Leadership Profile # 2 — Susan Uhlenkamp — Chair — Financial & Accounting Services — Mayo Clinic
An informational interview is an informal conversation or meeting in which a potential job seeker is searching for information and advice on an organization and its culture, possibly the industry, and their career. There are many benefits to conducting an informational interview, including the following:
· The interviewer can obtain firsthand, relevant information about the realities of working within a particular position, a specific organization, or within a certain field or industry. This kind of information is not always otherwise available.
· The interviewer (or job seeker) can find out about career paths he or she didn’t know existed.
· The interviewer can gain tips about how to prepare for and enter a given career.
· Information may be shared in terms of how the interviewer / job seeker can better write a resume or enhance their interviewing skills.
· The interviewer and the interviewee can both begin a professional relationship and expand their network of contacts.
· The interviewee can gain insights in to a potential future candidate.
One of the informational interviews I conducted was with a high-level individual within the department in which I currently work — the Department of Finance. The following is a summary of the meeting.
•Name: Susan Uhlenkamp
•Title/Position: Chair — Financial & Accounting Services
•Company: Mayo Clinic
Questions About the Contact (Career, Company, Industry, Skills, Success, Etc.)
Please tell me a little about your background (education, work history, etc.). Do you have an advanced degree of some sort (e.g., MBA, MHA, etc.)? Have you always worked for Mayo Clinic? What other experiences (Mayo or non-Mayo) do you have? How long have you been in your current role? Susan obtained her undergraduate degree from the University of North Dakota and has also attained a graduate degree (MBA) from the University of Minnesota. Susan has also passed the CPA Exam. She began her career working for a small firm in Fargo and she also worked for McGladrey & Pullen prior to coming to Mayo Clinic. She has worked in a number of areas at Mayo, including Financial Reporting and Consolidations, Internal Audit Services, Management Accounting, and Research Finance. She is now the Chair of Financial & Accounting Services, which is an enterprise role. She has been in this position for approximately 14 months.
Why did this type of work interest you, and how did you get started? Susan’s interest in this line of work has been prompted by her accumulated expertise across many Finance functions and her enterprise knowledge. In addition, she enjoys pairing and partnering with others across the enterprise, including administrative and physician leaders.
How did you get your job? What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position? Susan’s hard work and gained expertise across the enterprise and Finance Department, as noted above, have led her to this position.
What key skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis? How about that of a Finance Manager / Director? Susan noted a variety of necessary key skills, including managerial and leadership skills, communication skills, analytical skills, and teamwork.
What’s a typical day like? A typical day for Susan entails a number of meetings, working with other Finance leaders discussing the Mayo financial issues and also how to consolidate FAS across the enterprise, etc. Susan also works closely with various administrative and physician leaders throughout the enterprise, including the Mayo Group Practices (MGPs) (i.e., Arizona, Florida, and Rochester) and also the various Mayo Clinic Health System sites.
What kinds of problems do you deal with? The key challenges Susan deals with relate to addressing top-level, organization-wide finance issues (e.g., developing plans to correct or right the ship when not achieving the financial plan(s)), as well as dealing with concerns surrounding the operating plan, capital plan, and/or cash flow plan. She works with local leaders and the respective CFOs, as applicable.
What parts of your job do you find most challenging? For this, Susan noted trying to coordinate multiple, accountable parties for a common goal can be most challenging. Another challenge is bringing everyone together to achieve financial performance, which requires various leaders to be doing different things. And yet another challenge is the fact that Mayo is a “big machine” and it’s difficult to get all the parts going in the right direction.
Are there any negatives to your job? A negative part of Susan’s job can be the lack of authority yet being asked to guide change, etc.
What do you find most enjoyable / rewarding? Susan finds it most enjoyable to be in a position in which she can influence the careers of Financial & Accounting Services (FAS) staff. It’s also rewarding when being successful at leading team of Vice Chairs and Managers, etc. and seeing such individuals attain satisfaction and success in their respective careers.
How would you describe the corporate culture at Mayo? We talked about the culture being very mission driven, as well as Mayo being a physician-led and committee-driven organization. She commented that Mayo can be too self-centered, not believing that we can learn from other organizations as we feel we are so unique. Susan feels we have to be more open to seeking out and embracing what it is that makes other organizations successful, even those that are not in the healthcare industry.
Questions About Communicating for Leadership (Best Practices, Problem-Solving, Motivating Others, Change / Innovation)
How would you describe yourself as a leader? Susan described herself as a non-assertive, non-aggressive leader but certainly a partner and team player. She isn’t afraid to seek input and suggestions from others she works with but also expresses her own thoughts on various topics and/or issues as well. She is a leader “for the people” per say and is good at building relationships with those she works with, developing a level of trust and communication that benefits all parties. She handles pressure well and stays level-headed and doesn’t get overly worked up. She maintains her composure during difficult situations. She described herself as approachable and as a good listener.
Will you please tell me a story about a challenge you faced as a leader? How did you solve it? How did it change you? One of the most challenging situations Susan and her team faced was in 2013 when Mayo needed to reduce the number of FAS staff and thus went through a redeployment. It was challenging on a number of fronts, but most taxing was the fact that Susan and her leadership team didn’t see it coming as leaders. There was no anticipation that it could or would happen. They had to react very quickly and put together a plan regarding every single staff person. This had to be communicated in a way that seemed so very impersonal and felt very disingenuous to Susan, which was not how she or the leadership team felt. They had to be open, upfront, etc. and the whole situation created a lot of anxiety for everyone and was such a large distraction from other work. The team worked well with Human Resources overall, who had a process already in place.
Could you tell me a story about a time you needed to deal with a difficult person or have a difficult conversation? There are times Susan has worked with someone who isn’t performing their job up to expectations and she commented on the difficulty of working through that process. Even after doing this a number of times, she still finds it difficult as you see the person. She noted it’s important to think more about the others that person the works with and the impact to them and the impact to the team, etc. if the individual isn’t working up to expectations. Such situations likely mean others have to do more to compensate. As part of the process, there are PIPs (Process Improvement Plans) and/or CAs (Correction Actions) that are required. In these situations, she has worked hard to help the person go back to a different level or move on to a different subject matter.
Will you please tell me a story about a time you needed to communicate to get a group of people to change? Susan talked about the shared services concept and rolling this out and this becoming an enterprise-wide initiative. The challenge is that each member of the group is different. It was important to communicate more about the overarching objectives and end goal and then help each group find their respective paths. Another example was with regard to the redeployment and the resulting effort to identify the most meaningful and valuable work and eliminating the lesser work. This was a significant effort with the end goal around work reduction by divisions and by teams. It was of utmost importance to identify the impacted stakeholders and how to work with them to execute what was proposed and/or listen to input and listen to their modifications that still led to ultimately reducing the less valuable work.
Questions Seeking Advice for You (Background, Skills, Resume, Job Search and Interviewing)
What educational and “experiential” preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to advance within Finance? We talked a lot about the importance of me getting my MBA degree and how this will qualify me for a number of roles within and outside of Finance. The key will be identifying when those opportunities become available and matching them up to my interests and skills, etc. In addition, we discussed the importance of having supervisory experience and to ensure I continue to have that experience and responsibility. Susan also suggested I view future options as a “door” and look at what going through that “door” really means for me. She also suggested I look at the “role” versus the subject matter in terms of a potential opportunity. Don’t think that just because I’ve already been in a particular division (in a different role) that a new opportunity with new and different responsibilities wouldn’t be beneficial, exciting, etc. She suggested I look at the overall appeal of the opportunity (not where it’s at) and look at the things I like to do (e.g., managing a team, developing staff, working with other managers to accomplish goals, etc.) and what opportunities the role may bring, even if it’s in a division I’ve already had prior experience in.
We also talked about how an operational or administrative role will be much different than a future role within Finance as it would entail helping to solve issues as it relates to the operations of that specific area and dealing with the day-to-day issues of patient care, for example. In this situation, the subject matter does become more relevant.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
Reflect on the interview experience. What did you learn? What were you surprised by? What conclusions or main ideas can you take away from the interview? What will you do differently in the future now that you have had this experience? I really enjoyed my time with Susan. It was a chance for us to briefly catch up, as we had worked together years ago while both in Internal Audit Services. The most important take-away and something most appreciated is Susan’s advice on how I should approach the process of pursuing a future opportunity, either within Finance or outside of Finance. She gave me some great advice and I appreciate that. I will definitely be more open to any potential opportunities that come about in areas or divisions I have previously worked and will approach it from the overall appeal of the new opportunity (new role) as suggested. I like the analogy of looking at opportunities as a “door” and what will walking through that “door” mean for me professionally and career-wise.