Bringing diversity of thought into company leadership is critical for businesses in today’s environment as executives must look to create flexible, well-rounded strategies as well as foster an environment where team members feel supported, said Kate Peachway, CFO of SaaS provider TS Imagine.
For Peachway, “everything I learned about leadership has come from being an immigrant,” she said in an interview. Peachway migrated to the U.S. at the age of four from Western Ukraine, an experience which enabled her to learn how to “put myself in the shoes of other people at a very young age,” she said. “So I bring a high emotional awareness to work.”
TS Imagine’s platform provides trading, portfolio and risk management solutions for capital markets. An alum of Morgan Stanley, Peachway has served as CFO for the SaaS platform for seven months beginning last September, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Taking an investor mindset to the CFO role
Peachway’s experience as an immigrant, a woman in finance and someone who started her financial career as an investor has informed her strategy as a CFO, she said.
Having an investment background can be great training for a finance chief, as investors “build up a library of case studies on how businesses succeed and fail,” she said. They are “business judges” who develop scorecards and keep their eyes on signposts in track challenges and opportunities, she said.
“But for me, actually, what's different about being a CFO is that you have to take all of that analysis and critical thinking, and you have to turn it into action,” Peachway said. “You have to then inspire people to do things, to inspire them to change and drive behavior. “
An investor-minded CFO “slices and dices” financials to understand KPIs, where to invest for and how to segment growth effectively, she said, adding that they also focus on strategic investments in new lines of business and creating strategic partnerships.
“The numbers are just the tools to size up the opportunities and the challenges,” Peachway said. “You have to interpret the numbers to drive strategic priorities. To me, clarity of finance leads to clarity of thought, leads to clarity of action.”
Peachway’s personal history also plays a part in her ability to act as an “energizer” within TS Imagine, where the goal is to foster a morale-boosting and safe environment for her team, she said.
“Our biggest expense by a lot is our people, who are successful when we identify talent, retain talent, but also when that talent rises,” she said. “And that can only happen when people experience joy, when they experience flow, and they bring their best thinking.”
Peachway also said the dynamic for women in leadership has shifted away from the perception that they have to be “perfect” in order to succeed. “I think now there's a much more authentic and human portrayal that is much more real, and that's how I connect with my team,” she added.
Driving diversity of thought
Having this diversity of backgrounds represented in the company’s leadership — and especially within its finance function — is critical as many firms across both the tech and financial sectors undertake notable strategy shifts to address past mistakes and navigate ongoing economic headwinds. However, many face the same potential pitfalls, Peachway said, including potentially falling into group think.
TS Imagine is an international company with offices in New York, Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo and Singapore, among other locations, according to its website, which enables the company to create that key diversity of perspective needed to assess and prioritize the direction of the business, she said.
The finance function plays a crucial role here, as it needs to cross into all aspects of the business — the dynamic where “the CEO sets the strategy and then the CFO is in the back counting the numbers that come out of this strategy is very outdated,” Peachway said in an interview. “Because I think that financial evaluation and strategy, they’re linked. They go hand in hand.”
“I think that diversity of thought comes from (being) cross functional,” Peachway said. “I think it comes from hiring teams that are very diverse by their nature.”
When it comes to increasing the number of women in finance, Peachway “does strongly see an imbalance at the top of the funnel, so we need to get more women in the door earlier on,” she said. However, “candidly, it is also on women to be excellent,” she said.
“My advice on that is, any woman once you to get your foot in the door, whether it's that first internship or that first data and analytics job…or once you're in a leadership position, is to just be the yardstick for excellence, because I don't want to hear anymore that she only got this job because she's a woman,” Peachway said. “I don't want anyone questioning our intellect, our drive, our work ethic.”
One thing that is critically important for women looking to advance into leadership positions to do is to advocate for themselves, Peachway said.
“These responsibilities, titles, compensation, they don't just hand this stuff out,” she said. “You have to speak up for yourself.”