Your Haas Network
Cathie Lesjak, MBA 86
Chief Financial Officer
Palo Alto, Calif.
Cathie Lesjak, MBA 86, believes in the HP way.
Hewlett-Packard's core management philosophy, which recognizes that employees are a company's most valuable resource, helped create a steady stream of new challenges for Lesjak as she has worked her way up from treasury analyst to chief financial officer at the storied Silicon Valley giant.
"I wasn't sure I was going to stay forever when I joined in 1986 after graduation, but the opportunities that have arisen at HP have been fabulous," says Lesjak, who became CFO in January.
A seemingly unlucky turn of events brought Lesjak to HP 20 years ago. In her last year at Haas, she accepted a job in marketing strategy at a grocery store chain. The chain went private a few months later and eliminated the job before she even started it. Although not particularly interested in technology, she applied for a treasury analyst job at HP.
The position was the perfect opportunity for Lesjak to apply the corporate finance theory she learned as an MBA student to real-world challenges. Before joining Haas, she had taken only a few economics courses as an undergraduate majoring in biology at Stanford University.
"The skills and knowledge that I gained at Haas -- my understanding of how to price and manage risk -- play a role in almost all my decision making," Lesjak says.
After joining HP, a fortuitous meeting with then-CFO Bob Wayman proved to be a second turning point in Lesjak's career. Lesjak explained her aspiration to become treasurer to Wayman. Wayman, in turn, said she would likely make a shortlist of candidates, but he didn't know if she would get the job. His advice: get broader experience at HP.
So Lesjak moved to a controller position in HP's commercial channels unit, which handles sales and distribution for printers and PCs. From there, she became vice president of finance for the software business unit.
"I grew the most, professionally, when I worked in these new environments where I had just a ton to learn," Lesjak says. "You almost have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations, in a position with a steep learning curve, so that you are always challenging yourself and learning as much as you can."
Lesjak enjoys her new role as CFO, but she believes overseeing the finances of a 156,000-employee company will be challenging enough to be the final stop on her climb at HP.
"I'm happy in my position and feel like I have a lot of opportunity to grow in the role," she says.