After spending nine and a half years living and working in Germany and Italy for EY and Whirlpool, Brown returned to the US. Shortly thereafter, a call from a recruiter piqued her interest in Perrigo, which is based in Michigan. “When I met the folks here, I fell in love with the people and the promise of quality, affordable health care,” she says.
The incumbent CFO, Douglas R. Schrank, was considering retirement in a few years and put together a three-year development plan for Brown. “He said: ‘You need to learn each of these bullet points each quarter, and hopefully the board will feel comfortable that you can succeed me in three years,’” Brown recalls. “Eighteen months later, he retired and I took the job.”
While her role as CFO of Perrigo includes the classic finance tasks, Brown has also taken on responsibility for government affairs, corporate communications, community affairs, media relations and corporate development, particularly M&A.
Her previous jobs at EY and home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool helped to prepare her for this diverse portfolio in several ways. “Working at EY, I learned to be very fast and flexible, servicing multiple clients at one time,” she explains. “I learned about things like financial reporting, processes, internal audits, internal controls, general controls, IT systems and tax – things that are absolutely foundational and critical to any CFO job.”
But, because her role encompasses much more than fundamental finance, she believes her move to Global Product Development at Whirlpool was instrumental in helping her become a shrewder CFO.
“I made a conscious choice to leave finance for a period of time, with the belief that having operational experience would be important to viewing the world through the lens of the customer and the consumer sales and marketing teams,” she recalls. Understanding how companies do business and make money broadened her outlook. “Now, when I’m sitting in a meeting talking about long-term investments, I have a different perspective.”
Brown also benefited from the fact that, in this particular role, she had only a few direct reports, but had to influence hundreds of people and decisions. It taught her the importance of influence and how indispensable good communication skills are. “In a finance job, you don’t get to own P&L, so influencing skills and the ability to bring a team together for a common purpose are critical,” she says.