Say yes to new opportunities — This might seem counterintuitive in a challenging situation but taking on a new opportunity during turbulent times is a great way to develop a resilient mindset. I recently did this — joining Reputation in the middle of a pandemic, I had to get acclimated to the company remotely, developing relationships within my department, executive team and across the organization via Zoom. As a people person, this was challenging, but it forced me to approach my new role in a different way in comparison to how I may have started in a physical office.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Nash.
Shannon Nash is the Chief Financial Officer of Reputation, where she uses her deep background of financial and operations experience to oversee the organization’s corporate finance department. She is responsible for Reputation scaling for growth through financial and operations excellence, M&A, technology adoption and governance. She is a qualified financial expert, attorney, and CPA with over 25 years of experience.
Shannon’s career has spanned the globe including time as an expat in Switzerland and with major companies such as Amgen, Cooley LLP, Cumulus Media. Shannon is an Independent Board Member and member of the Audit Committee at UserTesting and also sits on the Board of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Shannon has been recognized by Accounting Today as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting and named one of 2020’s Most Powerful Women in Accounting by the AICPA and CPA Practice Advisor. She received the 2021 Trailblazer Award from CalCPA and was appointed to its Diversity Equity & Inclusion Commission.
Shannon holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce and a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I am the Chief Financial Officer of Reputation where I oversee our corporate finance department in scaling the organization for growth through financial and operations excellence, M&A, technology adoption and governance. On top of my responsibilities at Reputation, I am also the Lead Independent Board Member and Chair of the Nominating and Governance Committee for UserTesting.
Prior to Reputation I was the Chief Financial Officer of space design company Insidesource. As a trained CPA and attorney, I’ve held roles at major global companies such as Cumulus, Cooley LLP and Amgen, including as an expat in Switzerland.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It’s more of an experience than a story. When I was an expat in Switzerland, I was responsible for managing the legal work for clients in 10 European countries. It was like a start-up only position as we were opening offices all over Europe, only with a Fortune 100 company financing the expansion. This experience helped me decide that I wanted to be in business operations and finance — it gave me the startup bug and was the catalyst for me looking for opportunities in that space.
While working abroad, I also got a real PHD in Diversity and Culture, which has become a personal journey and passion of mine. Working across Europe, I had to interact with multiple cultures, languages, religions and ways of doing business. It was powerful to see people of all races and ethnicities coming together to build a successful company and thriving while doing so. This was a watershed moment for me, and I vowed to do all I could to help diversify my organizations. I helped start an ERG group at my company and continue to make sure I hire diverse teams.
The business case for diversity on boards and in the C-suite has been well documented for years. According to a 2020 McKinsey Report (Diversity Wins), companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Yet progress on this front has seemed slow. That strategic moment for me came last year when we faced a global pandemic and a social justice movement with the murder if George Floyd — I realized that the time is now, because if not now, when?
Tech companies thrive when they innovate. And the best innovations — across every function of a company — come from diverse teams and diverse leadership. Companies need to reflect on past practices that have led to a lack of diversity in senior leadership roles. If you’re an executive and trying to make a positive change within your business, look at how you can reimagine your recruiting and retention policies in a way that sets the goal of being diverse — a metric that matters.
In order to effectively close the gender gap at executive levels, you must have executives who move with intention. What I mean by that is the CEO, The Board Chair, the Chair of the Nominating and Governance Committee must make diversity and inclusion an imperative. They must select like-minded executives to fill out their executive leadership team, Board and Committee, and then together they can really start to drive organizational change. When done in reverse, it’s a well-intentioned HR exercise that might make some strides, in particular with entry-level positions in the company, but won’t have the same lasting effect.
For my part, I had already recognized that less than 1% of the nation’s CPAs were Black. Through research, I discovered the number had remained largely unchanged over the past 40 years. I started a Facebook Group for Black CPAs interested in championing this issue, and together we made it our duty to foster change. As a result, I helped co-found the National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants to diversify the profession and increase the number of Black CPAs. I was also appointed to the CalCPA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Commission.
I hope my legacy will be in moving the needle and truly diversifying the world of finance, along with the c-suite and corporate boards. I also strive to pass this mindset onto the teams that I lead in the hope that they too will pay it forward. All of this would make my career worth it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Reputation brings together three different categories — customer experience, social experience, and digital experience — into one single platform that has changed the way companies use their data, especially unstructured, unsolicited data. Unsolicited feedback from multiple listening posts such as social media channels and review sites give businesses the opportunity to grow by listening to customers and making targeted improvements based on the unstructured data that results from it.
Our proprietary metric, the Reputation Score, analyzes all of a business’ data and gives it a score on a scale of 0 to 1000. The Reputation Score helps businesses understand where they need to improve by listening to their customers.
Choosing one great story is challenging, because so many of our customers are transforming their businesses by using the Reputation platform. One that stands out came from our annual Automotive Reputation Report, which we released last month. Each year, we analyze the unstructured feedback about top automotive dealers and brands and rank them based on their Reputation Score. The Reputation Score has become a key performance metric for many in the automotive industry, and one of our customers, Penske Automotive, recently highlighted their top ranking in our Automotive Reputation Report during their Q3 earnings call. This validates our belief that businesses who take the time to understand customer feedback will be the most successful.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Mentors are invaluable throughout your career, whether you’re just starting out or sit on your firm’s executive team, as I do. I have two mentors that I am grateful for:
Larry Bailey, CPA, has impacted thousands of careers and people directly and indirectly by just being a trailblazer. He was a pioneer earning an MBA in finance from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, followed by successful roles with KPMG Peat Marwick, LLP, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. In the 1970s, he became one of the first African American partners at a major accounting firm. Many people owe their careers to Larry. The lessons he taught me have shaped my leadership style and ensure that Larry’s legacy is still ongoing.
The other is Three-time Emmy Award-winning director, actress, choreographer, and producer Debbie Allen. She taught me the soft skills — how you move people to be successful in their roles and that everyone is vital to the organization, from the assistant to the star of the show. She made it her mission to know everyone in her organization. Debbie has been a leader for over 40 years, and I’m confident that every person who has worked with her has a personal story that has shaped their life and leadership.
These leaders have left me with lessons that I use every day with my teams. If I can look back and say that I got all these people into significant positions, and they passed a bit of my wisdom (which I got from Larry and Debbie) to the next generation, that would be awesome.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I would define resilience as the ability to look at a challenging situation and turn it into an opportunity for growth, either professionally or personally. Resilient people play for the long game. In football terms (my favorite sport), they’re in it until the end of the Fourth Quarter. They believe they can win and continue to push through until that final whistle.
A resilient person is self-aware, open-minded and a creative thinker. Even after a loss, they reflect on what mistakes were made and what they could’ve done differently, all the while using that to plan for the next game.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage and resilience are similar in the sense that they both require an element of risk, as well as a glass half full mentality. Resilient and courageous people will look at the opportunity, or reward, that results from a risk, or a challenging situation.
They do have differences as well. Courage is often associated with confronting something dangerous or that brings fear to a person, where resilience is more closely tied with bouncing back from a crisis situation.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
All of the wonderful people that I have met with autism and learning disabilities come to mind for me, including my son. I have watched him get up every day with a smile and great attitude, even as he tries to navigate a world that does not understand him. A world that has done some mean and downright cruel things to him and yet he never gets depressed by that. He’s able to bounce back from all his challenges and try again and again.
No matter what challenges I’m facing in my life, I think about how my son gets up every day with a positive attitude and whatever I’m dealing with pales in comparison.
And every so often humanity does something good. The universe lines up and these kids win. Like the videos where the autistic kid who is on the sports team (football, basketball etc.), practices with the team but never gets to play, except for that one game where both teams allow them to shoot the basket or score the touchdown. It’s the best example of resilience that I know.
My son was actually the manager for both his high school football and basketball teams. They treated him like he was truly a member of the team — he got the letterman jacket, uniforms, the whole experience. I will forever be moved by those experiences for him.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
As the mother of a son with autism, I have become a very passionate advocate for autism awareness and support. I joined many advocacy support organizations and even became Secretary of the Board of Cure Autism Now (now Autism Speaks). My focus was on early intervention as I saw that this worked tremendously for my son. In all of this work, it became clear that we were (and still are) facing an epidemic with far too many kids being diagnosed with autism — it’s now estimated to affect 1 in 68 children.
This was further exacerbated with studies showing that African American and Latino children are likely to be diagnosed several years later than Caucasian children. There are a myriad of factors that cause this, but perhaps the most shocking cause was from lack of awareness and education about the disorder.
This late diagnosis can have domino effects on these kids who urgently need early intervention services. After talking to many organizations and minority families affected by autism, there was clearly a lack of information. I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to make a movie!
I approached numerous organizations and although they thought it was a good idea, it was not a project they could take on. Many told me that the project was “too ambitious” or would be too hard to pull off, or it’s not something they had expertise in. Some suggested I do something smaller like an article or a PSA. After getting several no’s, I decided it was time to figure out how to do this myself.
I connected with my friend Ladonna Hughley, wife of DL Hughley, who also had a son with autism, and we agreed to pull this off together. We pulled in several other moms with autistic kids, including Tisha Campbell (actress), Tammy McCrary (music manager and sister to Chaka Khan) and Donna Hunter (educator) and we were off to the races.
In 2012, I produced a documentary called Colored My Mind that uses interviews from these 5 mothers and uses actors to help tell the story. As the producer of the film, I managed every aspect of the film — from legal, human resources, financing to budgets and to marketing. The film went on to win Best Short Documentary at the 2013 American Pavilion in Cannes.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
About 10 years into my career, I hit a fork in the road. My older son had autism and I needed a more flexible job. It meant I would need to leave my corporate job and I thought the move might be potentially career ending. I started to doubt my own self-worth. At one of my lowest points, I recall being in the parking lot of a Vons supermarket and a song called “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent” by Gwen Guthrie came on and it continues with:
“You got to have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me”
It made me think totally irrational thoughts, as I had never been without a job, and it felt uncomfortable to not have my own money. I promised myself in that parking lot to never again feel that way. I decided to figure out how I could still work and attend my son’s therapies.
Leaving a big Fortune 100 company was scary, but I began working for startups where I had more flexibility with my hours. I wound up working for a number of production companies, including running an organization for Ms. Debbie Allen. This experience completely changed the trajectory of my career. Working for scrappy production companies taught me so many skills that I still use today in the startup software world.
Not only did I develop great operational skills, but Ms. Allen taught me a level of confidence and operational excellence. I owe her a lot as a mentor and overall powerful role model. She was one of the supporters who always believed in me.
What many people might be surprised to hear is that film and TV share some similarities with a technology startup, particularly when it comes to fundraising, which I was very hands on with. Whether raising money for a startup or financing a film or TV project, fundraising requires significant time and attention from a finance leader — it is not for the faint of heart.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I can remember my first encounter with racism at the age of 5. I recently shared this story with O Magazine — it’s a powerful piece in which 100 women of color share their story about racism. I highly encourage you to read it and have the tissue ready.
My story: I was an avid reader and by kindergarten my parents had me reading several grade levels up. I was a true latchkey kid and my neighbor, Otis, would sometimes watch me in the afternoon. He didn’t speak English well so I would read The Washington Post to him.
One day I came home and told Otis and my parents that I couldn’t read. At first, they laughed it off but after a while they asked, ‘Wait a minute, why is she saying this?’ My mother was substitute teaching at my school, and when she walked past my class, she noticed that all the Black kids were at a table coloring, and all the white kids were in circle time reading with the teacher. My parents went to the principal and made a really big stink. The next thing I knew, I could read again, and I was now allowed in the circle for reading time with all the other white kids.
My parents were constantly supporting me, saying: ‘You can do this. You can read.’ If you have somebody saying that in your ear, especially as a little kid, you’re going to believe it.
This experience taught me at a young age that supporters and mentors can make all the difference in all facets of life — academic, professional and personal. I had that as an early age from my parents and have benefited greatly throughout my career from other supporters and mentors.
No one makes it to the c-suite alone. You must develop relationships and assemble a core team of trusted advisors that you can use as a sounding board as you navigate your career path. Rely on your supporters — they don’t have to work at your company, but they should be vested in your career path and will open up their network to help you. I’ve carved out a small group of people that act as my personal board of directors. My board of directors is everything to me! They keep me sane — having someone to text that reminds you that you are not crazy is priceless.
As a result, I feel that it is my duty to pay it forward and mentor others.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
When successfully navigating turbulent times, you are building resilience. Over the past year and a half, many of us have had to develop resilience, whether or not we knew it. I would take the following steps to develop a resilient mindset.
- Practice flexibility — Flexibility is a key component of developing resilience. Over the past 18 months, everyone has had to expand portfolios, adjust priorities or change their scope of work. This may have extended into personal life as well, with people juggling business responsibilities with caregiving. The ability to quickly adapt is essential in developing a mindset that allows you to manage a crisis and bounce back from it.
- Say yes to new opportunities — This might seem counterintuitive in a challenging situation but taking on a new opportunity during turbulent times is a great way to develop a resilient mindset. I recently did this — joining Reputation in the middle of a pandemic, I had to get acclimated to the company remotely, developing relationships within my department, executive team and across the organization via Zoom. As a people person, this was challenging, but it forced me to approach my new role in a different way in comparison to how I may have started in a physical office.
- Think creatively — This is critical to developing a resilient mindset, as difficult situations are sometimes best navigated by flipping the script. As I previously mentioned, joining Reputation during the pandemic forced me to approach my new role in a different way, which involved a lot of creative thinking! Gone were the days of forging relationships in a meeting room, speaking at in-person conferences or getting to know my team members at an offsite meeting. I had to figure out how to develop those same relationships behind a screen, while being mindful of virtual meeting overload.
- Be realistic — Understand that even when embracing opportunity and being flexible, you can’t do everything, and must set healthy boundaries. A resilient person is self-aware, understanding their strengths and limitations, and communicates their boundaries clearly and effectively. A great example of this is the work-life balance challenge that we’ve all endured working from home — it’s easy to forget to take breaks, working through lunches and dinners in order to accomplish your entire to-do list, but you will burn out. A person with a resilient mindset in that situation clearly communicates their availability and tries their best to compartmentalize work and personal time.
- Adopt a glass half full attitude — Someone with a resilient mindset will look at a challenging time as an opportunity to grow, flex their creative muscles, and develop new skills. While it’s easier said than done, an optimistic outlook and understanding that challenges are only temporary are truly essential in practicing resilience.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The movement is here — Board Diversity! That is a major part of my focus for this next chapter of my career.
My personal story — I was inspired almost 30 years ago when I heard Anne Fudge (Former CEO of Young &Rubicam Brands and served on several Boards including General Electric, Novartis and Unilever) came to speak at my school (The University of Virginia) and discussed the importance of being on a public company board. I had no clue what a corporate board was, but it was the first time I saw a corporate executive at the top of her career in real life that looked like me. If she said corporate boards were important, then I knew I had to figure out a way to emulate her.
Thirty years later, I’m on the Board of UserTesting (NYSE: USER) as Lead Independent Director and Chair of the Nominations and Governance Committee. I want to continue that spark and representation for the next generation like Ms. Fudge did for me.
I’m also on the Advisory Board for Black Women On Boards (BWOB). BWOB is an organization that aims to remove the invisible obstacles that Black female executives face when pursuing board membership. The organization helps candidates build visibility, expand networks, prepare them for future board responsibilities, and gain sponsorships.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them
I would love to meet Rosalind Brewer, CEO of the Walgreens Boots Alliance and member of WBA’s Board. She is one of two Black women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. I think she embodies the qualities of a true authentic leader. I’ve followed her career for many years and in particular admire her commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, even when it wasn’t popular. She stood by her principles that diversity must be a priority. During her time at Sam’s Club, she demanded diversity at all levels — from her direct team to partners and suppliers. Diversity and Inclusion is also very important to me, and I would love to break bread with her and get advice on how as a C-Suite leader I can better use my platform and help others.
I really admire that she stands by her principles. In one widely reported incident, she addressed this lack of diversity with a supplier and the situation spilled over into social media where she was called racist and received a lot of hateful comments. Despite this, she did not back down, even though there was concern about what this could do to her career. From there, she went on to become COO and Group President of Starbucks where she led the company in the racial bias training for employees across 8,000 stores.
On a personal level, we have a lot of commonalities — she’s a mom, married and juggling all the work life balance issues. We are also both members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. I think we would have a great time connecting.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can connect with me on LinkedIn or visit Reputation.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!