Fisher alumna to share journey to the C-Suite

Karen O’Byrne’s (BSAc ’89, MBA ’06) journey to the C-suite had its twists and turns, but she never wavered thanks to her accounting education.

It’s a success story O’Byrne hopes current Fisher students will emulate. O’Byrne, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer at Modernizing Medicine, will be one of numerous alumni speakers at today’s Fisher School of Accounting Women’s Symposium at Gerson Hall.

Your presentation is entitled, “Pursuing the C-Suite: How an accounting degree can pave the way.” What are some of the major themes you plan to emphasize?

There’s some debate about whether an accounting background is necessary for the C-Suite. For me, it created an incredible foundation focused on three pillars: Confidence, credibility and leadership. I’ve leaned on those pillars throughout my career.

What about your career do you think will resonate with Fisher students?

I’m really no different than they are. I hope they find some inspiration to pursue a career as a CFO beyond public accounting.  If a CFO role is not already in their minds, I want it to be. There are not enough women in CFO roles relative to the talent we have.

There is a gender gap in leadership roles that begins around their late 20s and 30s where some women’s careers will stall or they’ll leave the workforce to start a family. But there are solutions to that like workplace flexibility. It also helps to have women in those roles to motivate other women to stick with it.

Is an accounting degree overlooked as a viable path to the C-Suite?

There’s a school of thought that you don’t need an accounting background to be a CFO. In fact, some see it as a detriment—that accountants are just number-crunchers and not strategically minded. I don’t think I’d be nearly as successful if not for my accounting background. It gives me that confidence in knowing whether my financials are accurate, without solely relying on my Controller to have that responsibility. I wouldn’t want to be in that position. If I don’t understand how to read financial statements, how can I credibly lead an accounting team and make the vision?

How have your duties changed since adding the role of COO in 2014?

They haven’t  changed much at all. CFOs are already operators, and the independent COO role is becoming antiquated in business. That’s not true across the board, but it’s a fairly common trend we’re seeing.

For me, it’s a natural extension. We have 500 employees now [150 in 2014], and we’re a rocket ship of a company. My major focus is on our ability to scale. Being deeply engaged in the operational aspects of my organization helps me evaluate how and where we should be making investments to help us scale.

How did your UF MBA enhance your career?

I was at a point in my career where I was ready to go to the next level into a CFO role. My boss at the time, who was a great mentor, really encouraged me to get an MBA to help round out my experience and resume. My MBA cohort was amazing, and it was a great experience. Two weeks before I began the program, I got my first CFO role, so it wound up being a fantastic resource for me to navigate that job.

What do you hope will be the major takeaway from your presentation?

My main hope is they remember those pillars, and what they did for me. I also want to see more women in that C-Suire and in the boardroom. There are not enough of us there, and it’s certainly not because we’re incapable.


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