(Antoinette Merrill)

Antoinette Merrill

Position: Chief financial officer at Summit, a District-based analytics-advisory firm that works with federal agencies, financial institutions and litigators.

Antoinette Merrill fell in love with numbers during high school. After graduating from the University of San Diego, she joined Deloitte Touche. As her husband’s military career took her around the world, she started working with small businesses, helping them get their finances in order. When the family settled in the Washington area, she became the controller at InterImage. Before joining Summit, she was chief financial officer at Dougherty & Associates.

When you were growing up you wanted to be a doctor. Now instead of diagnosing illness, you diagnose what ails a company.

Exactly! Most of the time it’s a lot less bloody.

Your husband’s military career took you to Japan where you worked with an importer, the first of many small businesses you helped. What appealed to you about small businesses?

It’s so much fun. It’s so great to be a part of the decisions that form something bigger. It’s great to put the processes in place to know that you’re planting seeds for future success.

Tell me about working for InterImage.

I cannot say enough about Leslie Steele, their CEO. She was incredibly supportive and a wonderful mentor. As you can imagine in your career, you do all these sort of small projects, and she was very instrumental in putting her hand out and saying, “I recognize your experience, I recognize your professionalism, and I’d like to make you our controller,” which was a leadership position. She gave me the vote of confidence.

But it became very clear that I also needed to continue my education, sort of refresh my academic [skills], but also to study a little bit deeper. When you’re traveling every two years and raising a family and working with these amazing entrepreneurs, you have a little less time to study markets and things like that.

How did you fit in an MBA with working and raising a family?

You do what you have to. You corral everyone and say this is how this is going to work. I stayed at the office two nights week to do my homework and study. I would leave the office like I was leaving for the day, grab something to eat, then sneak back in and use my office as a quiet study spot.

What did getting an MBA do for you?

It boosted my skills. But the other thing is it gave me confidence in my skills. When I compared myself to my fellow classmates, my colleagues, I realized that while I didn’t have the traditional career path, my experiences were at least as valuable and sometimes much more because where some would consider it job-hopping, it had really just been project to project.

What is your role at Summit?

Part of what I do is to take existing processes and grow them a bit. One of the biggest challenges I face is putting the financial information in so that the directors can properly evaluate and properly manage their directorates. Most small firms start out using some very basic software and Excel spreadsheets. We’re looking to bring much more sophistication into our systems. I’ll also be doing a lot more financial planning with regard to future cash flows and being able to budget and then re-forecast.

How has being a military spouse affected your career?

We had a wonderful ride. I lived some amazing places. I’ve met some amazing people. The moving around and being a military spouse, that may not have changed how I operated. I could have been living in the middle Kansas and this could just be the path I took. My husband and I always say you only do what you want to do. If you have all these obstacles, yet you want to continue your professional life, then you do it and you make the sacrifices and the compromises to make sure that it happens. That’s true whether you’re a military spouse or not.

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?

I would have to say “Don’t just talk, execute.” That’s something that Leslie Steele really did. She introduced that to me. You have to have a plan to execute. It just can’t be that we’re going to move forward. You have to be able to execute in a way that makes sense to people and you have to be able to communicate how you are going to execute.

— Interview with Kathy Orton