10 questions for CDW CFO Ann E. Ziegler

Name: Ann E. Ziegler

Age: 53

Time with company: 3.5 years

Education: B.A. with honors, College of William & Mary; J.D., University of Chicago Law School

Company headquarters: Vernon Hills, Illinois

Revenue: CDW generated sales of US$9.2 billion for the trailing 12 months ended June 30, 2011.

Number of countries: Two, U.S. and Canada

Number of employees total: More than 6,400

Number of employees the CFO oversees: 250

About the company: CDW provides technology products and services to the business, government and education sectors.

1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?

I am actually a lawyer by training, so I began my career as a mergers-and-acquisition and corporate finance lawyer at Skadden, Arps. After several years and the birth of my oldest daughter, I took my legal skills in-house to Sara Lee Corporation. At Sara Lee, I was quickly given the opportunity to move into corporate development, running mergers and acquisitions from the business side. I moved up within corporate development, ultimately managing the group and reporting to the chairman and CEO of Sara Lee Corporation. At this point in my career, I determined I had been a deal junkie long enough, and asked to be moved to a CFO role. I accepted a lateral position as group CFO for Sara Lee Bakery Group and ultimately became the CFO of North America, before leaving to join CDW as CFO.

2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?

I am fortunate enough to have had several excellent and influential bosses over my career. As I moved into different roles, I learned that different management and leadership styles are effective for different people and that you need to find the ones that work for you. I have learned the importance of communication (particularly in the face of uncertainty), the importance of supporting and stretching young talent, the importance of listening, and the importance of diversity on a team’s performance. Of course, hard work is just table stakes.

3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?

Economic uncertainty and volatility are the biggest challenges. Maintaining an organization’s agility and flexibility is increasingly important. CFOs have a critical role in making this happen.

4. What is a good day at work like for you?

Being viewed as a good business partner is key to adding value as a finance function. A good day is one during which a co-worker on the operating side of the business compliments my team on a job well done.

5. How would you characterize your management style?

Driving accountability is crucial. I give my team a lot of room to do their jobs, but am more than willing to step in and roll up my sleeves as the situation warrants. I have a bias toward action.

6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?

I look for candidates with “fire in their belly” and learning agility. Because of the career moves I have made, I am willing to give a motivated, talented candidate the chance to take on a role that might not be obvious if you only consider their prior roles.

7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company, and what sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn’t be a good fit?

I like to ask candidates about an experience in which they were less than successful and what they learned from it/what they would do differently today. I like to ask candidates to explain their interest in working at CDW and to ask them what questions they have for me. If I get routine questions — this is a huge red flag as it suggests a lack of intellectual curiosity.

8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?

CDW is a large company with a very entrepreneurial and “can do” culture. Nurturing this culture, while at the same time growing and maturing the processes that will enable us to expand significantly, makes the role unique.

9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?

I play Bananagrams with my daughters or go for a run.

10. If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?

I love my job and CDW — I can’t imagine doing anything else.

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