Ep. 170: Alissa Vickery - Purpose Driven Leaders

Alissa Vickery, Chief Accounting Officer and Senior Vice President of Accounting and Controls for FLEETCOR, joins Count Me In to talk about purpose driven leaders. Alissa has oversight of external reporting, technical accounting, and internal audit, and her leadership has helped FLEETCOR join the Fortune 1000 list and the S&P 500 Index. In this episode, she defines purpose driven leadership, the benefits and outcomes of developing purpose driven leaders, and why purpose is so valuable to the accounting and finance team. Download and listen now!
Contact Alissa Vickery: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alissa-vickery-67b3986/

References and Resources for Alissa Vickery and Leadership:

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:
Adam: (00:05)
Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host, Adam Larson, and we are now starting episode 170 of our series. The guest speaker you will hear from today is Alissa Vickery. Alissa is the Chief Accounting Officer for FLEETCOR, a leading global provider of global business payment solutions, headquartered in Atlanta. Alissa also serves as senior vice president of accounting and controls where she has oversight over external reporting, technical accounting and internal audit. Her leadership has helped FLEETCOR join the fortune 1000 list and the S&P 500 index. In this episode, she talks about purpose driven leaders, Alissa shares, many of her personal experiences and growth and development opportunities for aspiring leaders. So to hear more, let's head over to the conversation now.
 
Mitch: (01:03)
So we were talking very briefly before we started recording here a little bit about leadership and there's, you know, a particular topic that we're going to focus on in today's conversation. I first want to start off by asking you who are purpose driven leaders?
 
Alissa: (01:17)
Well, I mean, I think perhaps everybody has a different opinion here, but for me, purpose driven leaders are leaders who are really interested in powering productivity, both for the company as well as the growth of the employee. So, you know, everybody has a benefit from it, but I think if you can execute as a purpose driven leader, then you can ultimately transform some competent employees into super high performing stars of your management team and perhaps warrant their, their next progression into leadership, whether it it's at your company or into their next role.
 
Mitch: (01:56)
So as far as what those individuals need, you know, I think a lot of people are always as working on their own leadership development, those who obviously want to climb the ladder, but as far as skills or key activities, that purpose driven leaders really partake in, what are some of the things that you recommend or you often see?
 
Alissa: (02:14)
So, I mean, for me personally, I think it's been a bit of a journey, purpose driven leadership isn't on accident. It, you have to be the very conscientious of how the words that you use and the behaviors that you exhibit then drive behavior of your team. And I don't just mean sending an email, you know, 10 o'clock at night. I mean truly taking an interest in those individuals and their career progression as well as what's happening with them personally, because it is the whole person and remembering that these individuals, they are human beings, they have lives. And I think if the current environment has taught us anything, it's that it's not a one sided story, right? I think in the time of the great resignation, we, as leaders have been pushed harder than we probably have, in the history of our careers to try and make sure we engage at a level that's meaningful, that's personal, while not forgetting that individuals still want the progression, regardless of whether we're sitting in the office together, or we're still sitting, in our home offices trying to muddle through and get it done.
 
Mitch: (03:28)
You know, that's a great point because leadership, and I've had a few of these conversations over the last, going on two years now, but leadership itself has changed right? Based on the work environment, everything else that we've experienced. You know, my next question, it could be a little bit more historical as far as traditional purpose driven leadership, as you've said, getting to know people face to face maybe a little bit more from the virtual component now, depending on your experiences over the last couple years, but when people are conscious and they are purpose driven leaders and they're in these efforts, what are some of the outcomes, you know, tangible or intangible, that, you know, the organizations that they're working for can really expect to see as more leaders are empowered?
 
Alissa: (04:12)
Yeah, I mean, I think from, from my experience, it drives a culture where you have excellence, intentionality and discipline, and ultimately those trajectories will drive better results and more complimentary outcomes that support the overall business objectives that we're hoping to achieve as we try to execute on strategy as we collectively consider the projects that we take on, it's not just what happens in our department that that matters. It's, what's happening beyond that. It's what's happening beyond, traditional finance and accounting into the legal and regulatory aspects, the stocks compliance aspects, it's bringing it all together so that you truly understand the bigger picture so that when we go to execute as a broader group, that we truly are much more effective as a team. You know, I think you also fundamentally, if you are quite intentional with this leadership and with the cross-functional and working environments, both professional and personal, you end up with a truly authentic comradery, which I think ultimately produces a more loyal and effective workplace.
 
Alissa: (05:31)
So, when I say loyal, I mean, you know, I've been very, very blessed that I haven't lost any key members of my team over the shorter course, which I'm very, very proud out of. I don't know if it's anything specific individually that we, that we do as a group, but I have to believe that acknowledging that we spend a lot of time together at the office. Right? And having things that we do as a group, sometimes silly perhaps, like dressing up for Halloween. So every year certainly pre COVID we had, we put together a slide deck actually, and come up with a theme for the entire group. And then we would encourage or coax or force individuals to participate outside of our team who were sort of like our immediate surrounding so that we could produce a really neat theme in terms of our dress up.
 
Alissa: (06:22)
So my favorite one was we all did Harry Potter and it's a great group ensemble, right? And then another year we did the wizard of Oz, another great group ensemble. And of course, I always dress up as the villain, like I'm the wicked witch of the west, I'm Bellatrix Lestrange. And I embrace my role fully. And I think that human aspect, bringing that to the workplace and truly having fun with it and walking around the corridors here in downtown Atlanta or Midtown Atlanta and people seeing us dressed up as a group be like, oh my gosh, that's amazing. And, you know, I would tell you, it doesn't happen right across every group here. It's a handful of teams. And, quite frankly, it's something I look forward to every year. I think the team too, because this year we're like, do we dress up it's COVID year, it's sort of hybrid.
 
Alissa: (07:12)
I said, well, if you guys want to come in, we're all for it. And so we kind of put it together that a little bit at the last minute. And you know, it's something we sort of all sort of enjoy doing as a group. You know, I would say that's one example and obviously, you know, doing holiday parties and being very purposeful about choosing times to be around each other, obviously, to the extent that we're comfortable doing so in the current environment, but having those meaningful opportunities to be around one another's, spouses or partners, because again, you know, I'm sure, my husband hears about my teammates and coworkers all the time. And so it's really meaningful, I think, to bring him into the fold. And I have to believe for my team members and our broader finance group, they feel a bit of the same way. So it's really nice to be able to bring everybody together and, you know, have a festive beverage and celebrate.
 
Mitch: (08:05)
Thank you for sharing that. Those are great examples. And you know, it's funny because our team here at IMA specifically the education team, Halloween's a big thing for us as well. You know, it's, I have young kids, so the last couple years I haven't participated, I've been home with the kids, but I know our team, they dressed up as, everybody on the team was Flo from progressive.
 
Alissa: (08:28)
Ah, so good.
 
Mitch: (08:29)
Men and women alike. So, you can imagine the fun that they had with that. And there have been a couple other things in the past, as well, but I appreciate you sharing that because you know, I posed the question from an organizational perspective, as far as the benefits, I did want to follow up with taking a step down and taking a look at the team function, you know, so you certainly address that. I do want to just get your opinion on purpose driven leaders, getting to know their team, but also empowering them to become leaders of their own. Maybe it's succession planning within the organization, you know, maybe it's for their own personal development as a purpose driven leader. You know, like I said, just a quick follow up. How do you kind of balance that, you know, understanding that empowering others and creating new leaders? It actually, I don't want to say hurt you, but you know puts you in a tough spot, down the road.
 
Alissa: (09:21)
Yeah. It's not untrue, right? Your objective is to help people grow, whether that's professionally, personally, truly understanding what their goals are and their objectives and understanding how all the pieces come together. I think having a sincere level of empathy for where they are, because everybody's at a different season in their life. You know, some have grown kids, some have no kids, some have young babies and where you are personally oftentimes drives the level to which you can press the pedal. I have a team of all women, which I kind of love, that wasn't on purpose. It was just, you know, it is who was the best fit for the role. But I think it's created this really unique environment in which we're sort of all there for each other, certainly professionally, but on a personal level, you know, since everyone is in a bit of a different season, we're there to support each other in a very unique way.
 
Alissa: (10:22)
But back to professionally, it's having that empathy and truly understanding what people's objectives are and understanding that those objectives may change over time. And so when we're setting, our professional bonus objectives for the year, which are often times project and initiative driven, the first question I ask is, what is it you want to accomplish professionally over the next one to three and then three to five years? Is there something you want to go work on as part of setting this, these objectives that would help you get to that, those ultimate longer term or midterm objectives and what can I do to help you? And you know, it's funny if you don't ask that question very often and then you ask it out of the blue, like people are almost taken aback sometimes. It's something I will be honest. Like I've not always been great at it.
 
Alissa: (11:14)
I've had to work on it. I have my own professional coaching that I go, that I work on and go through and to try and ensure that I'm focused on the right things that I identify my own blind spots so that when I bring that to the group, as a leader, that I'm helping them to, I'm almost like, what do you call it? Sharing and passing it down. Right. Because I don't want to be the only one that benefits from the fact that I've had this leadership development training. I want them to participate in it and go the next level or, pass it on. Right. And encourage them to think about what incremental credentials you may want to gather or what additional classes that you may want to participate in that will help you along your path to ultimately being, I don't know the best technical accountant or, Hey, I want to become a certified stock comp expert.
 
Alissa: (12:10)
So what, what are those incremental things that I can do to help support your career? And then also gauging, you know, what is your satisfaction level right now? And again, the answer changes every time you ask. So I ask you about once a month, but, where are you professionally and personally right now on a scale of one to 10, 10 being a, I'm so excited that I'm doing cartwheels down the hallway, one being I'm crying in the fetal position. Right. And, you'd be shocked how those answers one shift, but two how much one will impact the other. Right. And so I think it makes the personal aspect, that much more vivid, but I think where your question started, and I apologize if I've gone on a tangent is how can I end up ultimately it's obviously a benefit, but it can produce an outcome where you lose an individual.
 
Alissa: (13:07)
Right. so I had this one woman who worked in my group for the past seven years, an excellent employee. She was someone I could always lean on and look to, if I had an issue, I would pose it to her. She would break it down and then she would go execute. And then she would come back to me with all the things that she had discovered and work through. And then she would, you know, she asked me yeah. To provide her feedback along the way, obviously, but she was just someone you could count on. I knew from, I would call it halfway through our first year, working together, performing this kind of project work was perhaps not her passion. Her passion really was around fraud examination. She was a CFE by trade, had done this in her past life.
 
Alissa: (14:04)
I had the benefit of picking her up as a team member through an acquisition. And so we sort of shifted her role, but ultimately her career objective was to get back into something more attuned to fraud, examinations, underwriting, credit risk. And ultimately there was a position internally that opened up, where she was obviously the right person for this role. And she brought it to my attention said, Hey, I would like to consider this opportunity. And I said, I think that's great. Why don't you tell me more about it? Tell me about the leader. Tell me about what it is you're hoping to achieve with this. And when she explained it all I said, I think you should go for it. And so she interviewed, she talked to the process and then she came back to me and she was genuinely, I said, has mixed emotions, right?
 
Alissa: (15:07)
Because I think she truly enjoyed working with our team. She truly enjoyed the opportunity. She had to grow in FLEETCOR. After she had talked to the executive, hiring for the role, she came back to me with extremely mixed emotions, because I think she has genuinely enjoyed working with our team, the growth opportunities it provided for her. And I would say the amount of institutional knowledge that this woman has over how things work. And this is something that I cannot stress enough and is so hard to replace like seven years in an environment with, you know, a highly decentralized business model with leaders all over the world and knowing who to go to for whatever they ask is. And I just told her, I was like, I think that you're gonna regret this. If you don't take it. I think that this is the one you've been waiting for.
 
Alissa: (16:04)
And she goes, but I'm going to leave you in a little bit of alert. I'm like, it doesn't matter. I was like, we'll work it out. And so a little bit behind the scenes, you know, I'm talking to the other executive, obviously I'm like, there are certain things that can't drop, and you know, working through the transition, but, you know, I'm so proud of her and I'm so proud of the story for our company, because I think building a culture where you help people achieve their ultimate career objectives, or at least their next career objective, right. I could have lost her to any other company outside of FLEETCOR, but finding a place for her here, where she's able to use the value and the institutional knowledge she's built. And quite frankly, the rapport she's built throughout the organization and taking it to this new role where I know she's gonna be a superstar and already is, I'm just, I'm so proud of us for, for making it happen. I really am,
 
Mitch: (17:01)
Good for you, you know, personally. And from my perspective, and I was going to say, you beat me to it. It's a great story, because oftentimes you hear things like this, or maybe you read about it and you can't make that personal connection. So how true is it really does that kind of leader really exist, who is going to give me that opportunity, but to hear that it happens, you know, it gives people an idea of, you know, there's the old saying, people don't, you know, just leave jobs, they leave managers or they leave leaders or whatever it is. So it gives you an opportunity to really, you know, aspire if you are in a situation to find somebody who supports you like that along the way. So great story. I appreciate you sharing that with us. And, you know, I think, like I said, we going back a minute, we started at the organizational level, then the team level, now we're kind of talking about the individuals really breaking it down. So as far as from the individual now moving forward, what does an individual, you know, really need to do in order to become these purpose driven leaders? And, you know, I know you mentioned some leadership coaching and development. I don't need your personal specifics or anything like that, but you know, some things that maybe people should be aware of that they could, you know, take a look in the mirror and focus on. 
 
Alissa: (18:13)
Right. Well, and so may, maybe I'll take a minute to rewind and just kind of give a little bit of my background and perspective, just so that it, because I'm sure there are leaders out there who rationalize and work through things in a similar way. But I spent almost 10 years in public accounting at, two of the largest accounting firms in the world and the amount of professional growth opportunity. And I would just call it forced training and forced personal improvement that those firms encourage you to go through if you plan to progress. And I would say having natural progression, it's funny how when you leave that environment and come to the private side, trying to replicate that is quite difficult and, kudos to the professional services firms for the programs that they've established. But I came from those big firms and effectively was a department of one when I joined FLEETCOR in charge of quite a bit.
 
Alissa: (19:14)
And just trying to get it done. And so I think sometimes we as professionals go through seasons where we sort of forget all of that mentorship and training that we received along the way and it's good, bad, and different, we've become a product of our environments. And so for me as FLEETCOR has grown into this S&P 500 company and inherently has grown our groups and departments and teams, to reflect the risk and size appropriately pivoting back to sort of where we came from. And remember, you didn't get here alone. You didn't achieve the level of success nor the level of executive presence and the ability to execute on really hard stuff, quite frankly. And so making sure that we're building teams up and mentoring those individuals and finding their niche, because when you go from a departmental one is something much larger and trying to identify the right resources.
 
Alissa: (20:17)
Like I'm always trying to hire my weakness, because I know fundamentally that person brings something to the table. That's more than I can offer. And so they have something to teach me was I certainly have, I'll call it the executive level mentorship that and bring to the table and hopefully help them to grow as well. And I think fundamentally, if you're able to do this effectively, you're likely to retain your employees. You're likely to organically help identify what those opportunities are for their growth. And then fundamentally I just produce an output that is that much more meaningful that people feel like they actually were part of something and they did some really solid work and it wasn't just for, you know, the big company, but it was, it helped them grow as well. Right. So always looking for those opportunities for growth.
 
Mitch: (21:09)
Yeah. You know, it's a great point. And I just want to, you know, kind of jump ahead and wrap things up a little bit, by tying it all together, really for our listeners and everything you just talked about as far as, you know, identifying gaps and, and trying to, you know, coach people along the way, particularly, or specifically to accounting and finance, the profession itself has evolved so drastically, you know, over the last few years and everything that's really impacting individual roles and the need for training and coaching and upskilling and reskilling as far as purpose again, and going back to purpose driven leadership, you know, what is specifically about purpose that's so valuable to accounting and finance professionals, you know, what is it that purpose driven leadership can really prove to be possibly the difference as the profession continues to adapt and identifies new needs and skills along the way?
 
Alissa: (22:06)
Yeah. I mean, I think we're all forced to constantly evolve, as you said. And I think being purposeful with how you approach those changes and providing individuals, the opportunities to really soar, and grow, and quite frankly, provide them the opportunity to share new ideas, voice concerns when something doesn't feel or smell right. Ultimately an enhances our company culture and the business strategy for driving growth. I think if we learned anything over the last couple of years, it's the more things change the more, the ability to pivot and the skillset of being able to pivot is super valuable. And you know, you fundamentally grow a group, with incremental heads, but, being able to create growth opportunities for those individuals with those new requirements. And I have to say, you know, having an open door policy in terms of being available and just giving individuals the opportunity to speak, because I do think that we become a product of our calendars, whether we like it or not, especially in the Zoom driven world, which is necessary because we're hybrid, but it's created a back clog in terms of, availability is what I would say.
 
Alissa: (23:34)
We're all trying to get certain things done every day. Sometimes meetings are part of getting it done. Sometimes meetings are just meetings, right. But I do intentionally try to make sure that if it is not immediately a big need, that if somebody need, if one of my team members needs me, I will step away from the meeting and have the discussion around whatever it is. Whether it's, you know, helping them to move to the next phase of a project address, some bigger concern that they may have. Right. And just trying to, to be the leader that I would wanna have, or that I do have now. And so being cognizant that we all need that.
 
Closing: (24:20)
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