Female Leader of Finance: Sherri Baker, CFO
January 2, 2020
As a part of a series about strong female finance leaders, Jason Hartman with Authority Magazine interviewed Sherri Baker, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at PGT Innovations.
The following is an excerpt from that article:
At 14 years old, Sherri was already embarking on her career in finance as she worked for her father in a national building supply company, running credit checks in the credit department. Since that time, she became the first in her family to graduate college, started a family, advanced through the ranks of corporate accounting and finance, and founded and led corporate networks that supported women and provided mentorship for career advancement. Now, Sherri has come full circle back to a building supply company in a finance position with PGT Innovations. Originally from Plano, Texas, Sherri always wanted to be a CFO. Prior to joining PGT Innovations, she held numerous vice president of finance roles at Dean Foods Company and spent 13 years at Frito-Lay in various finance and accounting roles. Sherri joined PGT Innovations in April 2019 with nearly two decades of finance and accounting leadership experience and a deep understanding of investor relations and manufacturing operations. A collaborative leader with a strong record of success, Sherri says the best advice she has received is to take on tasks that make you uncomfortable.
- Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
Sherri: “In school, math was always my best subject. I wanted to pursue a college degree that would allow me to leverage those skills but also provide me with several career paths. While I initially pursued an economics degree, I felt the field was too narrow, and ultimately, earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting. It’s a great foundation to a number of paths — public accounting, business consulting, corporate accounting and finance — just to name a few. I’ve seen strong finance leaders move into operational roles as well, and the opportunities to me seem boundless if you’re driven and open to expanding your knowledge base. My personal philosophy is to take on any role or project that can develop a new skill. You get the most growth from things that make you uncomfortable.”
- What is the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Sherri: “I’ve had 16 roles/job promotions in just over 20 years, and ironically, each one was a tap on the shoulder as opposed to a role that I sought. Interestingly, there were several roles I was asked to do, for which I had little-to-no interest. However, I found that in almost every case, the jobs that I had the least attraction to were often the ones I gained the greatest development and/or sense of accomplishment. The roles I found the most challenging, particularly investor relations, are ultimately the ones that enabled me to continue my path to a CFO role. My lesson: take every challenge you’re offered. Often times others can see potential that you can’t see within yourself.”
- Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Sherri: “I’m currently working with our executive team to build our 3-year strategic growth plan, outlining our key initiatives for both organic and inorganic growth. We are looking at potential strategic acquisitions to expand our footprint and product offerings outside of our core markets to become a larger national leader in building products.
As I’m building out my finance and accounting teams, we’re investing in several key areas of new technology, including the use of advance business intelligence analytics and artificial intelligence. Luckily, I have a fantastic team of really smart people who can help us get there. As we continue to grow, I want to ensure we have the right infrastructure to support that growth. These investments will help us automate a lot of manual work we do today and provide greater advanced analytics to target where we can grow our sales and drive further efficiencies in our operations.”
- What do you think makes your company stand out?
Sherri: “When I joined PGT Innovations, I was really excited to see how important it is to our leadership team and team members to give back to organizations in our local communities. In fact, their commitment is so strong that we recently began offering a full day of paid time off for team members to do volunteer work. Our team members recognize that their contributions support efforts that better the lives of the people who live in our communities and that improves the community as a whole. It’s an inspiring culture to be a part of.
The Leading Ladies within PGT Innovations is also something I take great pride in. The group offers a platform for women in the organization to learn, encourage and celebrate accomplishments and become allies. They support each other through mentorship and building one another for leadership. Leading Ladies not only strengthens our company but provides meaningful career opportunities in the manufacturing business to women at various levels of leadership.
It’s rewarding to be a leader in a company that embraces these and many other commitments to providing support in multiple ways.”
- Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
Sherri: “I don’t necessarily agree that it’s changed a lot, but I do think we’re making modest progress. Several major companies — including my previous employer Pepsico — made diversity and inclusion a major focus for their talent development, diversification and retention. My current CEO embraces this wholly — in the interview process, he told me his goal is to build a company where his three daughters could work and succeed, and our two newest Board members are women. This was a major factor in my decision to join the company — the tone at the top matters.
It’s not just about gender. It’s bringing the best diversity of thought to the table and leveraging the collection of a variety of past experiences to come up with new, innovative ways to drive your business. A great company should mirror their customers and consumers. It’s really tough to do that when the majority of your leaders are one gender, race, or background.”
- According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals, b) companies, and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
Sherri: “As an individual, I make a point to mentor as many women as I can internally within my company and continue my previous relationships within my career network. Supporting and sponsoring organizations that focus on girls and young women is also a passion. I’m in the process of interviewing for a board seat in a nonprofit organization that supports girls K-12, equipping them with the skills they need to successfully navigate gender, economic, and social barriers to grow into healthy, educated and economically independent adults.
As a company, an internal women’s network can be highly successful to mentor and develop female talent. I started a women’s network at a previous employer, and my current company has a fantastic program called Leading Ladies, which I mentioned previously. We share experiences and lessons from women leaders across every facet of the company and focus on topics that will further develop their leadership skills.”
- According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
Sherri: “It’s interesting that you ask this. I was recently at a luncheon with the Education Commissioner for the State of Florida and this exact topic came up. Financial literacy is not currently taught in schools, and it’s one of the most important practical things a person needs to succeed in life. Introducing at least one core class into secondary school curriculum seems like a huge opportunity to improve this. As much as I love math, I don’t think someone will use advanced calculus on a daily basis, but I guarantee they need to know how to manage their personal finances.”
- You are a “finance insider.” If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say?
- Start saving early — even if it’s just a few dollars a week or each paycheck, it adds up. Best to have it directly taken out of your paycheck — if you don’t see it, you won’t miss it.
- Spend time understanding your 401K and your diversification options. Regularly check the return/performance of your funds. Balance risk with age and time to retire.
- Understand the basic workings of the stock market. Every dollar that you save or invest is impacted by market movement. You don’t have to be an expert but understand enough to diversify your money appropriately.
- Know your taxes and what types of items have tax benefits. IRAs are a great investment with deferred tax benefits, but there are limits to what you can contribute. Same for 401K contributions — know these limits and invest accordingly.
- Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Sherri: “You bet. Much of my early career was spent in various accounting roles, but I always had an interest in finance. I developed a good relationship with the SVP of Procurement at Frito-Lay, and he took a chance on me, placing me in the role as his finance partner for the function. Not many people move across the accounting and finance career tracks, so this was my first real opportunity in a finance leadership role.
This SVP was brilliant — he could look at a sheet of paper with 100 numbers on it and catch a mistake within 30 seconds. But most importantly, he taught me how to think. In finance, we tend to spend a lot of time analyzing numbers — it’s at the core of what we all do. But he taught me how to think about the business and what the numbers were telling me, and most importantly, how to improve business performance.
Every role I’ve had since then has been in finance and that path has ultimately led me to my current CFO role. I’ve always told my former SVP I would never be where I am today without him. His guidance is what inspired my passion to try to be that mentor, manager and leader who can change someone’s career path. Nothing makes me prouder than seeing my people succeed.
- What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Sherri: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” by Mother Teresa. Every day — whether at work or in our personal lives — we have a chance to leave a positive impact on the people we interact with. Whether it’s the people I work with, the security guard who greets me every day, or the checkout attendant at the grocery store — I have a chance to say something nice or positive. People don’t always remember what you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel. It’s a whole lot more fulfilling to make that impact a positive one.”
- If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
Sherri: “I would love to see schools consistently offer instruction on real-life practices. From a financial perspective, it would be classes such as managing personal finances, responsible credit card use, investing, saving for retirement, taxes, etc. In addition, practical life skills, such as cooking, negotiating, health care, time management, and how to handle stress are also very important to set young people up for success in life.”