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The eternal learner: Moody’s Caroline Sullivan

In our Real leaders. Real stories. series, Moody’s CAO Caroline Sullivan shares how she prioritizes wellbeing and learning.

In brief
  • Meet obstacles head on. That’s the advice from Moody’s CAO Caroline Sullivan to the ambitious. “If presented an opportunity, take the challenge and learn it.”
  • Stay in touch. Throughout her career in the banking industry, Caroline has built a global network and a world of knowledge.

EY Fran Brantely Beyond Yarn
Caroline Sullivan

Strolling past a coffee shop last year, Caroline Sullivan noticed a man in the window, knitting. On her walk back 90 minutes later, he was still there with his yarn. Caroline, not one to pass up an intriguing opportunity, popped in to say hello. Hearing how much joy and relaxation he got out of knitting she went straight home and signed up for Sunday afternoon knitting lessons.

Now, after wrapping up work for the day, at home or in the office at Moody’s Corporation, Caroline follows a new evening routine, in what has become a form of meditation. “I have a cup of tea. I listen to music. I follow a pattern. There’s a little bit of math involved,” she says of her new hobby. “It is helping my mental health. I find I’m sleeping better as a result of this. Who would ever think you would get this from knitting? And all because of the guy in the window.”

Today Caroline beams, standing in her New Jersey home, showing off the blue cardigan she’s just completed. It’s the latest in an extensive list of personal and professional accomplishments for this lifelong learner.

Caroline serves as the Chief Accounting Officer (CAO) and Corporate Controller of Moody’s. She leads the financial accounting and external reporting activities, tax compliance and strategy, and treasury. She is also executive sponsor of Moody’s Minds, an employee resource group that encourages employees to manage their mental wellbeing by cultivating a community that supports mental health conversations in a stigma-free environment. “I’ve seen a transformation happening in organizations that wasn’t there 20 years ago,” she says. “We have gotten much more comfortable talking about these topics.”

As someone who prioritizes her health, embraces ambitious moves and understands the value of relationships, Caroline shares advice for leaders who are looking for opportunities to gain experience and grow into C-level roles. It’s the same advice she shares with her family.

“When I dropped my oldest son off at the University of Georgia, I told him, ‘Your job here is to take care of your mind, your body and your learning. To be successful, we all have to take care of all these aspects of our life.’”

1. Be open to change and growth

Caroline grew up in Dublin, Ireland, one of five children, and the first one to go to college. She decided to study elementary education to become a teacher, like her father and brother-in-law. When she graduated, Ireland had high rates of unemployment and few jobs for teachers, so Caroline left teaching behind and moved to the US, where she had earned a scholarship for graduate school.

Although she told her mother she’d be back in two years, Caroline stayed in the US after earning her MBA in Accounting at Seton Hall University. She began her career at Ernst & Young LLP, where she worked as a senior auditor for four years before moving on to the banking industry. She looks back fondly at her teaching degree. “We learned the basis of education, communication, psychology and the development of the mind,” she says, “all very important aspects to be successful in any career.”

There are always obstacles. You can face them or you can run. Know that if you face them, it may take a while to resolve them.

Caroline’s commitment to learning and growth remains. After two years as the Corporate Controller at Moody’s, she worked with the CFO on the operational design of the entire finance function, taking on additional responsibilities, leading tax and treasury, and relinquishing other responsibilities, all with the goal of creating a modern finance function. She is also immersed in studying the potential for generative artificial intelligence and how that may alter business services and the functions within her responsibilities. She participates in external learning and networking as a frequent participant of CAO roundtables and serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Financial Executives International and Chair of the Audit Committee.


Caroline has been described as someone who will take on a challenge to learn something new. A colleague and friend says, “She’s not interested in status quo, but in being able to create a better working world through connecting the dots to other information — and then setting a new North Star.”


Remaining open to opportunities has served Caroline well. Earlier in her career, she wanted a promotion and sought out international experience. “My manager said, ‘We have a job opening in Hong Kong,’” she says. “I was married and had three young kids. We left in the middle of the financial crisis, and the job I went for didn’t exist anymore. I moved my family across the world to work on complex transactions, and all of those dried up. So I had to transition,” she says. “You have to be open to new experiences and take your skill set and apply it to something else. Moving to Hong Kong was wonderful for me professionally, and personally for my whole family.”


2. Meet obstacles head on

The journey may be difficult, Caroline says. “There are always obstacles. You can face them or you can run. Know that if you face them, it may take a while to resolve them.”


She recalls kicking off Moody’s finance transformation project in 2019, which was expected to take two years. “We are still working on it,” she says. “We came up with a plan to work through the complexities. We got through a lot, but there is still more to do. Transformation never ends.”


3. Do not let uncertainty hold you back

Caroline recalls a moment of doubt about learning to knit. “You can do this,” her teacher reassured her. When coaching colleagues and others, Caroline extends that same support.


“You do not need to know how to do 100% of the job to apply,” she says. “If presented an opportunity, take the challenge and learn it.”


When taking on the CAO role at Moody’s, Caroline relied heavily on the strong leadership teams. While she initially considered her experience in certain areas to be lacking, once she was placed in charge of tax and treasury, she dove in and looked for ways to transform. “I realized that I don’t need to be a tax or treasury expert. I needed to work with the leaders of the teams and learn about what top quality tax and treasury teams look like at other companies and then decide what to apply at Moody’s,” she says.

If presented an opportunity, take the challenge and learn it.

4. Maintain networks

Caroline’s belief in the power and importance of networks has meant she relies on a global community of advisors, peers, and former colleagues and previous bosses. Networking takes effort, Caroline says, but the effects are worthwhile.

“I learned a lot through the experiences that I had offered to me and the people that I had the chance to work with, and I have stayed in touch with them,” she says. “Most issues have been encountered by other people, and rather than try to re-create the wheel, I can reach out to my network and ask them what worked and what didn’t and why.”


Caroline Sullivan advocates for networking and taking calculated risks. Her successful career journey reflects her openness to change and continuous growth in a time of continuous transition.

*Caroline is currently serving as the interim CFO at Moody’s.

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