Imagine growing up on a farm, driving a tractor, then a school bus, and one day becoming CEO of Wendy's International. That sums up the life of Kerrii Anderson, who now sits on four corporate boards at a time when most women are thrilled to land on just one.
This morning, I had the true pleasure of hearing Kerrii talk about her rise to the top at a meeting of Women Executive Leadership. She told us that she grew up on a farm and drove a school bus at age 16. After high school, she worked for a small supply company. Later, she earned a college degree and went to work for a public accounting firm. She says her financial background served her well. She became CFO of a homebuilder, CFO of Wendy's and eventually rose to CEO at the fast food giant. She held that position for 2 1/2 years until Wendy's merged with Arby's. Anderson, mother of a 17-year-old and a 14-year old, shared her triumphs and missteps with a room full of women and provided some tips on landing a board position.
Here are her thoughts on some timely topics:
On getting ahead: Commit to lifelong learning. Strengthen your qualifications even if you don't want a promotion. Just get better at what you do and become more efficient."
On being CEO: It's lonely at the top.
On work life balance: "I don't like the word balance. I like integration. Balance sounds like you can get it perfect. A lot of times, I spent long hours at work. Then I will shift and spend time at home. For the first time in 17 years, I had lunch with my daughter on her birthday. Being on boards allows me to do that."
On how the dynamics shift with women on boards: "When there's more than one women, we tend to speak up more."
On how to communicate with staff: Give the opportunities to understand how they can add value and you have engaged them.
On four traits needed to succeed: Passion, Vision, Change, Communication.
On relocating with a family: "My husband is my strong supporter. He's CEO of a family business. I've had a nanny for 17 years and always treated her respectfully. I have a performance review with her every year to talk about what is going well and what isn't. I wouldn't make any job change unless she was on board."
On the work ethic of the younger generation: "At Wendy's I had to understand that the shifting workforce in fast food is highly Hispanic and put out more materials in Spanish. I also had to recognize that kids don't want to work in places without new technology."
On getting out of comfort zone for a new position: "Ask yourself, can I learn the job and will I work hard at it."
On female contributions to corporate boards: "In succession planning, we are asking, what does the candidate pool look like. Is there diversity?"
On characteristics that led to her success: Willingness to embrace change and being comfortable knowing what I don't know and learning how to do it.
On how to get on corporate boards: "A lot of it is about relationships. Make sure you are relationship building. Don't burn bridges. That doesn't mean you don't make tough decisions, just do it the right way."
Anderson says she never has stopped to think about the significance of being the first female CFO of Wendy's or the first female CEO. "I just wanted to be the best."