CFO Marsha Smith: Going Beyond the Numbers

On January 1st, Marsha Smith was named as CFO of Siemens USA in addition to her current role as CFO for Siemens Mobility in North America

Editor’s Note: On January 1st, Marsha Smith was named as CFO of Siemens USA in addition to her current role as CFO for Siemens Mobility in North America. Marsha, a 22-year Siemens veteran, has worked across various businesses in the USA and Canada. As an experienced CFO, she knows it takes more than just numbers to be successful—it takes planning, knowing when to express your opinions, and being a trusted strategic business partner to succeed. Siemens Stories sat down with her to get some guidance on her approach to career planning and growth.


How did you feel when you were offered the position?


Being offered this position was both humbling and exciting. When you face such an opportunity in your career, there is only one option: take it without hesitation.


Does that mean that you aren’t nervous about the position?


No – I am both excited and nervous. Someone once gave me advice that if a new position doesn’t make you nervous, then you shouldn’t take it. If you are not at least a little nervous, the new position will not challenge you enough. Also, with a little apprehension, you prepare better.


How do you prepare for a new position?


In all the new roles I’ve entered, I lay out a plan for how I want to start in the role, what I would like to accomplish in the first 100 days, knowing of course that this plan may change. It may change because of urgent topics that arise or new priorities that must be addressed or an organizational shift, but regardless it is good to have an idea of what success looks like.


How do you view the role of CFO?


Within Siemens, the CFO is a partner to the CEO. I do like my spreadsheets, but for me, analyzing numbers is not as exciting as having the ability to influence and improve those numbers. However, I am a firm believer that the primary role of finance is to ensure clean business and adherence to processes. Once we have that correct, the finance community should be – and I believe is – seen as integral to managing overall business strategy, results and customer negotiations (my personal favorite).


How will it be different as CFO of Siemens USA?


Siemens is changing. With Siemens Energy carving out and the operating/strategic companies being given more independence, the organization today is not the same as it was five years ago. As CFO, my target is to keep the finance community as strong as it has been in the past. We are all still Siemens and we need to make sure that we have the information required to make smart business decisions and learn from one another instead of starting from scratch.


How do you know if you are making a correct choice?

One of the things I think is most important is to have “sparring partners.” These are the people I know I can openly talk with and play devil’s advocate without holding back. Finding those people that you can speak openly with, and who you know you can trust, will help you flesh out new ideas, think through all your options and better articulate your plans. It could be a mentor, a manager, a peer or colleague, inside or outside of your business area.


Are there any other pieces of career advice that you would give?

Have fun. I don’t know anyone who has furthered their career while being miserable. You must enjoy what you do, acknowledging of course that there will be some challenging and unpleasant times along the way. Throughout my career, I have taken on very difficult topics and thankfully have successfully managed those situations. Whether it is a tough project or a merger preparation, in each role, I focused all my energy on the task at hand and not what may come afterward. If you’re always in a job where life is easy, chances are you won’t get the visibility that you hope for and you may be a bit bored too. Don’t be scared off by a very difficult task, because if someone believes in putting you there, they think you can do it. Take on the tough topics, have some fun while you work on them and management will notice. 


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