Linda Irrsack, Head of Finance Rolls With The Punches

finance team

All of us would like our lives to be perfect in some way. Perhaps we want the perfect relationship (more coffee dear?), or we want the ideal job, where our hard work is always recognized, we don’t do grunt work and the fast track to promotion is a smooth, straight line. The reality is that our work life rarely, if ever, functions like that. In the interview below, Linda Irrsak, CMA/MBA discusses how to be flexible, adaptable and roll with the punches. She outlines how the conscious choices she made to take a lesser role, be true to herself and to learn as much as she could from every finance position she accepted enabled her achieve the success that she has.

What was your first job in accounting and finance? I worked as an AR Clerk at KPMG formally Peat Marwick.

Why did you choose accounting and finance as a career? I was always a logical thinker and finance was one of those things that I enjoyed and came easily. The fact that I was given the ultimatum of moving out or going to school certainly swayed me as well to stay on the educational path (laughs).

What else did you consider and why? When I was younger, I had really wanted to be the manager of a Dapper Dan store (“Am I dating myself here?”). In the end my parents told me that I had to go to school and not knowing what else to do I went with what came naturally. I’d always had an interest in all aspects of business when working retail (sales, scheduling, operations etc…). Pursuing my college degree seemed to be a better application, yet logical extension, of doing what I always had an affinity for.

In the end my parents told me that I had to go to school and not knowing what else to do I went with what came naturally.

What did you have as a goal for yourself at the beginning of your career? I started making $11,500/year at Peat Marwick and my goal was to be making $60,000 by the time I was 30. When I turned 30 I surpassed that goal, so putting that line in the sand was important for me as it helped keep me focused.

What was the toughest moment for you in the first 10 years of your career? The toughest moments in the first 10 years were at a Pipetronix, a subsidiary of Preussag AG (this was a German holding company that had purchased the division of TransCanada Pipelines I was working for). This was my first real exposure to senior management and company politics, which required I (quickly) develop a different set of negotiation and “navigation” skills. The next toughest thing also came in this role. Given my position, I was constantly exposed to new problems and I was expected to make quick decisions on solutions, typically without having all of the information I would usually like, to make such decisions. I had to learn to take what little information I had, synthesize the best solution and be able to rationally and logically back that decision up.

This was my first real exposure to senior management and company politics

How did you overcome that challenge? I always relied on thinking logically and doing what I thought was right. And by right, I mean not only what the most logical solution was, but also the solution which remained true to me. By following those two guiding principles, both the people who reported to me, and those who I reported to, understood how I thought and learned that I could be trusted. Once I had their trust, I in turn also had their support.

I always relied on thinking logically and doing what I thought was right.

Did you make conscious decisions on your career? I made several decisions in the course of my career. Leaving Pipetronix was a conscious decision as the incredible amount of travelling that was required (Houston, Mexico, Germany) was wreaking havoc on my personal life to the point where I had lost a reasonable work/life balance. From there I stayed in small to mid-sized organizations for several years and began to feel a bit cornered. It was a conscious decision get back into a large organization, which was why I jumped at the Falconbridge opportunity, even though it was (at least in title) a step backwards. I learned early that it was more important to get your foot in the door, even if it meant taking a step down. My friends laughed when I started as an AR clerk because it was such a low level role, but I surpassed them very quickly.

I learned early that it was more important to get your foot in the door, even if it meant taking a step down.

What were the critical steps that you took in your life to get you to where you are? Going back to school and obtaining my CMA was a very important milestone. I also tried to establish myself in an organization for a long enough period to show stability and growth before taking the next role. I also thought that understanding the entire business was an important step as well. I tried to do this for every role I was in. When I worked for the airport, I delved deeply into the operations side and saw all parts of the facility. At Pipetronix, I made sure I got out to the sites so I could relate the operations to the numbers. Finally, I’d say that getting my EMBA was also a critical decision that helped to advance my career.

I also tried to establish myself in an organization for a long enough period to show stability and growth