Back in 2015, Katie Rooney was only 7 months into her first industry CFO role at Aon when her boss asked her to exit the office.
“He came into my office on November 1 and said, ‘I’m retiring, and I want you to take on my role. I’m leaving in 8 weeks,’” recalls Rooney, who says that the news triggered a mix of surprise and fear, which she recalls outwardly expressing with the words “Oh, my God!”
Her boss quickly sought to ease her concerns.
“He said: ‘You know what? It will be the best thing for you. If I stick around, you will never get the credit from the team,” explains Rooney, who subsequently swapped her CFO business unit responsibilities for her boss’s broader, divisional-level CFO portfolio.Read More
Looking back, Rooney confides that she expected someday to fill her boss’s shoes, but perhaps in 2017 or 2018—and certainly not in 2015. For her, though, the timing would turn out to be most fortuitous.
In early 2017, 13 months after she had officially taken on her boss’s role, Aon announced plans to sell its employee benefits outsourcing business to private equity firm Blackstone Group as part of a “carve out” strategy that eventually rebranded the stand-alone business as Alight Solutions.
“We called ourselves a $2.3 billion startup,” remembers Rooney, who says that she now realizes how her boss’s decision to step aside in late 2015 ensured her inclusion in the early round of discussions that ultimately led to a deal with Blackstone and her subsequent appointment as CFO of Alight Solutions.
“We kind of had this moment when we said, ‘The capital structure and some of the margin components just don’t fit with the larger business,’ so we started thinking about carving the business out,” responds Rooney, when asked to recall the moment of insight that may have helped to hatch Alight Solutions. –Jack Sweeney
Guest: Katie Rooney
Company: Alight Solutions
Headquarters: Lincolnshire, IL
Rooney: As I think about the next 12 months, we have to execute on the strategy we’ve now brought together. We are at this incredible place in time where our business is uniquely positioned to help solve the needs of our clients and their employees. We can help drive down the total cost of the workforce. We can try to drive and improve health outcomes. And as we think about the financial stresses created by the pandemic, thinking about overall financial wellbeing, there’s so much opportunity here, and we’ve pulled the strategy together, and as I mentioned, I think we’ve built the right KPIs around it.
We’re now working on building out a detailed operating plan that will hold us accountable day over day around execution, because it’s about driving more value and taking an outcome based approach. We’re leading with technology and really looking at everything, but we now have to hold ourselves accountable day over day to execute against that. And I think finance plays an incredibly important role there as we think about how we develop the operating plan to get all of our leaders, all of our businesses, aligned around what’s required to drive that forward. So that’s really where we’re focused here over the next couple of months.