Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Shital Whitmore, SVP of Finance at SmartBear.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I was raised in Methuen, Massachusetts as a first generation Indian-American. My parents immigrated here from Ahmedabad shortly before my birth along with most of my family. Because they had not yet established themselves in the community here, the family stayed close together, so I was constantly surrounded by loved ones, including dozens of cousins around my age. My family taught me the virtues of hard work, so I can remember my nose being always buried in a book.
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Finance with a minor in International Studies/International Finance from Bentley University, as well as an MBA from Babson College.
My first job out of school was quite interesting. I was an accounting and finance rep for a small company of about 80 people. As anyone who has worked at a small startup knows, you often have to wear multiple hats, but by doing so, you get the chance to learn so much.
My role allowed me to work on accounts payable, accounts receivable, and financial planning and analysis, but they also needed me to be the front desk clerk and to collect and deliver the mail!
During the four or five years that I worked there, there were times I would work until midnight, or even overnight due to how busy things were and because I just wanted to crush it! I’m sure that my husband of 20 years is thrilled that I no longer have any desire to work overnight shifts anymore. That said, my first job experience helped make me into who I am today.
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
I think being at a small company from a young age gave me the opportunity and experience of working directly with a lot of executives right away. To this day, and continuing throughout my career, I don't get intimidated by titles. I’ve always just treated people like people, and I think that’s one thing that has made my job easier.
When people aren’t nervous about being around a CEO, a CFO, a Vice President, or a Director, whatever the title may be, it makes everyone’s job easier.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
At SmartBear, I am currently the SVP of Finance. I oversee and manage the finance and accounting team, as well as the company’s licensing team.
My day-to-day responsibilities are honestly different each day. Those responsibilities include managing our company’s budget, forecasting financials, and helping strategize how we can become more efficient and effective as an organization. I always want to point out that while these might be “my” responsibilities, they would be impossible without my team. I would not be able to do the work I do without them.
My days include a lot of working directly with our executive team and others here to make sure SmartBear, as an organization, is always in a good place financially. This involves a lot of meetings and collaboration with a lot of different people to decide where our growth should come from, where we should spend, or not spend.
Without my team, I would not be where I am. I tell them that all the time. I always try to hire smarter than myself. I think that you should never have a fear of hiring smarter than yourself because it only betters yourself, your team, and your organization as a whole.
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
Yes. My goal has been to consistently highly perform in this position and to reach the title of Chief Financial Officer.
I have always laid out career goals for myself. I typically keep the goals to myself and my husband . Goals of where I wanted to be career-wise at 25, 30, and 35-years-old. Believing in myself and working very hard has gotten me to where I am today. I’ve worked in a number of different roles and in many industries over the years and can say that I absolutely love working for SmartBear. My whole team is excited to be here, which is awesome to be a part of.
For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?
Learn as much as you can but know your boundaries. If you do not know something, it’s OK to say that! It’s not even just “OK,” people will generally respect and appreciate you letting them know. Hopefully, they’ll also then offer to teach you. When you start your first career, you really don’t know what you are getting into. I didn’t actually know what finance even meant; I had only read about it in a book. But trying your hardest, and making sure you work for someone you respect—and that they also respect you—is critically important.
Treat people the way you want to be treated. Titles don’t matter. People are people. Work with people. They will help you, and you will help them.
I would also recommend stepping outside of your comfort zone and absorbing as much as you can whenever you get the chance. You can often take on more at the beginning stages of your career but try and maintain that same mindset and a strong interest in continuing to learn throughout your career.
Lastly, I‘ve also gotten to where I am today by having amazing bosses, which I’m so fortunate to have had. Not surprisingly, especially in finance, they’ve all been men, as there are still very few women in leadership positions in this field, but my bosses have all been a big part of helping me achieve my career growth.
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
A big part of my job is not just running numbers. We do that, but it is more about building relationships.
I am in finance, but I must acknowledge and always be supportive of the people around me. My team is like a family to me. I know their spouses' names, their kids' names, and I genuinely care about them. To me, the most important parts of my job are caring about this team, bringing them along, and making sure they are always excelling. If I am helping them, it helps us all, and it helps our business to grow.
So, yes, you’ll need the analytical side, but also make sure to stay customer-centric and genuinely care about your people. Having the business acumen to build strong internal and external relationships will only aid in your organization’s success.
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s the most challenging?
The most rewarding part for me is when people on my team, or people around me, are succeeding. I love to see them grow and climb to the next level.
It’s also really rewarding when we’re able to come up with different ideas or ways to help the company financially enhance themselves. Our team loves continuing to grow in new and different ways as the result of our own new ideas. Getting that little bit of extra margin is exciting!
I also don’t just want to be in finance; I want to be a business partner. Not “just” running numbers, but really understanding the business. We can practically run numbers in our sleep. It’s about learning the business, helping the business grow, understanding our marketplace and our customers. How can we change our strategy to continue to enhance ourselves?
As for challenges, there are all different kinds, and it really just depends on the situation, but whenever there is a challenge, we figure out how to overcome it.
One common challenge for some women in positions of leadership is around oftentimes being in a board room of only men. I am a very vocal person, and, fortunately, don’t really struggle with that. I just don’t tend to look at people as “man…woman…title…or color.” A person is a person to me.
At SmartBear, our female leadership is growing, which is great! We continue to diversify our organization and love seeing any and all backgrounds and demographics achieve big things here.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
To date, I would say that my proudest professional accomplishment was when I became a director at a large public organization and managed a $2B budget by the time I was 27. As a young female in the world of business, moving into that level of responsibility was a big moment for me.
I was learning so much by being a director at a large public organization, reporting directly to the CFO, and managing a budget on my own. During my six years there, I grew personally and professionally each and every day.
Every time I have moved to a new company, I have not left for a boss. A lot of people leave bosses, but I have left for an opportunity, a different career opportunity. I make sure that if I am leaving, I am checking boxes for my resume and to enhance my personal and professional growth. I recognize every time I have made a change in my career as a significant personal accomplishment.
Coming to SmartBear, managing all of finance and working for an organization that is growing so quickly has been a huge personal accomplishment. I am extremely proud of all we have done. In the 2 years I have been here, we have tripled our valuation! That and being a part of all the growth, as well as the acquisitions that we have made, are just a few things that are major highlights for me.
Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?
My “volunteering” these days largely consists of constantly running after my two children. My four- and six-year-old boys are my life.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Being raised in an Indian family, I did not ski or do a lot of sports—I actually hated sports! I would try every sport and I would quit. Having two young boys, I am now learning how to ski at 38 years old. I don’t love it, but I am learning. They do black diamonds, and I am still on the green trails by myself and freaking out.
I now work out a lot and do so many activities with my two boys. Hiking, skiing, and even though I’m not very good at it, I’d also love to be an artist. I do think I’ll stick to my day job, but for some reason, I’ve always wanted to be an artist (I don’t know why)!
Oh, and I also love shopping. If I could find a way to shop every day, I would do so.
How do you manage stress?
I actually tend to work much better under pressure. However, my team can tell when I am stressed out because my voice becomes slow and very calm, which may or may not be calming to them. They know what is happening— I am getting stressed out.
To manage stress, I take a deep breath in…and take things a step at a time. I get more organized. When I know we are under pressure or there is a lot of stress coming, we’re working around the clock, I just get organized, put a list together and I also make sure I rally my team. If I am feeling stressed, they are likely feeling it too.
For me, taking that deep breath, getting organized, maybe getting in a workout or doing something for myself—even if for just 30 minutes, it helps me a lot.