636: Being Part of the Team | Marsha Smith, CFO, Siemens USA

Listen to the Episode Below (00:51:32)

Members of Siemens USA’s finance team would probably not be surprised to learn that when their CFO, Marsha Smith, is asked to reveal the experiences that prepared her for a finance leadership role, the ones that she relates most often originate from being part of a team.

Such was the case in 2004, when she had been assigned to a Siemens joint venture as a commercial project manager.

“I’ll never forget: It was my first week on the job, and the project manager came up to me and said, ‘Hey, Marsha, we need to ask for a change order on this one, so write a letter to the customer,’” comments Smith, who recalls thinking at the time: “I know how to use spreadsheets, I perform calculations—but I don’t know how to word this letter.”  

Later, Smith says, she reached out for guidance from the technical team, followed by the legal team, before sitting down and writing a letter to the customer. Very often, the customer relationship would involve multiple partners and payment schemes, she explains.

“This was the beginning of my external-facing experience,” comments Smith, who at different times during her career has found herself seated at conference tables flanked by dozens of customer executives and their attorneys.

Says Smith: “I’ll never forget when at a certain meeting I asked a question and one of the managers asked: ‘And who are you?’”   

From her early customer-facing experiences on forward, Smith’s business mind-set has become largely influenced by teams.   

“Everybody has to work together because everybody has a piece of the puzzle and we must make sure that we’re collectively doing the right thing for the customer,” says Smith, who believes that teams can also help to bring clarity to each individual’s contribution. “You see who goes the extra mile,” she says. –Jack Sweeney

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Guest: Marsha Smith

Company: Siemens USA, Siemens Mobility, NA

Connect: www.new.siemens.com

Headquarters: New York, NY

Building your cross-functional finance team.

Smith: Siemens USA is a subsidiary of Siemens Germany, and globally we have around 385,000 employees. We’re in 200 countries. The U.S. is the biggest market for Siemens. We have over 50,000 employees in the U.S., which is huge because Siemens is not necessarily a household name in this country. Yet we employ more people than many other very well-known American companies. We are in a number of different fields. We’re in the healthcare industry. We’re in the transportation industry—that’s Mobility. We’re in smart infrastructure, where we do building solutions, fire alarms, security systems, and various different energy-efficient systems for our buildings across the country. We have a digital industries branch, which provides software in the semiconductor space for the automotive industry. We have an energy arm with power generation and so on that’s getting spun off right now.

It’s really quite a vast conglomerate. Over the past several years, Siemens has been working to still maintain the Siemens umbrella and the Siemens name, of course, but to split off the operational businesses, to make sure that they can run their businesses as effectively and efficiently as possible. For example, Siemens Healthineers was IPO’d a few years ago. Siemens Energy is preparing for an IPO. Siemens Mobility, as I mentioned, was in the works to merge with another company called Alstom, and the European Union actually blocked that merger. There are a lot of different paths that the company is going on, and there’s a big strategy to make sure that the businesses really are focused on the business and focused on growing their businesses. Ever since March and COVID, we have been very, very lucky that we part of everything that we do is essential business.

It’s considered essential business to support the healthcare industry. We actually developed an antibodies test that was recently approved by the FDA. In supporting pop-up hospitals, we provided the safety security systems to make sure that when they were coming up in different parts of the country, they had the right infrastructure to make that happen. In the transportation industry, we’re part of a lot of different infrastructure projects around the country. Whether it’s on the road or on the rail, we’ve had to keep going to keep those moving, and so on. So even though our business is clearly impacted like everybody else’s, I’m very proud to say that Siemens has supported the country and the progress of various parts of our economy along the way and throughout the past few months. jb