As CFO of BioTelemetry, Heather Getz saved the start-up financially during the economic crisis; her leadership has nurtured and transformed the company culture in unexpected ways, too
By J. L. Greene
When Heather Getz landed her first job at Sunoco, her family was thrilled. Coming from a blue-collar background in a small town, she and her three sisters were the first in their family to attend college. As the only sister to pursue a corporate career, her father and grandfather loved boasting about her joining the well-known company. So, when she decided to leave Sunoco for a “no-name” startup, they were slightly disappointed.
But having grown up with two independent male figures, her father being a contractor and her grandfather a dairy owner, Getz embraced the idea of taking hold and controlling her destiny. She saw her mentors’ ability to pursue their interests, work hard and flourish in autonomy—something she knew was impossible in a traditional corporate setting. She wanted to be expansive in her career and work on projects outside of her specific role to harness additional skills. After being reprimanded several times for branching outside of her department, Getz began looking in a different direction to fulfill her professional goals.
She knew joining a startup was risky, but that despite the murky water it was the best choice for her and her ambitions. “There’s a certain appeal to a large company,” Getz said. “People I think are sometimes lulled into a false sense of security. They think that in the big companies you have all of these benefits. It’s just not the case. There’s different types of risks when you’re looking at a small company versus a large company, and when I look at a smaller company, I feel like I have more control over what happens to me and I feel like I have the ability to be involved in things that at large companies I just wouldn’t be involved in.”
The up-and-comer certainly used the opportunity to attain the career she wanted. In 2010, less than a year after joining the cardiac device and monitoring company BioTelemetry, she rose from Vice President of Finance to the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
Don’t Ask, Convince
Fortunately, Getz arrived just in time. After several years of exponential growth and generous budgets, the company lost 33 percent of its income during the financial crisis. With survival mode fully at play, Getz stepped up to cut
millions in the company budget. In the process, she realized heavy spending was not the only issue that needed addressing; fundamental work habits threatened company culture.
For instance, employees often turned financial statements in late, leaving the company to run on nearly two-month-old data. In response, Getz established hard deadlines and assigned tasks to ensure individual and team accountability. It took more than two years for Getz to fully gain her employees’ trust, but when they realized her actions benefited the company, they followed her leadership. Not only had she stabilized a progressively sick company, it became more cost-effective and productive with a transformed work ethic.
With the tempestuous economic climate still billowing, Getz determined fiscal accountability to be one of the top company principles. After cutting it so dramatically, she continued to strictly monitor the budget, making sure each dollar spent served a purpose. Changing company mentality took time, but eventually Getz saw the fruits of her labor. Soon employees realized that just because there is money in the budget does not mean it should be spent.
Getz encouraged new projects, with the criteria of either increasing revenue or making the company more efficient. The key when approaching her with a new idea is to convince her. “I don’t enjoy saying no,” she said. “I like to say yes. Just give me a reason to say yes.”
With the changing face of the workplace, Getz began reassessing certain business philosophies, namely that of face time and the concept that employees needed to be physically present to be productive or receive a promotion. When one of her top-performing accountants asked to work from home after her maternity leave, Getz decided to allow the experiment, as long as certain ground rules were established: being available during office hours, answering calls, responding to emails and, most importantly, getting her work done. Getz prioritized work output over office face time and found such fantastic results that she promoted the team member.
Getz sees the freedom to work remotely as another enticing feature of a small company. She recognizes that such opportunities are not inherent, but must be earned. In any case, the experience changed her ideas about what a traditional workforce looks like. Going back to her hard work ethic, Getz enjoys presenting new, flexible opportunities like these to staffers who demonstrate discipline and drive.
Collecting & Sharing Wisdom
Getz attributes her successful career to the principles she learned from her family and the wisdom of the strong professionals who have surrounded her. She explained: “As I was coming up in the ranks, I would find opportunities to talk to people who I thought were successful in their careers and I’d take mental notes of what they did that would work for me and what I thought wouldn’t work because sometimes that’s just as important. I don’t think you can take a person who’s successful and say, ‘I’m going to do exactly what they did’ because that won’t necessarily work for you. You have to understand yourself and your strong points.”
And so, Getz delved into the world of the Enneagram, a personality analysis tool, and began managing the way she interacted with her team. This new understanding of personalities paired with strong technical know-how has allowed the CFO to manage more effectively, navigate conflict, avoid misunderstanding and achieve greater triumphs.
In the same way she grew up watching her father and grandfather, Getz began her career observing the successful men and women around her, seeing how they handled triumph and defeat, loyalty and defection. By combining their wisdom with hard work, flexibility, care and determination, Getz has gone beyond even her own professional expectations. It is these little nuggets of wisdom gathered over the years that she hopes to pass along to others. What has taken her a career to learn, she gladly hands to you here.
J. L. Greene is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee.