THE BLOG
03/11/2014 11:33 am ET Updated May 11, 2014

Women in Business: Q&A with Theresa Brown, Partner at Armanino

Theresa is the Partner in Charge of the Microsoft Dynamics GP Practice at Armanino, and has more than 25 years of experience in management consulting and accounting leadership roles. Prior to joining Armanino, her industry leadership experience included finance roles at Peet's Coffee and Tea, Mizuno Sports and The San Francisco Music Box Company. Theresa focuses on recommending comprehensive solutions to the broad spectrum of challenges faced by the CFO Organization. Exhibiting her expertise in mergers and acquisitions, Theresa managed the strategic acquisition and successful integration of Rose Business Solutions, a fellow Microsoft Dynamics Inner Circle partner, to expand Armanino's national Dynamics GP practice. Theresa is a Microsoft Dynamics GP Certified Master and Microsoft Dynamics Certified Trainer (MCT) and sits on the Microsoft Product Partner Advisory Board. She was awarded the 2008 #1 Trainer for Dynamics GP in the United States by Microsoft. She is also the current East Bay Chapter President and a long-term member of the Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today.
I grew up in Alaska, a wonderful place for any kid to grow up. This last frontier makes it a necessity to become pretty independent at a young age. I cannot tell you how many times I had to bail my car out of a snowbank! Like most, I worked through school, and when attending my first accounting class I realized I was pretty good at it. I was immediately asked by friends to tutor them, followed closely by an invitation to teach computer labs at night (I helped to teach Lotus 123 and Peachtree classes). Fast forward to my first accounting job where I did accounting for a husband/wife team that owned several businesses.

After my parents migrated south, I followed them to California and landed a job as an Accounting Supervisor for a rapidly expanding retail company. It was right about this time I took a small sabbatical and did modeling for a year, something I had done on the side for several years and I wasn't going to be persuaded to not try it. I had an offer to go to New York to model for a big agency but really didn't like the starving model life, plus I was madly in love with my husband (then boyfriend) and would not leave him. So, back to accounting I went and from there, I had progressively more responsible roles as Cost Accountant, Accounting Manager, Assistant Controller and Controller.

Married, with two children, by this time I was a little exhausted by some big changes, including two cross-country relocations. I grew tired of the monthly grind, and my company was hunting for a new ERP system. I helped select and implement it, then decided this might be a new career for me, one that allowed me to call on my historical experiences, and afforded more flexibility for family life. I quit my job, became a consultant and haven't looked back. After 15 years in consulting, I've recently been promoted to Partner. It has been a wild ride, and I can honestly say I would not change one thing about the journey.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
A variety of roles, industries, and cultures has given me a great opportunity to be exposed to many things. Without this exposure I would not be able to speak my client's language, problem-solve or lead a team.

How have you learned from these challenges and successes?
Failures as well as successes are what define me, I think the most important thing has been learning how to handle both. One of the things has taken me years to learn, (I haven't yet mastered this but continue to try) is how to spend more time focusing on proactive, positive things, rather than dwell on and be reactive to the bad things. I spend a lot of time on proactive, teambuilding activities, and allow the team to lead the meetings. I don't claim to know everything, I am not in the trenches every day and I don't believe that my ego should rule my career. I don't succeed - the team does.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your career as an accountant and consultant?
My biggest highlight was making Partner at Armanino! I was so honored to be chosen - I finally have achieved my goal. The problem is, I haven't yet planned beyond this goal, so I now have more work to do. My biggest challenge was participating in the downsizing and relocation of a sizable company - and moving across the US, twice in two years. The integration was rocky and unsuccessful for me, my family and most of the other relocate-ees. Hence, the second move (back to where I started). I don't regret trying, and am glad to have had the experience.

What advice can you offer women seeking a career in the financial industry?
When seeking a job, do your homework! Think about your personal interests and try to align yourself as best you can. Foodies might look for something in the hospitality industry. Pet lovers could seek out a non-profit that helps animals. If you enjoy taking time off during the holidays, you might choose to avoid retail! Look at future career potential. If you have the desire to move up, be sure to ask a potential employer about their planned growth, succession planning and opportunities for advancement. Depending on the size of the organization, the opportunity may not even exist. Look for a position where you will learn from leadership - find a mentor, if not your immediate boss. Set goals for yourself, review them with your mentor and track them.
In business, do not be afraid to take risks. Once you've formulated an idea and done your homework, go all in! I allow myself one moment of doubt, recognize it, and tell it to go away. Self-doubt is a deal-killer.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Mastering my own schedule and prioritization - making time for myself has been the hardest thing to master and the most impactful on my happiness and well-being. I live by a calendar, and share all my appointments with my husband, who helps to keep things running smoothly. Daily workouts are important - my husband and I go first thing every morning. I feel stronger, happier and more alive by making this the first thing I do, plus there is no guilt the remainder of the day and no opportunity to find other more important things to be done. When my children were young workouts were a luxury, so I found this personal time by simply pulling over on the side of the road a few blocks from home, and unwinding before I came home to a busy household.
I love to cook and spend time with my family, so when I'm in town, I make it a point to prepare meals. I try to not to do emails on the weekends or at night, which allows me to focus on my family. I found by not sending emails on nights and weekends, my team also does not feel obligated to respond, allowing them the same family time courtesy.

I am so very fortunate to have a loving and supportive husband, an IT Manager for a Fortune 200 company, who works from our home. Over the years he has been our home manager, shuttling kids to and from school, practice and doctor appointments. I don't know where I would be without his support.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Family planning. From pregnancy to childbirth and beyond, women bear the lion share of this responsibility. Toward the end of my second pregnancy, I was at a doctor's appointment and was going into labor far too early. The doctor told me to go straight home; I was to be on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. Of course I didn't quite follow those orders, I dropped by the office to pick up my computer. (What else was I going to do for three months in bed?) Due to my uneasy feelings, I took a short four weeks off with my first child and only two weeks with my second; not nearly enough time for bonding. Though it is illegal to discriminate, each time I wondered if my job would still be there when I returned from my leave. Employers need to lay out action plans in advance that help families and the company survive and thrive.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I have been following Sheryl throughout her many interviews and in all honesty haven't made my way to the end of her book, but I haven't put it down since I started reading it. I am saddened by some of the statistics that Sheryl has exposed. I must admit, I've been a little blinded by my own life experiences, I wasn't raised to see a difference between what men and women could do. My great-grandmother worked as a translator for the French Embassy. My grandmother worked as an electrical draftsman for the Navy, drawing plans for ships and submarines. She worked in this capacity at a time, after the war, when women would not dare to ask for a raise or a promotion. Still, they realized her talent and she was promoted several times. My mother owned her own accounting business for mechanical contractors, and in the 1980's took that a step further to keep our family business afloat, becoming HVAC and Sheet metal certified. While none of them aspired to the "C" suite, they all worked in male dominated professions, and I'm amazed that they progressed further in their careers as single parents than they did when they were married.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I would not be where I am today without strong male and female mentors. From my mother and friends, to CFO's and VP's, I have always searched for those with a passion to share their knowledge; ones that will sit with me and take the time to talk about the bigger picture. I also look for those who will challenge me when I am getting complacent!

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Oprah and Hilary Clinton are both women I admire, both have set high goals for themselves and neither has been deterred by failure. Their humanitarian efforts put them on the top of the list in my book.

What is one word that sums up where you have got to today?
Positive