I remember getting my first e-mail account in 1989 and telling all of my friends that no one would send letters again.
It took 20 more years before e-mail made serious dents in postal distribution but after getting the account, something inside me clicked. I realized the world really had changed and you can either roll with it or be road kill. Ever since that moment I’ve been interested in electronic channels and commerce.
It was my postgraduate studies that took me outside of the borders of Norway, the place of my upbringing. I was doing Internet research in London. There, I got the sense that everything is ultimately global. We can fool ourselves into thinking otherwise because we have domestic customers and suppliers. But I like to have a glass of French wine with my Italian pizza or Belgian Budweiser with my burger. It’s a small world and increasingly getting smaller.
I started working for Accenture after college in a job that melded my passion for strategy, technology and finance. I was a part of a research operation with Accenture in London outlining new retail concepts for groceries, banks and music stores.
It was during my MBA in Boston [at Harvard Business School] where I continued to feed my passion for Internet strategy and e-commerce. This was right around the time when U.S. corporations realized that the Internet strategy is core to everyone’s strategy. I did a case study about Amazon.com’s daunting task of going up against Barnes & Noble and why Amazon would ultimately win. This case was later made part of a core curriculum there and other business schools.
That transitioned me smoothly to a consulting position at Boston Consulting Group where I focused on economic strategies for retail and banking.
I had been dealing with Internet and e-commerce issues for a long time and in 1999 I really saw the market getting overheated. What any intelligent person would do is run as fast as he could in the other direction. I decided to jump in and helped create a software company called Cvent.
I felt really strongly that it could work. We were in the midst of a recession but I felt that the value proposition we provided to our customers was super sound.
We grew the company through two recessions, took it from zero to profitability and 850 employees. We concluded the largest private software financing in the United States since 2007, raising $136 million.
At that point, it made for a good bookend for what had been a great run. I sat down with the chief executive and we discussed a transition for me to leave the company.
I looked around and when Opower came up, I was ensnared.
I saw highly motivated employees delivering cutting edge technology solutions that helped save energy, cut utility bills and build a more sustainable future.
I don’t think you wake up in the morning and say I want to be president of the United States. Similarly, I didn’t dream 20 years ago about being the chief financial officer of Opower. But what I did was get up every morning wanting to do a great job.
When you like what you do and do it well, good things will follow.
—Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: Chief financial officer of Opower an Arlington-based company that provides energy information software.
Career highlights: Chief financial officer, Cvent; consultant, Boston Consulting Group; senior consultant, Accenture.
Education: MSc in Economics, Norwegian School of Economics; MBA, Harvard Business School.
Personal: Lives in the District with his wife, Jessica, and sons, Mats and Lars.