In college, I took a swimming class.

One day, the instructor encouraged people to go off the high diving board. I didn’t know how to swim just yet, but I decided to try anyway. I climbed up to the top of the high dive. When I saw how high I was, I got afraid. I asked to go back down, but they said I couldn’t. Eventually I stepped off. It wasn’t a graceful dive, but I did it despite the fear.

I love to be challenged.

Throughout my career, I’ve been ready and willing to take on new opportunities.

The first opportunity was when I started as a consultant right out of college. I had no previous plans of entering the field because I was looking for a traditional sales role, but I grabbed hold of the consulting opportunity anyway and thrived.

Jean Holder is the new chief financial officer and executive vice president of Merkle, a Columbia marketing agency. (Merkle)

After three years, however, I began to feel that the very technical nature of my work didn’t line up with my interest as much as general business management might.

That’s when I learned the importance of speaking up when you think you can make a contribution. After I spoke up, they gave me the opportunity to take a leap and move to a position where I was wearing many hats, from human relations to marketing to finance.

Over time, I began to gravitate toward finance. I had the ability to understand numbers and make the connections, a skill I have cultivated through the years.

When I’m in meetings, it’s almost like I can visualize how a human relations action, for example, will result in a particular financial outcome.

I found that I could help articulate those connections in a way that could help business leaders understand them too.

In the ensuing years, I also learned the importance of embracing change and being a change agent.

For example, I remember when Accenture had organized its business around industries vertically, capabilities horizontally, all in a geographic context — it’s a matrix organization.

I wound up the lead finance person in each part of the dimensions of how the company managed its business.

Later, we were installing a new custom financial system. I took a leap and volunteered to be a region lead for the implementation. I provided input and helped train. We accomplished our goal of creating the ability to see the company’s finances along the industry dimension.

I also helped with another very large organization realignment within the global finance organization. I was the program manager for a project where we developed an approach for service delivery that involved developing a global delivery system. We did it with no increase in cost.

Then I took another leap.

After 27 years with Accenture, I decided to move to a company where I would drive a set of global change initiatives.

It was a tough decision, but I felt like I had accomplished a lot at Accenture and I was seeking new opportunities and challenges.

Shortly after the move, the opportunity at Merkle arose. It was extremely attractive to come to this established high-energy company.

I come from a very non­traditional finance background. I haven’t spent a great deal of time in controllership, but my experience is making the intersection of finance and business tangible no matter the challenge. That’s what I want to help do here.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

Jean Holder

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

Career highlights: Senior vice president of operations, Quintiles; global managing director of finance and operations, Accenture Management Consulting; managing director of finance, Accenture North America; and global managing director of finance and operations, Accenture’s resources business unit.

Age: 50

Education: BS, business administration, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Personal: Commutes between Columbia and Cary, N.C. Married to Greg Holder.