From CPA to CFO at a Publicly Traded CompanyFeatured

I spoke with @julieruehl, Chief Financial Officer of Fly Leasing Limited (NYSE: FLY), a publicly traded leading global aircraft leasing company. FLY acquires and leases its aircraft under long-term operating lease contracts to a diverse group of airlines throughout the world.Prior to FLY, Julie was Vice President and Chief Accounting Officer of Big Heart Pet Brands (formerly Del Monte Foods), Director of External Reporting at Sanmina-SCI, and Audit Partner at Arthur Andersen. How did you find the intersection of your passion and strengths?Early in college, I took a challenging, weed-out accounting class and ended up doing quite well. I found the material clicked with me and was something I had a natural aptitude for, so I pursued the path to CPA and then CFO. I started off in public accounting, but I quickly realized that accounting was a fungible skill with applications across industries. Since then, I have worked in accounting in a wide range of sectors from tech to consumer products to now, specialty finance.Could you talk a bit more about your current role?Because FLY is a publicly traded company, much of my work centers around connecting with investors and telling the company story with clear, data driven messaging at all times. Relative to my prior roles, this one is more communication-oriented than technical, so it has been a step outside of my comfort zone, but an incredible learning experience where I have been able to grow as a leader and communicator more than ever. Beyond the day to day work, I also spend time keeping up to date on the industry and our peers. I make sure to set aside dedicated time to read up on the latest changes, innovations, and trends so I’m constantly learning more about the space.What is your advice for transitioning to a more leadership oriented role, like this one, or starting at companies across very different industries, as you have done?Tune into the culture and try to truly understand its attributes and nuances. Stay humble, and do not be afraid to ask for help and for patience from your team, especially as you are learning. Be open minded and focus on getting to know people and picking their brains. Be proactive. For example, if the firm is smaller with no set onboarding structure, create your own. Don’t shy away from tasks simply because they are not in the job description. More opportunities and exposure come your way when people see you excel and go above and beyond. What helped you transition from the private to public company world?Even at private companies, you are still working with a board of directors, so that aspect carries over. The biggest difference is that at a public company, you need to share your guidance regularly with the public markets and live by it (I have ours posted on my desk at all times!). But at the same time, you need to balance this short term metric with longer term thinking and strategizing, particularly around the story of the company and broader implications beyond the headline numbers themselves. Before joining FLY, I had had a good amount of exposure to the public company world. My previous firm was privately held but had public debt, and prior to that, I was at a publicly traded company and was deeply involved with the quarterly earnings calls. Our CFO there had transitioned from public accounting so I was able to learn a lot about ramping up and creating best practices through watching him learn and develop. What advice would you give to your younger self?Really focus on building and maintaining your network. Life and work will always be busy, but don’t forget to spend quality time getting to know people and cultivating new and existing relationships in your life. Network building takes persistent work and dedication with a long term focus but ultimately is a huge value-add both personally and professionally. What are you most excited about?I am very excited about the potential growth at the company and in the broader industry. Our firm looked into a major acquisition the year before I joined, and this was one of the things that drew me in: the potential for change and disruption. I am also fascinated by the evolution of aircraft technology and in particular how it can be used to lessen the carbon footprint of air travel. And lastly, at the market level, only 40% of aircrafts are leased rather than owned, so there is still an immense opportunity to be captured and a bright future ahead.
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Congratulations Jessica,I am a fellow CFO and one thing I am looking forward to is more collaboration. Can you share your thoughts about how to maximize working relationships so the work flow is smooth?