International CFO offers revealing insights
The Network of Executive Women held its 10th annual leadership summit earlier this week in Orlando, and Walmart’s International CFO Cathy Smith was listed as a featured speaker. Nothing unusual about that, but what made Smith’s appearance unique is that rather than read a canned speech written by someone else, she engaged in a candid conversation with Jan Hill, founder of Hill Enterprises. Seated in two large chairs in front of an audience of 700 women and a handful of men, Hill probed Smith with all sorts of interesting questions that allowed Smith to shed light on a wide range of topics including her personal life, joining Walmart, working in a male-dominated industry and achieving balance.
For example, Smith shared that she is 48, rides a Harley and as a young girl growing up in central California, sold corn and eggs door to door and rode dirt bikes with her brothers. She long aspired to be the CFO of a public company, but when the opportunity first arose with Walmart she declined and took a CFO position with Gamestop. After six months, the opportunity arose again and she said yes.
“You don’t get a do over in life very often and I felt like I got a do over,” Smith said of the decision to join Walmart. Even so, it wasn’t without some reservations that she left Gamestop. “Coming to a company with 2.2 million employees worried me a lot,” Smith said. As did relocating to Northwest Arkansas. “It is tough to move to Northwest Arkansas because it’s not like moving to New York, Chicago or Dallas.”
The other challenge came from accepting a job where all of the country managers are male and she had no background in retail or merchandising. Although CFO skills are transferable, most of her career had been spent in the defense and homebuilding industries.
“Immediately I had no credibility with any of these folks,” Smith said, referring to Walmart country managers.
To overcome that challenge — on the advice of international division president and CEO Doug McMillon — Smith said she spent a lot of time walking stores with individual country leaders and asking a lot of questions which helped her gain respect over the course of the 18 months she has been with the company.
Smith’s also earns respect for the manner in which she approaches life. As CFO of Walmart’s international division, which has a presence in nearly 30 countries, she is on the road a considerable amount of time, which creates balance issues since there are only 24 hours in a day. As the mother of two boys, ages seven and nine, Smith told the overwhelmingly female audience that her husband handles most of the household responsibilities.
“He is amazing and I couldn’t do what I do around the world without knowing that he is taking care of things at home,” Smith said.
When she is home, in order to maintain balance Smith said she makes sure to leave the office by 6 p.m. so she can have dinner with her family at 6:30, which she said is possible in Bentonville due to a 15-minute commute. She does some additional work in the evenings. Her “me” time comes in the mornings when she gets up at 4 a.m. to run everyday no matter where she is in the world.
“That’s how I define balance, but everyone’s definition is different so you have to choose your own balance,” Smith said.
And that means having some fun and trying new things, according to Smith.
“I know how to have more fun than most and I will try anything once,” Smith said. “If you can name it I’ve probably done it once.”
On the topic of women in leadership, Smith expressed frustration that there hasn’t been greater progress made over the past decade, but did note that women currently in senior leadership positions are doing a better job of paying it forward than in the past by moving past pure mentoring relationships to sponsorship relationships. As was noted by other speakers at the summit, women tend to be promoted based on their performance whereas men are promoted based on their potential because men do a better job of sponsoring one another whereas mentors tend to be more advice givers.
“We have a great pipeline of women leaders up to a point, but then women tend to check out,” Smith said in reference to the current state of the retail and CPG industry and figures presented earlier in the day by author and Age Wave co-founder Maddy Dychtwald. She cited figures showing that women occupy only 11% of the top leadership positions in business and only 3% of Fortune 500 companies are lead by female CEOs.
“We’ve made no progress in a decade and that just stunning to me,” Smith said. She does expect the situation to change though. “Gender equity is a business imperative and because there is such a war for talent it will happen.”
At the conclusion of Smith’s conversation with moderator Jan Hill, Walmart SVP home Michelle Gloeckler took the stage as she served as emcee of the day’s events in her capacity as NEW board chair.
“Note to the Network,” Gloeckler said. “Jan Hill never gets to interview me because I learned things about Cathy Smith that I never knew.”
Gap Inc. honored for women’s empowerment program
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Gap Inc. announced that its Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement program was recognized by former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative, held in New York City. Bob Fisher, son of Gap Inc. founders Doris and Don Fisher and a Gap Inc. board member, accepted the honor on behalf of the company.
“We are deeply honored by this recognition. Investing in improving women’s lives is a natural fit for Gap Inc. and our company values,” said Bob Fisher. “The program is innovative, scalable and sustainable. Thousands of women across six countries have already participated.”
Launched in 2007, Gap Inc.’s P.A.C.E. program creates opportunities for women to advance in their careers and personal lives.P.A.C.E. was designed and developed in partnership with Swasti Health Resources and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). CARE International is a key implementing partner. Gap Inc.’s vendor partners also play a critical role. One of these vendors in India that employs more than 60,000 workers has committed to extending P.A.C.E. to all workers by the year 2020. To date, more than 7,500 female garment workers have participated in the program.
“Education of female garment workers is a distinct way our company can support positive, lasting benefits for workers and their communities. Our deep knowledge of the apparel world, our partnerships with manufacturing vendors and local NGOs have allowed us to help make meaningful impact on the lives of thousands of women,” said Gap Inc. chairman and CEO, Glenn Murphy.
ShopperTrak: Holiday sales expected to be up, but foot traffic will drop
CHICAGO — In the wake of several surveys projecting how shoppers will spend this holiday season, the latest study from ShopperTrak expects national retail sales to increase 3% during November and December, while foot traffic will drop 2.2%.
ShopperTrak said its 3% holiday sales increase prediction follows 19 consecutive months of year-over-year U.S. retail sales growth, adding that the expected increase is moderate when compared with the 2010 holiday season’s 4.1% sales increase over 2009.
The projected decrease in foot traffic, however, was based on current numbers, which revealed that so far this year, shoppers have visited an average of 3.10 stores per shopping trip, a decrease from an average of 3.19 per shopping trip in 2010, and even less than the four to five stores visited in early 2008 (before the recession). ShopperTrak said this year’s numbers are influenced by high unemployment rates, as well as gas prices, which have experienced a 33% increase this season over last year.
"The persistently high unemployment and fuel rates along with consumers’ conservative purchasing attitudes will affect spending this holiday season more than in recent years," ShopperTrak co-founder Bill Martin said. "Every shopper in a store will be more valuable than last year, and retail stores should be ready to convert their holiday shoppers into sales."