Susan Echard’s leadership approach embodies a powerful yet simple principle: put your people first. She believes that by taking care of her team, the business naturally thrives. Based in Scottsdale, AZ, Susan is a travel junkie, an avid road cyclist, an eternal optimist, and a transaction readiness virtuoso.
Most recently she guided Direct Digital Holdings (Nasdaq: DRCT) through its successful IPO, making it only the ninth minority-owned company to go public.
Susan has been at the forefront of major financing initiatives for well known publicly traded corporations including Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Tupperware, PetSmart, and CSK Auto (now O’Reilly Auto Parts). She has successfully raised over $250 million in private equity and spearheaded two company exits.
Her superpower lies in her ability to make strong connections across all levels of an organization, effectively fostering strategic collaboration during critical business phases.
Susan’s success is a testament to the power of compassionate leadership in a profit-centric, sometimes people-indifferent corporate landscape.
Discover more about Susan's inspiring leadership story below!
Name | Location | Recent Career Highlight
Susan Echard, based in Scottsdale, Arizona. In mid-2023 I exited a company in Houston called Direct Digital Holdings (Nasdaq: DRCT), a digital marketing company.
In June 2021, Mark Walker and Keith Smith brought me on to guide their transition to a public company. My role involved improving the close process, standardizing reporting, elevating the audit to PCAOB standards, conducting due diligence, implementing Netsuite, and serving as the Secretary of the Board. It was a solid eight months of non-stop, 70-hour weeks. It was a uniquely interesting process because we were coming off of the time of Covid. Instead of the usual road shows, we were glued to our seats in a conference room, taking turns for bathroom breaks, and grabbing snacks in between back-to-back virtual meetings.
Our efforts culminated in a celebratory bell-ringing ceremony at Nasdaq in February 2023, coinciding with Black History Month. That New York trip was a blast, and one of those mic drop moments for me. It was a privilege helping the founders meet their goals.
Then, I got homesick. Staying in luxury hotels sounds glamorous, but the constant travel wore on me. My stomach never knew what time zone I was in! So, this past summer, I decided it was time to head back to the desert and beautiful mountains of Arizona.
Tell us about your amazing career path to CFO superstardom.
I knew I wanted to be a CFO since my early days in public accounting. I wanted to really understand every aspect of finance including the roles of accounts receivable, financial planning and analysis, and get my hands dirty with SOX, internal controls, consolidations, and SEC filings. I wanted to immerse myself in the nitty-gritty details, to sit in every seat that would eventually report to me.
So after 3 years in Big 4, that’s what I did. As Assistant Controller of a technology company in San Diego in the early 90s, I got a chance to do an IPO with a pooling transaction. (Editor’s note: A pooling transaction was a method where companies could merge without the typical exchange of cash or other considerations. Instead, they combined their stocks. The SEC no longer allows this method) , and that's when I first discovered my love for SEC filings.
In 1996, a fun spring break trip to Florida unexpectedly turned into a career-defining moment. Burnt out on California surfer boys at 30 years old, I landed a job at Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines as their Director of Financial Reporting. It was an exciting time, especially during the Celebrity acquisition. We were responsible for the integration of the Celebrity transactions - those ships are expensive, so we were constantly doing debt and equity deals.
In 1999, I moved to Orlando and was hired at Tupperware ($3B) as their Director of Financial Reporting. The international finance complexities were particularly exciting, given Tupperware's presence in over 100 countries. It was around this time that hedge accounting and derivative pronouncements emerged, and I was deeply involved in implementing these with the Treasury group.
Then, life brought me to Phoenix, where I joined Petsmart in 2001. Back then Petsmart was publicly trading at $13/share. I took on some challenging tasks there, including navigating the company through the nascent Sarbanes-Oxley era. 2005 marked my move to CSK Auto/O’Reilly ($1.7B, 2,000 stores), where I spearheaded a major financial restatement – a massive undertaking that took over a year and 34 consultants to complete.
In 2007, I joined Lumension Security, a $60M Venture backed SaaS company based in Scottsdale, as their VP Worldwide Controller. This seven-year tenure was transformative, thanks to a supportive CFO.
Under Colleen Shannon, I learned the importance of empowering others. She trusted me with more complex tasks, and in turn, I learned to trust and delegate to my team. This experience was invaluable, shaping me not just as a financial professional but as a leader aspiring to become a CFO.
I finally stepped into my first CFO role in 2016 at DataShield, a $16 million company poised for sale. Our objective was to sell DataShield, and we achieved it successfully by selling to ADT in 2017.
What’s next for me? I'd like to find a company that may be doing a transaction - whether it be an IPO, acquisition, recapitalization, or debt/equity deal. I've got a wealth of international experience to bring to the tableand I'm looking forward to diving into another big project.
Who was the first person that believed in you?
My mom; she's always been my diehard fan. My dad, though, he was the one who instilled in me a strong work ethic.
I grew up in a very blue collar family, We didn’t have much money. My dad worked as a forklift driver at A/C Delco (A GM subsidiary) in Flint, Michigan. My dad never missed a day of work, sometimes working seven days a week or even taking on two jobs to support our family. I remember when I was an intern at General Motors, attending the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), I probably started earning more than him. I remember our dinner conversations often revolved around the differences between white-collar and blue-collar work.
My mom worked as a cook at my high school, and having her there was great for me. She always supported me, even covering for me when I skipped school – which I could do because I was doing well academically, graduating third in my class. Her presence and support at school were something I cherished.My mom was, and still is, my biggest supporter. She never judged me and always encouraged me to pursue my ambitions, giving me the freedom to follow my own path without the pressure of living up to any specific expectations. Their approach gave me the liberty to explore and grow without fear of judgment, which was truly empowering.
I'd say the defining moment was during my time at Lumension Security. There, I was running a group under the guidance of a CFO who gave me an enormous amount of freedom and responsibility. It was overwhelming at first, but it was exactly what I needed. I started taking on so much of the work, and I realized, 'I can do this.' When you're given more than you think you can handle and then you manage to handle it, that's when you start believing in yourself.
How do you define success for yourself?
For me, success is all about balance. These last four years have been heavily skewed towards work, with me pouring myself into it, often at the expense of personal time. In 2024, I'm shifting my focus to achieve a more balanced life.
It's easy for me to become a workaholic, especially when I love what I do. However, I've realized that I need to take a break and focus on personal growth, happiness, and self-care. I want to invest in my personal life just as much as I have in my professional life.
I recently participated in the Tour de Tucson (32 miles!) and finished tenth in my age group for women, which was a significant achievement for me. I'm at the upper end of my age group, and I'm already looking forward to competing in the next category next year.
Its on my bike where I find my happy place, a space to meditate, problem-solve, and feel close to my son Ian, who passed away in May 2019.
How do you define a successful day?
To me, every day is a successful day, even the bad ones. Let me give you an example. Recently, one of my team members made a mistake. She felt terrible about it, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't catastrophic. It didn't lead to any audit issues or serious fallout within the company, though it did cause a bit of angst.
What made that day successful, though, was that we found a weakness in our process. People often think a successful day means everything went smoothly. But I believe you can also have a successful day when things don't go as planned. It's those days when you uncover weaknesses in your controls or processes.
The day we discovered that mistake, it turned out to be an inexpensive lesson for us. We learned from it, and it led to the implementation of a new control to prevent similar issues in the future. It's not just about smooth operations; it's about learning, improving, and growing from the challenges we face.
Allowing your team to fail and learn without making them feel bad about it is crucial. It’s these experiences that contribute to both personal growth and the strengthening of the team. So, in my opinion, success isn’t just about victories; it’s equally about how we handle and grow from our failures. It’s a sign of character when you own your mistakes, fix it, and move forward. Several famous people are attached to a quote I like, “It’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up”.....
What is the the greatest challenge on your career journey?
A significant part of my journey has been navigating relationships, especially with CEOs. The relationship between a CFO and a CEO is like a marriage; it's crucial for both roles to work harmoniously. This partnership needs to be strong and effective. However, discovering whether a CEO is the right fit during the interviewing process can be difficult.
The challenge extends to finding the right company with a culture, environment, and leadership that aligns with your own values and work style. For instance, I was recently approached for a CFO role, but I declined to pursue it until they found the right CEO. That relationship is too critical for me to step into a role without knowing who I would be partnering with.
So, the greatest challenge, in my opinion, for most CFOs, is to find that perfect fit – the right company and the right CEO. You need that synergy to perform effectively in your role and be satisfied with your work. It's all about building and nurturing that critical partnership. If it's not there, it can make your professional life quite difficult.
What's been the greatest reward in the choices you made to take this journey?
The greatest reward for me has been witnessing the growth of the people I've managed. There's no better feeling than seeing someone you've mentored succeed and grow in their career. I actually love managing people, even those who are challenging to manage. It's easy to manage the rock stars, but the real satisfaction comes from finding a 'diamond in the rough' and helping them shine.
So, for me, the most significant reward isn't just about the company's growth, revenue increases, or going public. It's about imparting knowledge, sharing career growth opportunities, and making a meaningful impact on people's lives. That's what has been most rewarding for me on this journey.
What do you hope to learn from a community of other very highly successful C-level executive peers?
I want to gain new perspectives on the CFO role. Each person's journey is unique, and by engaging with other C-level executives, I look forward to hearing about experiences vastly different from mine. It’s always eye-opening to hear other viewpoints, journeys, goals, and thoughts on the future of our roles, especially with advancements like AI.
For me, interaction with successful peers is a source of inspiration. When I read about others' achievements, it pushes me to do more, to aspire for greater heights. I'm particularly interested in understanding how others have navigated their paths and achieved their goals.
Currently, I’m in a transitional phase, focusing on short-term goals like supporting another transaction. But my long-term goals involve preparing for retirement, which I envision as sitting on a couple of boards, teaching at universities, and enjoying a summer home in Flagstaff. Interacting with peers who are at that stage or are involved in board activities would be immensely beneficial for me.
I’m also working on a personal project, a book about my journey and grief, a topic that deeply resonates with me. In this community, I hope to find peers who can relate to, support, and inspire my journey. I look forward to engaging in meaningful conversations, sharing experiences, and learning from the collective wisdom of this group.
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