Behind the career: Jean Holder

October 6, 2013

Position: Chief financial officer and executive vice president of Merkle, a Columbia marketing agency.

When Jean Holder got a job right out of college as a consultant at Accenture, it was the beginning of a 27-year stint at the company that spanned many positions. It was when she discovered her affinity for finance that her career took off and she rose to become the head of the company’s global finance and operations. After leaving Accenture, she eventually moved to Merkle, where she will now lead the company’s financial operations.

You’ve said that embracing change has been an important lesson you learned in your career. When and how did that happen?

We had to implement a new financial system at Accenture. I was hesitant at first because you don’t really know what this new change is going to be. We were efficient and expert in what we had, and we didn’t want to give that up. But we knew that the only way to move past that fear was to move past it and become experts on the new system.

It’s one thing for you as a leader to embrace change. What ways do you help your team to embrace it?

One of the things I’ve shared with all the teams I’ve worked with was actually my personal journey and my thoughts about change. You can inspire people to pick that up and make it their story. The way to be most successful is to work beyond the boundaries of your day-to-day role and to expand beyond your boundaries. When I meet with my team, I draw a circle in the middle of the page and then I draw a bigger circle around the outside of that first circle. I draw arrows coming from the smaller circle to the outside circle. I say, “When you work with me, you’re going to constantly be pressing out.”

Is it hard to get people to look beyond their day-to-day responsibilities?

I understand that there are limitations at different points in your professional career as to how much you can take on. If you can expand and push for a certain period of time, great, but if you need to sit on the sidelines for a little while to catch a breath, then that’s something that I have also supported and encouraged.

How do you reward people?

It’s not just about a monetary reward but exposure and the ability to interact a level up. People find that immensely rewarding and fulfilling because it challenges them to grow. You’re giving them the platform for growth. Also, I seek opportunities for visibility within the group. I am also very focused on giving them accolades and giving them a personal note of thank you. I do not take credit in sessions. If there are people on my team who came up with an idea, I do a call-out when I’m in leadership meetings.

What books are you reading?

The last business book I read was “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. I’m re-reading “The First 90 Days” [by Michael D. Watkins] to refresh myself.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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