Given the opportunity, customers have a lot to say about companies. Too much, some might argue. After all, it couldn’t be any easier for anyone with internet access to spell out their complaints or praise in excruciating detail for anyone who cares to pay attention. And it’s just as simple for that message to become amplified across social media and elsewhere.
Understandably, that customer input has become extremely valuable. It alerts businesses that they’re putting their efforts in the right places, or conversely, that they’ve got some serious thinking to do.
“Today, a company’s reputation is more important, and accessible, to consumers than ever before,” says Shannon Nash, Chief Accounting Officer with Reputation.com.
Recently named to the American Institute of CPAs’ 2020 list of the Most Powerful Women in Accounting for “helping define and advance the profession,” Nash is embracing the opportunities that have come with joining a pioneer in reputation experience management. She’s strengthening the company’s ability to help businesses listen and learn from the many opinions being shared by their customers, loyal advocates, and staunch critics alike. While her role has her overseeing management teams and strategically directing the organization, she’s building on Reputation.com’s momentum and optimizing its processes, with the hope of creating a company with staying power.
“It’s a time of impressive growth for the company and explosive market opportunity, as the relationship between brands and customers has become a two-way conversation,” Nash says. Indeed, Reputation.com was named to Inc. magazine’s 2020 list of 5,000 fastest-growing private companies for the second consecutive year, and more than 800 enterprise-class companies ranging from Ford, GM, and Nissan to Kaiser Permanente, Banner Health, and U.S. Bank rely on the organization to manage the opinions voiced by their own customers and beyond.
Nash explains that Reputation.com now finds itself at the unique intersection of customer experience, brand reputation, and business health, and through its Reputation Experience Management (RXM) platform, it’s helping its business customers transform all those data streams of satisfied and disgruntled bits of customer feedback into revenue.
Leading in Exceptional Times
For the previous three years, Nash served as CFO of Insidesource, where she oversaw finance, HR, and legal departments. The breadth of that role helped transform her into an operations-focused finance leader.
And as she manages Reputation.com’s accounting, finance, sales operations, payroll, and procurement departments, she’s well-positioned to scale the company, ensure top-notch customer service, and unify the organization’s performance through aligned, actionable data.
“The ultimate goal is to build a team-centric approach with shared vision and no silos, then to execute,” she says.
Those are no small tasks—especially amidst the background of a global pandemic.
Nash admits that managing new teams and getting to know the people she’s working with have been unlike anything she’s ever dealt with during her career.
“This is definitely uncharted territory and has forced me to use my skill set and training in so many different ways. A big part of starting any new position is forging relationships and building trust amongst colleagues and the executive team. I never thought I’d be leading such a critical business function over Zoom! It can be challenging, because you miss those unwritten social cues, the impromptu meetings in the breakroom, or brainstorming for five to ten minutes.”
She says the necessary changes have made her more intentional about her interactions and communications with coworkers. As such, she’s made it a point to plan one-on-one meetings to get to know individuals, and along with Zoom happy hours, has even held socially distanced meetings at outdoor cafes.
Other (Very Real) Challenges
Outside of the challenges presented by the pandemic, Nash is contending with issues poised to affect global financial concerns, the ever-growing need to stay ahead of the curve regarding developing technologies, as well as diversity and inclusion concerns in tech.
“CFOs and finance leaders will need to spend more time on reporting, thanks to increased regulations and compliance,” Nash says. “There will also be an increased focus on data, analytics, and organizational transformation. Having the right talent and tools will be critical as CFO, CAO, and other finance leaders’ roles will become more operational and strategic.”
She believes that as automation continues to dominate the conversation among business leaders, companies in her field will rely on tech to automate corporate processes as well as their controls from supply chains to HR to finance.
“Automation typically conjures up images of robots replacing valuable human capital (à la car manufacturing) and spreads the fear of job loss and a narrowing of future opportunities. However, I would like to think that leaders in all industries recognize that human relationships are at the heart of business. Automation should enhance, rather than replace, interactions between company and customer,” she says.
Nash says there are opportunities for businesses to thrive from automation by working in a synergetic manner with employees, to improve the customer experience and to drive their online reputation.
But for all the potential inherent in technology, there is a need for the right people to help develop and drive it now. Reputation.com, a startup located in Silicon Valley, competes for talent in finance and engineering areas along with approximately 10,000 other venture-supported firms, as well as industry giants Google, Apple, and Facebook. “The talent shortage is a big challenge facing global growth,” Nash says, pointing out that hiring the right people in such an environment is “insanely difficult.” She says the problem is compounded by the fact that fewer students are choosing to study accounting.
Strides and Concerns in Diversity and Inclusion
Regarding the lower number of accounting students, Nash says that the accounting (CPA) profession faces “a serious pipeline problem” when it comes to diversity numbers, as according to the National Association of Black Accountants, Blacks comprise less than 1% of all CPAs (5,000 out of 650,000). That startling figure has stayed relatively constant despite efforts during the last 40 years. She decided to do something about it.
“A few months ago, in the midst of this national pandemic and under the backdrop of a social justice movement, I knew it was time for action and co-founded a new organization called the National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants. Our mission is laser focused: We want to diversify the profession and grow the number of Black CPAs.”
Nash is a firm believer in diversity as a key ingredient in the success of businesses in her field. In 2019, we spoke with her and other alumnae about issues women executives face in finance; she voiced her support of diverse teams and their ability to outperform those with a less diverse staff. As a point of pride, she says that Reputation.com’s executive team is approximately 33% minority, versus 17% for the overall tech industry.
“Tech companies thrive when they innovate. And the best innovations—across every function of a company—come from diverse teams and diverse leadership,” she says, explaining that Reputation.com is fully committed to gender, racial, and ethnic diversity at all levels, exemplified by the goal of its CEO to diversify the executive leadership team. “In the last six months, the company has added three C-level executives in essential finance and marketing roles.”
The national spotlight on social justice issues has reframed the way companies are appraising their diversity and inclusion programs, but Nash advises that real change will involve many institutions, including schools, nonprofits, as well as industry—and that progress will take time.
“From the company standpoint, it means putting more of an emphasis on recruiting to find diverse talent. It also means HR and leadership as a whole will have to ramp up their efforts to retain diverse employees—the ‘I’ in Diversity and Inclusion. I’ve seen many programs focus solely on getting diverse employees in the door and then do nothing to retain them.”
As Nash advances into this next exciting stage of her career journey, we asked her which faculty and what she learned from them during her time at the Commerce School stay with her. She cited two “amazing” faculty members: Professor Ray C. Hunt Jr. and Professor John Wheeler.
“Professor Hunt was my Accounting instructor and was critical in modeling for me a successful career in finance and accounting,” she recalls. “He had done so much in his career by the time he had returned to teaching at the Comm School in 1989, holding various leadership positions at the University and eventually serving as COO of UVA.”
It was Hunt who encouraged her to take the CPA exam, supported by a curriculum structured with extra practice tests to expertly prepare Nash and her fellow students for two semesters. “By the time I took a formal CPA review class with Becker, I already felt prepared and passed all portions of the CPA exam on the first try.”
She says that she would imagine that a survey of all Accounting majors who studied with Professor Hunt would yield a high percentage of students who passed the CPA exam, with many doing so on the first try. But perhaps his approach wasn’t as simple as that, as Nash benefited from a larger lesson as well: “He was one of the first professors who taught me how to be confident in my own abilities,” she says.
Business Law Professor Wheeler, a popular professor known for explaining complex legal issues in a tangible way, made the subject both fun and practical for Nash. She says his encouragement and capacity for making students believe that no accomplishment was too great with the right amount of hard work were instrumental in her academic success; she even enjoyed his class so much that she went on to TA for him while she pursued her degree in UVA’s School of Law.
“I’ve been through a lot of leadership training and seen styles that work and don’t work. I now have a term to call their leadership style: They were Conscious Leaders.”
With Nash’s rich experience as a business leader, she has come to understand how both professors exemplify the positive results of putting in focused time with people and helping them to reach their goals. She says their style of leadership, one that strives to support others, has become an approach she has intended to model, and remains a piece of her McIntire experience that she continues to carry along on her professional journey.
That commitment will undoubtedly solidify her own reputation as a visionary business leader who sees the success of her teams as that of her own.