Students from the INSEEC MBA Finance and other financial programmes attended a conference with Martine Gerow, currently Executive VP & CFO of Carlson Wagonlit Travel, who spoke about her progression from an accounting degree at HEC, via an MBA at Columbia (NYC), audit (« to figure out what not to do for a career… ») and consulting, to head of the Pepsico restaurant business planning department. “The order in which you add experiences matters« , she said.
The experience at Pepsico was enriching because it has a strong finance culture, but Martine decided to return to France as CFO for the Pepsico French division to raise her two children : she wanted them to grow up in Europe because « in the US work is 24/7« . Luckily her American husband was of the same mind!
She subsequently joined Danone as CFO of the beverages division, where the corporate culture was similar to Pepsico, but more human. Partly because of the product: Danone sells healthy foods, Pepsi doesn’t. But the management was « old school », with only 2 women on a board of 14 directors. When she moved to Group Controller for Consolidation, she found the contrast between US GAAP and IFRS challenging. « More dialogue with the auditors is needed under IFRS than GAAP, which is black & white, whereas IFRS is grey. »
After 3 years in Madrid working for a private equity firm (and learning Spanish), she returned to France as CFO of Solocal, the « Yellow Pages » company, and nursed it through a very difficult refinancing. « Never think that the business plan is going to happen, » she said. « What will happen is your downside scenario« .
Lastly, in 2014, she joined CWT, where she is pleased to be one of four women! In answer to students’ questions, she commented on investment banking: « The stakes are high, the excitement is part of the fun, but there’s a personal cost. The deal has a life of its own, and it becomes your life. Every deal closes at 2am because that’s when you realise you have to hand in a decision at 9 am! »