New at the top: An acquisition teaches this CFO about positioning companies for change
By — Interview with Vanessa Small,
I grew up in a family from modest means. I was one of the first in my family to go to college.
I always saw myself owning my own business with my brother. We did the traditional paper route and worked odd jobs to earn money because we didn’t have much discretionary spending in the family.
I remember selling doughnuts door-to-door when I was 11 and seeing the value of being an entrepreneur, working hard and seeing the results of my labor.
In high school, I had a teacher who brought out the businessperson in me, where I learned how to articulate and gain confidence from a crowd.
I would enter competitions where I sold products to various judges. Finding success and winning competitions is when I figured that I had the ability to influence others.
After college, I became an auditor for the Department of Taxation in Virginia and realized quickly that I wanted to do more things in the corporate and entrepreneurial sense than simply taking on a compliance role.
So I entered Honeywell Federal Systems as a revenue and billing analyst, which was my introduction to the federal government contracting world.
I remember there was a backlog of unbilled receivables and uncollected invoices. I was very motivated to fix the problem. I knew if I put in a little hard work, I could resolve some of the issues. I did. I had a series of successes like that where I employed my ability to influence people to solve issues instead of creating a contentious environment.
I left there as a supervisor and went to BDM to become a financial reporting manager. The company wound up being the first defense contractor that the Carlyle Group bought.
As a very young person, I had never gone through an acquisition or divestiture, but I was surrounded by individuals who were really good at that. I was a sponge. In a five-year period, I got 15 years’ worth of experience. That’s what led to building confidence in my background to take on more challenging roles, because I now had the wherewithal and experience that many people my age didn’t have.
When I joined BAE Systems, it was a $1.5 billion business. In the United States, it was made up of 20 little units. When they rolled it together and created this U.S. business, they didn’t have a way to function as one company.
They needed people who could integrate and put policies in place. I was one of the original plank holders there. Many of the things that are there today are a result of my fingerprints, including the implementation of the overall financial policies.
After that, I felt like my job was done.
I looked at Qinetiq North America as an opportunity to assist the team to do similar things that I learned from my experience at BAE Systems and apply it to this smaller business base where all government contractors are recalibrating and re-baselining.
I am excited to take the finance function’s talent and processes in line with the current size and future aspirations of the company and focus on the strategy of the business in this environment.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
Gary Slack Position: Chief financial officer and executive vice president of QinetiQ North America, a provider of technology, responsive services and solutions for the federal government and commercial customers. Career highlights: President, U.S. combat systems business, BAE Systems; director of group finance, systems and information technology group, TRW; assistant controller, BDM International; accounting supervisor, Honeywell Federal Systems; auditor, Virginia Department of Taxation. Age: 49 Education: BS, business administration, Longwood University. Personal: Lives in Leesburg with his wife and daughter. They also have three grown children.