
Laura Wiler: Six years-
Blake Oliver: Six years, awesome.
Laura Wiler: -in January.
Blake Oliver: So, I guess, as the VP of Finance for Intacct, you are on Intacct, I imagine?
Laura Wiler: We are. Actually, prior to Intacct, I was at a company, a similar SaaS-based company, and we implemented Intacct. So, I actually chose the product there.
Blake Oliver: Is that what led [00:02:30] you here?
Laura Wiler: It is. It is. I just- I got a good sense for the culture. It was a real customer focus, and I felt that and saw it as we went through our implementation. We were pretty complex, as implementations go, and saw a huge difference and just really wanted to be part of the company. So, when I was ready to look for another opportunity, I reached out. Just so happens, they were kind of at the point where they needed somebody to come in and help them transform because they were pretty small, when I [00:03:00] started. So, yeah, I got to actually re-implement Intacct's use of their own product.
Blake Oliver: Oh, interesting.
Laura Wiler: Yeah.
Blake Oliver: Now, something I've noticed over the last five years, in particular, is the growth of this app ecosystem around the Intacct GL, and product, and all that. Do you get to experiment with anything you want? How do you approach that?
Laura Wiler: Sure. At my prior company, I think we had six different applications. It was one of the reasons I chose Intacct because there were [00:03:30] certain tools that were just better than others and having the ability to pick what worked for us was really important to me. At Intacct, we do have the same ability to do that, and we do. I think we've got more than seven different applications that we use across the business. We're encouraged to do what's gonna help us grow.
David Leary: It's cool that you get to eat your own dog food and use the products you actually use because there's no way other companies are using their software.
Blake Oliver: Somebody a few years back asked [00:04:00] Xero's CEO, then, Rod Drury, "So, are you using Xero for your accounting?" Which is kind of a ... A non-accountant would ask that question, right? Obviously, you can't. It doesn't scale to a global business, but you guys can, which is cool.
Laura Wiler: Right, right.
David Leary: So, you're saying Intuit's not running on QuickBooks Online ...
Blake Oliver: Yeah, they're actually ... Intuit is running on a single instance of QuickBooks Desktop on the CFO's laptop.
Laura Wiler: Oh, my goodness.
Blake Oliver: No, it's not. It can't be.
David Leary: I have a question. So, just me being somebody who's not truly worked in accounting ... I've been in the accounting industry, [00:04:30] but not having worked it, what's the difference between the accounting department and finance department?
Laura Wiler: Typically, and this is what we'd like to change, but typically, the accounting department looks at the past. So, tell you what happened. The finance department tells you what's going to happen. That's the simplistic way I look at it. We wanna kinda change that, and that's partly why we do what we do and make sure that our accountants ... We have really talented people in our accounting team that they can use their time and their talents towards [00:05:00] helping the business instead of just reporting on the past.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, one of the things that was said at the keynote, today, that really stuck in my head was this concept of eliminating the month-end close-
Laura Wiler: The close, mm-hmm!
Blake Oliver: Yeah, that's a bold statement! I know how bold that is, as a CPA, who has done the financial close. Kind of a lot there.
Laura Wiler: Yeah, no, and honestly, some of the things that they were showing and told you, we actually haven't had our hands in yet, so I'm really anxious to see that. [00:05:30] But anything we can do to take the repetitive things out of the close, we try to do.
Blake Oliver: One of the other concepts in the keynote, this morning, was CFO 3.0. That's not something new. I think that's something that Intacct has been talking about for a while - this idea that ... And it ties into what we were just talking about, that accountants need to go from talking about what happened to why it happened. That's sort of where we're at now. What Intacct [00:06:00] is building now is helping accountants talk about what will happen and how we can make it happen, right?
Laura Wiler: Yeah.
Blake Oliver: So, I guess in the context of your role, how do you approach those questions?
Laura Wiler: That's a big question there.
Blake Oliver: Yeah.
Laura Wiler: So, I think ... Well, I mean, a lot of what I've said, right? Trying to use technology to its fullest, of course; trying to equip and build the team that we need that can actually do some of these things. I spent a lot of time, actually, [00:06:30] building the team that we have and making sure we had the right people in the right place. Being willing to think about what could happen or what's possible ... I think, as accountants and finance professionals, we tend to be pretty skeptical about things, like we saw this morning. How is this gonna really work?
Blake Oliver: Right.
Laura Wiler: Which, I gotta be honest, that's what goes through my head, too.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, it's our nature, right?
Laura Wiler: It is. I think just having- being willing to change and look at things differently is gonna be really important to be able to embrace that [00:07:00] kind of technology.
David Leary: I think the thing that stood out for me is that CEOs have traditionally came from either somebody in the sales department or in the marketing department, but now, because of where the CFO role is changing, the CFO might be the only person with a 360 view of the company, and now, that lends itself to more CFOs now becoming CEOs. I thought that was a really interesting thought process.
Blake Oliver: Yeah.
Laura Wiler: I agree. Seeing that happen in reality, at Sage, is pretty phenomenal.
Blake Oliver: Yeah [crosstalk]
David Leary: -but Sage implemented that themselves, or that's the path- [00:07:30]
Laura Wiler: Yeah, they did.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, that's cool because then, there's that path now of I can go, and major in accounting, and become a CPA; then, maybe someday become a CFO, and then, maybe even someday be running that organization as the CEO ... That path exists for us-
Laura Wiler: For sure.
Blake Oliver: -whereas maybe, in the past, it was more of 'You go into accounting; this is what you're doing for the rest your life' kind of situation
Laura Wiler: That sounds kind of depressing ...
Blake Oliver: A lot of things have ...Yeah, sorry. I didn't mean to take it to that dark place.
Laura Wiler: No, don't be ... No, it's okay, but you're right. People [00:08:00] go into accounting ... I ask people this, in fact, in interviews - "Why did you choose this?" Some of the best answers are really that, "I actually wanna understand how the business really runs, and this is where you get that full view." So, it's just natural that you're gonna look to people like that, as they raise their visibility in the company.
Blake Oliver: So, I'm a CPA, and maybe I'm in public accounting, and maybe I'm working [00:08:30] in industry, but I have aspirations. I have dreams of getting that CFO spot, or that VP Finance, whatever you call it, right? Running the team.
Laura Wiler: Yep.
Blake Oliver: What tips do you have for getting there?
Laura Wiler: For me, personally, I spent a lot of time just building relationships with people in a business. That gave me a huge opportunity to do a lot of different things. Each company that I've worked at, I may have started in a particular role, but I [00:09:00] had a lot of opportunity to move around and learn different parts of the business. I think that that, for me, is what set me up to be able to lead teams, more operational teams in businesses.
David Leary: Just getting multiple disciplines at the organization underneath your belt.
Laura Wiler: For sure. I think you show your value, when you do that because you're thinking kind of holistically about the business. I think that's the biggest thing for me is just being able to do multiple things in the companies you're at and taking opportunities when they present themselves.
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David Leary: When you do get to that level where you're the CFO-type level, what is your role, as far as mentoring [00:10:30] younger accountants that are coming up? Is that really your responsibility, or is it just kinda as the leader of the organization, or do you just leave people's development up to themselves?
Laura Wiler: Not at all. That's actually one of my passions is really helping people figure out how they can get better, learn more, and just be more impactful to the organization. This year, I actually formally started mentoring people within Sage. They've got a program around doing that, which has been really rewarding. In [00:11:00] fact, I've probably learned more than I've taught. I think it's important to show that you care about your employees and you care about their success. For us, our employees are our biggest asset. If we don't help them grow, and feel like they're learning, and contributing, they're not gonna stay. So, that's a big focus for me.
Blake Oliver: Employees are our biggest asset, and yet we don't show them on the balance sheet, right?
Laura Wiler: Yeah, I guess not ...
Blake Oliver: I just read an article in the Harvard ... We [00:11:30] were gonna talk about this on the show, but we didn't have time, on the Harvard Business Review, about just that. Not to get too nerdy here, with GAAP and everything, but the idea that, in many companies, now, it's not the machinery that's the most valuable asset, it's the staff and the employees. We have no way of showing investment in our staff. It all gets expensed in the current period, and not capitalized. I don't know ... Not to put you on the spot or anything, but do you have any opinions about that - big picture ...?
Laura Wiler: Should we be capitalizing our people? [00:12:00]
Blake Oliver: Yeah, well, or like, maybe our [crosstalk]
David Leary: It's an asset. If you're in the- we're in a knowledge economy, right? Your people are your biggest asset.
Laura Wiler: That's true.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, or research and development expense, for instance. That all gets expensed; most of it-
Laura Wiler: Generally.
Blake Oliver: -generally, in the current period, and yet, you've got these biotech companies that are doing all this research, and it's not showing up on the balance sheet. It's just expensed, and it distorts everything. I don't know.
Laura Wiler: I can see the point you're making very clearly, [00:12:30] but I tend to feel like those types of things are more ... I don't know, they're a little bit just part of business and part of building a good company. Putting it on the balance sheet, trying to ... I can't even imagine. I'm just trying to think about all the ... Our retention rate's going into our [crosstalk] Yeah, how are we gonna ... No. I don't even want to get that complicated. It's hard enough to just do lease accounting. No, no, no ...
Blake Oliver: Oh, yeah, right? David mentioned mentoring. One of the other topics that we cover occasionally on our show is the gender gap [00:13:00] in accounting. It's terrible. It's like, what? In a lot of- at least in public accounting, it's like less than 20 percent of partners are women. I don't know what it's like in industry, in terms of women in leadership positions, but I imagine it's also still a problem. What are your thoughts on that? I understand that you're doing some stuff to work on that and to empower women ...
Laura Wiler: I actually looked into ... We looked at this at our company and spent some time just in preparation for the show and the focus that we're having on [00:13:30] that tomorrow. Surprisingly, at Sage Intacct - maybe it's not so surprisingly, based on the culture that we have - over 40 percent of our leadership roles are fulfilled by women. I feel it when we make decisions when we're working together. It's just one of those things where there's a lot of different viewpoints, and backgrounds. All of that is obviously gonna help you make the right decision and hopefully, turn into opportunity for your company. There are studies out there that have shown that.
As [00:14:00] far as the broader industry, I think it's really more about the education. Women are more educated than they've ever been. Yet, when you look broadly, leadership roles, they're just not ... It's not keeping pace, and I think that's a problem. Part of it is just being deliberate about it; really making sure you understand that you're hiring women, or just people of different backgrounds, right?
Blake Oliver: Right.
Laura Wiler: I think, for us, in our company, I tell you about 44 percent, but [00:14:30] when you look at the technical roles, it's not the same, especially in engineering. We've got very few women in leadership. We do have a leader who's a woman, but broadly, it's not. That's something we have to change in the way we focus on.
Blake Oliver: I think just being aware of it is that first step, right?
Laura Wiler: Agreed.
Blake Oliver: Acknowledging it is something that the company needs to do?
Laura Wiler: Agreed.
Blake Oliver: There was actually just a story all over the news. This is an article on CNBC about, "Firms with a female CEO have a better stock price performance, new research says."
Laura Wiler: I saw that. [00:15:00]
Blake Oliver: I think CFO, also ... If you just started a hedge fund that only bet on women-led businesses, you'd actually be beating the market.
Laura Wiler: Yeah, yeah, no ...
Blake Oliver: Why is that?
Laura Wiler: I'm not surprised? Well, honestly, I think that just, like you said, diversity of thought, and having women, and other people with different backgrounds in a conversation is just going to- it's going to improve the conversation and improve the answer you got. I really believe that. I don't know that it's more complicated than that. There [00:15:30] are plenty of smart people out there. I also think that having a diverse organization is one thing, but if you don't have a culture that's really open, and transparent, and allows people to speak their mind, then you can be as diverse as you want; no one's gonna speak up, and you're not gonna get there, either.
David Leary: We had somebody on an interview-
Blake Oliver: Jinah Etienne?
David Leary: Jinah Etienne, a few episodes back. She talked about ... She really brought diversity to a different perspective. Until people are just comfortable being themselves in a room with their co-workers, it doesn't matter. If people can't be ... If everybody just likes to assimilate, and they can't be [00:16:00] their true selves, you can't have diversity.
Laura Wiler: It's a good point. It's partly why we even focus on thinking about - at least not me, personally - looking into how do we look? Because it feels very open, and everyone is speaking their mind, and we all kind of make collective decisions that way. So, it's good to see.
David Leary: Is there any one piece of advice you'd give to a young female accounting student?
Laura Wiler: So, as women, I think we tend to ... I think Michelle Obama said this, but you suffer from impostor [00:16:30] syndrome. You really feel like, unless you know everything very thoroughly, you're afraid to step out and make yourself vulnerable. I think it's really important to just be confident and know that you have strength, and your voice matters. Just get out there and don't be afraid, honestly.
Blake Oliver: Great advice. I like that.
David Leary: So, how do we get a hold of you, Laura, outside [00:17:00] of the podcast? How would people track you down on social media, et cetera?
Laura Wiler: I'm on LinkedIn.
David Leary: On LinkedIn? Okay.
Laura Wiler: Yeah, so you can always reach me there.
Blake Oliver: All right. Wonderful. Thanks so much for your time today-
Laura Wiler: Thank you.
Blake Oliver: -and really appreciate having you on the show.
Laura Wiler: All right. Thanks, guys.