Roots of Success: Sean Graham
In this Roots of Success series, we talk with Equiliem’s leaders to get to know them a little better and understand their perspective on success in life and career. We met with CFO Sean Graham to learn more about his journey and the world of finance and accounting.
Building Confidence and Trust
Equiliem CFO Sean Graham’s job is to provide financial direction and performance insight to help the firm reach its financial goals while mitigating risk. It’s a role that he sees as contingent on honesty, integrity, and adhering to a strict code of ethics.
“Being a CFO requires an impeccable level of trust and confidence; you must be transparent and analytical when considering options and potential outcomes,” Graham said. “In business, the news is not always roses and sunshine. Decisions require data and facts, and you can’t be misguided by things that aren’t pertinent.”
Graham believes building confidence among his team members in turn builds trust and helps him be effective in his role. Teams who trust one another other become a superpower that a company can build and leverage to multiply success.
Defining Success: Personal Milestones
Trust is embedded in Graham’s measures of success; he focuses on building trust in daily interactions with his team. He admits that his measuring sticks and goals have evolved from his early days working for a public accounting firm. Starting out, his personal milestones were promotions, compensation advances, and credentials. The accounting career is known for its challenging path, with high walls to climb for those on the road to reaching CPA designation. While high standards and criteria for advancement can seem like a good thing, the bar has been raised so high that, in recent years, the concern of future talent shortages has permeated the industry.
Reflecting on his entry into the business, when he was in a junior role at one of the top firms and hungry for his next promotion, Graham recalls feeling unsure about how seriously his thoughts were taken. He wondered if and how he could contribute something meaningful. But times have changed.
“I feel more optimistic for people entering accounting today,” Graham said. He believes that technology and better communications afford people more significant opportunities to make an impact from all levels within a company. He encourages people starting their careers to reach beyond their job description to develop skills for their next opportunity. “Invest the time to become what you aspire to be,” he said.
Redefining Success: A Platform of Collective Trust
Graham credits his early experience of feeling less empowered with helping him become more conscious of tending to others. He said, “As a leader, it’s important that when people bring problems to light or have ideas, they are supported in a way that’s not just lip service. Trust requires caring about people as individuals, respecting their thoughts, and becoming a guide and a coach.”
Graham has witnessed how a foundation of trust cascades through an organization in a way that changes people’s work experiences for the better, and that has brought him the most incredible sense of accomplishment. Being with Equiliem for only three years, Graham was one of the first of the firm’s expanded leadership team, brought on board to help drive a family business to the next level. Graham was excited about the role with Equiliem because he saw it as a “Good to Great” opportunity, as in the book by Jim Collins.
Graham added that his experience at Equiliem has been very similar to the “flywheel momentum” depicted in Collins’ book. “It’s truly an awesome feeling when everyone is aligned and rowing the boat in the same direction,” Graham said.
In the past, a typical work challenge for Graham was receiving a phone call or email alerting him that “accounting had made a mistake.” Problems were things passed to senior leaders for fixing.
Fast forward three years to his current work scenario. He said people no longer call him to put the monkey on his back when there are issues. Instead, a team gathers and invites him into the conversation about investigating the root issues of challenges and collaborating on possible changes and resolutions. Graham said that the energy of the new, collaborative approach makes the company a place that’s more enjoyable for everyone.
“Instead of finger-pointing, people trust that we are on the same page in creating solutions together. It becomes an environment where people want to be here because they share in the vision for the business and can be an active part of creating solutions,” he said.
Graham credits the before-and-after transformation to Equiliem’s adoption of ideas from a book by Patrick Thean, Rhythm: How to Achieve Breakthrough Execution and Accelerate Growth.
A self-described “creature of habit,” Graham is known for waking early to walk/jog five miles, then using that momentum to jump into his day. Even on vacation, 5:00 -6:30 a.m. is his peak personal time.
Graham and his wife Suzanne have four children and are adult leaders for a Boy Scout Troop. Graham’s habit of hiking supports one of his bucket-list activities: being part of a 4-man adult leadership team taking a group of eight Boy Scouts across a 12-day high desert backpacking excursion in July in New Mexico. The high desert adventure will require the group to travel with all their supplies in backpacks, including enough food and water to make it through several “dry” overnight outposts.
While Graham can’t imagine himself in any other career than accounting and finance, he feels energized working with young people and serving as a coach and mentor. His time coaching youth sports and with the Boy Scouts is among his greatest pleasures.
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