Zimbra CFO Kristin Reichert on Balancing Myriad Work Tasks and Her Full-Time Responsibilities of Being a Wife and Mother of Four
By Jill Yarberry-Laybourn
Professionals today walk a tightrope, balancing numerous responsibilities at work and at home. There are often obstacles along the path, and the weight on one’s shoulders sometimes gets out of balance. Those executives who are truly effective learn to put one foot firmly in front of the other, and few do it better than Kristin Reichert, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Zimbra.
She not only successfully manages being a wife and mother to four children (ages two, four, six and eight), but as CFO for Zimbra, she effectively manages multiple departments: Finance, Accounting, Tax, Human Resources (HR), Office Administration and Information Technology (IT).
What are her keys to staying balanced and firmly on the tightrope? Reichert sets priorities, works exceptionally hard and leads effectively.
Doing What Comes Naturally
For a CFO balancing a multitude of responsibilities, order, organization and a love for numbers are essential. Fortunately, for Reichert these come innately.
“I am a rule-following overachiever who likes to plan,” she said. “I’ve been that way ever since I was younger.”
A great example of Reichert’s ability to plan, even growing up, is how she got her first car. “I bought my own sweet 16 car using money I saved from working during the summers and from gifts my grandparents had given me over the years.”
Finance and accounting, too, came intuitively. “I never wanted clothes or gadgets for Christmas. I just wanted money and the opportunity to set a budget for myself with the money I received.”
Reichert finds her personality fits well with accounting, where there are standard rules to follow, the math always has to work and understanding budgets is essential.
“I took accounting in high school, and then in college I took more accounting and finance,” Reichert said. “It was just really straightforward and came naturally to me.”
Starting out, Reichert was an Auditor at PwC, and the experience helped her gain essential skills. “It taught me a lot of the basics, and it was a great place to get exposed to a lot of new things,” she said. “In that role, I got my finance and accounting foundation, which I continue to build on top of today.”
Reichert also learned valuable information about herself. “I knew that I didn’t want to be a lifelong public accountant. I really wanted to transition to the company side and join a smaller organization where I could be see my individual impact.”
Pursuing her desired smaller/medium business atmosphere, she landed at Docucorp, a software technology company, where she was able to build on her financial analysis and accounting repertoire. While at Docucorp, the budding leader discovered her love for acquisitions.
“I did my first two acquisitions at Docucorp,” she said. “The first was a smaller deal and the second was a larger take-private transaction. After the second transaction, I was sold.”
She also learned a great deal about “how a company actually operates, how the financial and accounting side can help the business make decisions, and how critical financial reporting is for the business.”
When Skywire acquired Docucorp in 2007, Reichert became the Controller. “At Skywire, I got a chance to lead the Finance Group. This was the first jump I made to being a team leader. It was an exciting time for me, especially because I got a chance to take part in even more acquisitions.”
Skywire later was acquired by Oracle, a global technology corporation. She parted ways with the group at this time, and with another valuable takeaway: “I got to see how a huge technology company like Oracle operates, and I quickly learned that I didn’t want to be at a huge self-service software company.”
That is when Reichert joined Telligent in 2009 as Vice President of Finance and Administration; shortly thereafter, she was promoted to CFO. In July 2013, Telligent acquired Zimbra, and Reichert stayed on board as CFO. Today she is afforded the chance to draw on all of her valuable past experiences to manage finance and accounting as well as tax, legal, HR and IT responsibilities.
Balancing a company’s finance and accounting would be enough for most, but Reichert manages additional departments, and with excellence. In fact, she was a finalist for last year’s CFO of the Year award presented by the Dallas Business Journal.
How does Reichert manage so many areas? To lead both effectively and efficiently, she utilizes sports knowledge from her intercollegiate soccer days.
“If this was a sports team, everyone couldn’t be a quarterback. Everyone would have their own unique position to plan, and you would have to find a point person in charge that runs the play for each department,” Reichert acknowledged. “You would have to find a quarterback for accounting, and you have to find a quarterback for HR. It is essential that you have a strong team and strong leaders to help you manage each one of those groups.”
Several Departments, One Business
Reichert also firmly believes that team members have to be on the same page. “To me, the three things that make a strong team are being aligned on the right priorities, knowing the overall goal for the team and having strong communication between the appointed leaders.” The focus, she added, needs to be on the business versus the department. “I have to make sure I am working on what is important for the overall business,” Reichert said. “If it isn’t on my CEO’s [Chief Executive Officer’s] top five list, I don’t need to be working on it. You translate that down and prioritize: What does Accounting need to be doing? What does HR need to be doing? You just set the top priorities, whether it is the top five or top 10 priorities for each group, and you communicate, follow and track.”
Never Back Down From a Challenge
It seems like one might teeter on that tightrope having so much to manage in and outside of the office, but Reichert is never daunted.
“This is where that overachiever comes out in me,” she said. “At Telligent, Legal reported straight into the CEO, but it was an area that I wanted to own. So I went to the CEO and asked to take over the legal responsibilities, and that was all it took. I was given the responsibility of overseeing Legal for the organization.”
Reichert is a firm believer in asking questions. Through questioning, you learn the why and not just “this is what we do.” This process has helped her gain tremendous knowledge in spaces that once were not so common to her.
She also believes that one of the keys to leading multiple departments is knowing the basics and risks of the business. “I used to have the theory that I always had to know how to do something and everything about it in order to manage it,” Reichert said. “However, over the years I have learned that you don’t have to be the expert to manage those departments, you really just need to know the questions to ask, set the right priorities and understand the risks and goals of the business.”
And, Reichert isn’t afraid to learn as she goes, viewing it as an opportunity versus an obstacle. “IT is one [department] that is being transitioned over to me,” she noted, “and I’m sure I will learn along the way.”
Part of the reason Reichert has achieved such positive work-life balance is because she developed related skills as an athlete. From the time she was a girl through her college years, Reichert played soccer. She thrives on a challenge, embraces teamwork and demonstrates a tenacious work ethic—perhaps why acquisitions are her favorite part of the balancing act at work.
“They are very challenging, but they are also very rewarding,” Reichert said. “The part I would tell you that I love about acquisitions is actually closing them—specifically that last moment when someone is sending you money or you are sending someone else money, finally getting to the finish line.”
Reichert’s leadership style mimics what she learned in her years of athletics. “I think the work ethic, hard work and discipline all just became part of my DNA,” she said. “Soccer has drilled into me the discipline and work ethic that I carry to my professional work team today. In college, I physically pushed my body to limits I didn’t think I could go, and I survived and came out a stronger person.”
As a leader, Reichert expects her direct reports to exhibit a similar drive and dedication. She sets high expectations, but not without their benefits. “I will reward performers and give opportunities to those players on the team that do well,” Reichert said. “I work hard and expect everyone on my team to work hard as well.”
With all that Reichert manages, it would be easy to imagine her wobbling across that tightrope. And Reichert fully recognizes that it can be difficult at times—that the rope may sway back and forth—but with her sports mentality, strong leadership, intense work ethic and impeccable organizational skills, her feet will continue smoothly and swiftly forward.
Jill Yarberry-Laybourn is a freelance writer based in Colorado.