In 2008, as the economic downturn threatened to upend IBM Corp.’s financial well-being, the company’s leadership was considering different candidates to lead a corporatewide restructuring when Kieran McGrath’s name surfaced.
McGrath was known as a troubleshooter inside the ranks of IBMers, a seasoned finance executive whose 27 years with the company had produced a zigzag career trajectory—a long free-spirited path that signaled to IBM insiders that McGrath was both widely experienced and steeped in company loyalty.Read More
“Early in my career, I got a reputation as a workhorse and a bit of a problem fixer, and while this was positive in the long haul, it did not always seem that way at the time,” explains McGrath, who says that he was 10 years into his career with IBM when “special assignments” began regularly populating the path before him.
“I was constantly getting pushed out of my comfort zone because I was never able to stay in any one space too long,” says McGrath, whose IBM resume included tours of duty inside the technology realms of storage technologies, semiconductors, and global technology services.
McGrath was offered the restructuring assignment, and, as usual, he accepted the invitation.
“This was really tough work because you’re really forcing decisions as you try to push along a restructuring in response to economic realities,” recalls McGrath, who—while in midstream of a restructuring gig that he hoped would last only 6 months—suddenly found himself being approached by IBM’s leadership with yet another opportunity.
Says McGrath: “As luck would have it, the restructuring role became temporary because the CFO of IBM software at that time decided to leave the company for another opportunity.”
McGrath was shortly named finance leader for the company’s $25 billion software business, a demanding and high-profile leadership role both inside and outside the company.
“Clearly, I would never have been the CFO of CA Technologies or today the CFO of Avaya if I had not taken up many of these other experiences and gone down these side roads,” explains McGrath, who would leave IBM after nearly 33 years in 2014, when he joined CA Technologies.
He continues: “This is kind of how I was raised—to be a little accepting of things coming my way, because there would always be opportunity associated with them.” –Jack Sweeney
CFOTL: What are your priorities as a finance leader over the next 12 months?
McGrath: From my perspective, it’s all about sustaining momentum. We’ve had some very strong momentum here during the last three quarters of our year. Finally, we’ve returned the company to top-line growth. It’s been a long, difficult road, and from my perspective, the journey is just beginning. So, #1 is sustaining this. For #2, I’ve been busy strengthening my balance sheet. We did some refinancing of our debt and restaged things, so we will be continuing to focus on this.Read More
Organizationally, I’m actually spending a lot of time with my own function about continuing the journey of digitizing and introducing automation into our own financial processes. I think that we still spend too much of our time on inputting, retrieving, reconciling, and reporting on data and not enough time—certainly less than ideally in my own opinion—in really analyzing and using the data effectively to help to drive change in the business. This is some of the stuff that I’m partnering with my colleagues on. In both the IT function as well as on my own team, we really want to drive AI into our business.
Value Quote: “Not everything in the world of intellectual property is a piece of code. Many times, it’s the business process and the people behind it that really are the key differentiators.”
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