As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite” , we had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Bruce.
Rebecca Bruce is Chief Financial Officer for the Walton Global with over 15 years of experience. She manages financial strategy and the accounting, audit, treasury and tax functions with a team of professional accountants. Ms. Bruce joined Walton in 2009 as Corporate Controller and was promoted to Senior Vice President, Finance and Accounting in 2014. Prior to joining Walton, Ms. Bruce was a Manager in the Assurance and Advisory Business Services practice for Ernst & Young, LLP, where she articled and received her Chartered Accountant designation.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Igrew up watching my dad take his brief case and go to work every day as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), that sparked a curiosity in me at an early age. I would role play all day, dragging around a briefcase, playing on calculators, and endlessly telling my mom what to do and how to do it — I was the boss. That little girl stopped pretending and ended up becoming a CPA, just like her dad. In fact, I often ask my father why he didn’t warn me. Beginning my career in a Big 4 accounting firm was really hard work.
Overtime, I decided I wanted more out of my career that included being part of a team that included building a business. After 5 years, I left the firm to become a controller for Walton Global and embraced the entrepreneurial spirit. I took on increasing responsibilities over a period of 12 years with Walton that led me to my role as CFO. I now lead a finance and accounting team and I although I am the “boss” I really see myself as member of the team.
I always liked responsibility and I feel that I have a natural ability to remain calm under pressure, which has been instrumental in my current role. I also worked hard throughout my career, expected more from myself, and identified areas I could improve upon such as gaining confidence in my voice and learning to speak in front of a crowd.
I’m proud of the growth and learning path it took to get to where I am today: someone who is a key member of the executive team helping to build a company that is experiencing rapid growth. I’m at the forefront of it and it’s exciting.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
After 12 years at Walton, I was promoted to CFO in 2019. I entered into the leadership circle at a time when the company was facing some important strategic decisions: pivoting the business using a new model and relocating the global headquarters from Canada to the United States. I worked with the leadership team to help Walton with the new strategy that was different from a strategy that was used for more than 35 years, designed to propel the business into the future.
Because of its exceptional tenacious leaders who exhibited extraordinary work ethic and high integrity, every day, that strategy has led to growth for the company. I am very proud of the change and progress that Walton has made and the role that I played in that change.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was rushing from my kids’ daycare to a very important meeting. I was in the elevator when a very kind women tapped me on the shoulder and said, “hi dear, your dress is unzipped, can I help you?” As she zipped up my back, I realized that it takes a village to run a successful company and a successful family! I always remind myself to accept the help and move forward. There is no shame in getting some help to get the job done.
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 about that?
I have been fortunate to work with many great leaders, so it would be difficult for me to name just one person who helped me to get where I am today. I have taken pieces of all the great leaders I have met during my career and blended their attributes into what has made me a leader.
The best advice I have received during my career is to surround yourself with the right people and build a great team with the right people. Surrounding yourself with positive people who believe in your vision is essential, who hold your values at a high regard, and can get things done is important. Working to convince someone on a regular basis is not the best use of time, it’s tiring and ultimately leads to the same conversation a week later.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I believe in visualization. I think critically about what the goal of the meeting or conversation will be and then I visualize myself working through it. — and how it will feel once the meeting or decision is complete. I think through the impact to others if I manage the situation correctly or if I fail and map out the details in my mind.
If stress becomes too much, I go for a run, read a book or a story about other people who are facing far more difficult days than I am. I also remind myself how lucky I am to be in this position and to be facing the challenge — that does help.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
For businesses to succeed, they need to think critically, and problem solve. When a group of leaders come to the table to work towards a solution, the most successful discussion is one in which all ideas are valued and encouraged.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Our CEO believes that different personality types make great leaders and executives. I agree with him. As leaders, we have the ability to search for diversity and make it happen within an organization. Be cognoscente of the people you hire, the make-up of your staff and how well it works to have an inclusive and equitable workplace. A board room sparks much more interesting dialogue and brainstorming from a variety of personalities and voices.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
An executive has big dreams and navigates the calm or stormy waters, actively working to achieve those dreams. It requires resiliency and strength to keep getting up when knocked back. Being an executive requires optimism and practicality in equal measures. It requires creative thinking and advanced problem solving but also, discipline to continue doing the right thing.
Executives lead the army into battle and lean on a team of fellow leaders to share their vision and execute it.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
CEOs and executives shouldn’t fail and make mistakes. Failure makes a leader stronger, smarter, and better equipped to make good decisions — if you learn from your mistakes. There are tough moments, and those moments can be very stressful, but an executive who hasn’t failed, doesn’t truly understand what success is until you’ve seen experienced the other side.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I have had the privilege of working with and for respectful and thoughtful men and women over the years. In my opinion, women put more pressure on themselves and on each other than anyone else. As women, we need to stand together, be less critical and lift each other up.
One aspect women can improve upon in general is to say “no” more often in the workplace. Perfection and being agreeable to every situation doesn’t always equal success.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
As an accountant, I thought I would steadily progress into more and more busy work such as difficult spreadsheets and calculations. What I did not expect, was that I would do less of that and rely heavily on my team to do the busy work. Most of my day is spent guiding my team, answering questions, learning about our industry, being involved in strategic decisions about the business and steering the organization toward a common goal.
Is everyone cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I think the most critical trait is the ability to be self-aware. It is important to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are and hire people who supplement your skillset. Once you have a team of great people, the rest is much easier. Next you need the desire. You need the desire to work hard, live outside your comfort zone, challenge yourself and others often, and make difficult decisions. If you don’t or can’t execute those essential items — don’t be an executive.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Build up the individuals on your team up. Be vocal about it. Make it well known that your goal is to have each and every member on the team operating at the peak of their own individual success. Ask your team often, what they need to be successful and how you can help to lift them up. Then you must follow through and give them the tools and opportunities to be successful.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have a daughter, who is precocious, smart and also very loving. I’m sure she will make an amazing executive one day — if she wants to. But I also have a 9-year-old son. At the rate in which boys are going to universities, maybe when my kids are running Board meetings, it will be majority female.
It is my hope that I have taught my children who will be the next generation by example, that all kinds of people are needed at the boardroom table. The next generation is key to our future and my hope is that they will always be respectful and encouraging of ideas, regardless of who is sitting on the other side. As leaders we can bring that mentality home and in our personal lives to create a better society.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Embrace being a woman. There is no need to view being a woman as a negative or something that will hold you back. Embrace it. Being a woman comes with its own set of skillsets and strengths that you should leverage and be proud of.
- There is no need to overcompensate. Over the years, I have worked with many women who were on opposite sides of the management spectrum. Women who acted like mothers at work, and women who acted like they had no feelings. There is no need to over-compensate or alter your personality. Be yourself and it’s okay to have emotions. Just be aware of how you act on those emotions.
- As a working mother, everyone will have an opinion about what you are doing and won’t be afraid to tell you. Ignore it. Follow YOUR path. Do what is right for you and your family. Only you know best.
- Actively seek out help. It doesn’t have to always be family and friends. Get help in the way of a chef, a caregiver, or someone to help with errands. Remember how much each hour of your time is worth and find time to help yourself focus.
- Keep your support system close. Your family and friends are important, but your most valuable network can be your colleagues. Find people that share your opinions, people you can trust and include them often. Pursue opinions that are different from yours and listen to good advice. Talking things out doesn’t make you weak, it often leads to better decision-making.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Live each day trying to be a better version of yourself. Be kinder and more respectful, have more patience, teach more and get angry or frustrated less, and always work hard and keep learning. Inspire those around you to want to be better versions of themselves. Working together to become better humans, helps create a little more sense in this chaotic world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience
in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must
do the thing you think you cannot do.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
Everyone has a story about stepping out of their comfort zone. Its scary and uncomfortable, the fear of failing is stressful, but on the other side, there is always something worthwhile. Stepping out of my comfort zone led me to my husband and family, to hike many beautiful mountains around the world, and gain knowledge and confidence about myself and others along the way.
Most recently, it has brought me to move my family to the United States from Canada and to a promotion into the CFO role. It is important as an individual, that we continue to challenge ourselves and break out of the comfort zone. Equally important, as a leader, is encouraging and pushing those around us to do the same.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 if we tag them.
Cathie Wood. She is making a great name for female investors.
Seema Hingorani. Lifting women up, doing great things with Girls who Invest.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.