Worldreader Senior Finance and Strategy Manager Jessica Meunier

Jessica Meunier is no stranger to switching roles; she certainly isn’t afraid to do so when she’s ready for a new challenge or wants to expand her knowledge. Jessica has worked in a number of positions throughout her career, learning new skills, and accumulating numerous lessons along the way. She started her career at a major accounting firm, then transitioned to a position as a business analyst at a start-up. From there Jessica moved to a roles as a financial analyst and then as business development manager. She currently works as a Senior Finance and Strategy Manager at Worldreader, an organization bringing digital books on tablets and cell phones to schools in low-income countries around the world.

Through a series of strategic steps and by being candid with herself about what she wants, she has been able to earn new positions and promotions over the years. Jessica’s advice for others looking to move forward in their careers? “Plan ahead, identify the gaps and challenges your team is having and show how you are the person who can succeed in providing a solution. You are the only one who can look out for your strategic path and secure the right moves to achieve your goals.” We think everyone can apply this lesson to their lives and careers, regardless of industry or level of experience.

We’re excited to bring you Jessica’s full story today because whether you are interested in finance or business development (or something entirely different) we’re sure you’ll walk away having learned a thing or two from Jessica’s career insights and advice. Such as: “Embrace who you are and use it to your full advantage.” Agreed!

Full Name: Jessica Jazmeen Meunier
Age: 28
Current Title/Company: Senior Finance and Strategy Manager at Worldreader
Educational Background: I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with degrees in Economics and Communications and a minor in Accounting. I also obtained my Certified Public Accountant license while working at PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the big four public accounting firms.

What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
Landing a stable, challenging job coming out of UC Santa Barbara was no easy feat given the daunting economic recession and a number of struggles in my personal life. My upbringing presented a number of challenges around parental instability, substance abuse, and emotional roller coasters. Pursuing a higher education and professional career were not always dreams I was sure I could achieve in spite of these hurdles. Through hard work, supportive friends and independent research, I was accepted to UCSB, but that presented its own challenges. I worked multiple jobs throughout my four years in college in order to pay tuition and struggled to stay on track with my heavy course loads in Economics and Communications.

I was a leader in a business fraternity during this time and attended career fairs and educated myself on available jobs given my background and qualifications. My first half of senior year was spent interviewing and attending recruiting events for several accounting firms. During this time, I capitalized on my professional demeanor, knowledge from schoolwork, and internship experience. I was fortunate enough to receive full-time offers from all big four firms and ultimately decided to join PricewaterhouseCoopers. One key factor in my decision was that the firm allowed me to defer my start date 6 months while I volunteered and lived abroad in Argentina after graduation. This was a life-changing experience and although my return was in the busiest season for auditors, I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

After your job at PricewaterhouseCoopers you worked in public accounting and financial planning and analysis for various technology start-ups and large companies. Can you take us through an overview of your career path?
My career path has been a bit unconventional for someone who started in public accounting. The normal trajectory from big CPA firms is to head down the accounting or FP&A route and although I found both interesting, I knew my long-term goal was to move into the Strategy side of things. The advice I was given from my peers, upper management, even recruiters, was that I would not be able to make such distinct moves in my career without a graduate degree. It’s not that I didn’t want to obtain my MBA—I absolutely value education and it may be something I do down the road. But due to a number of reasons, it hasn’t been in the cards. I was going to have to get to where I wanted to go without that degree—and I did. Through hard work and networking I successfully pivoted from a Finance career path to a Business Development and M&A avenue while also securing a promotion.

Now, back to the beginning. I am definitely a “Type A” person, so I thought working in a large firm like PwC with strict processes would be right down my alley. However, working on smaller tech clients while there had me wanting to explore a more dynamic environment. I joined Tiny Prints, an e-commerce stationery start-up, as a Business Analyst and enjoyed the hustling and vibrant culture. My responsibilities included driving new pricing models, pulling and analyzing product trend data and developing key performance metrics dashboards to share with executive leadership.

Tiny Prints was eventually acquired by Shutterfly, and given the job instability after the acquisition, I was referred to and took a Senior Financial Analyst role at Yahoo supporting their Product Management and User Analytics groups (~600 people and $150M annual budget teams). After several re-organizations, I was slated to a Corporate Reporting role, which I knew was not the right stepping-stone to a more strategic position. So, I joined a leader in the Content Delivery and Cloud Networking field, Akamai. I was offered a similar job title, a raise, revenue projection work and direct access to Product Managers. That position helped me realize how much I enjoy creating something where nothing existed before, whether it be an excel model, presentation or business relationship. By working through several strategic steps, I had the opportunity to rotate into a Business Development and Partnerships role while at Akamai. Lastly, I recently made the transition into the non-profit sector to combine my strategic planning, finance and process improvement skills with my true passion for international development.

Although I have moved around a lot already in my career, I have always made calculated moves based on more responsibility, a more lucrative salary, and the ability to learn new skills. I think these are the keys to making the right career moves and ensuring your path is always progressing forward.

While working at Akamai, you were promoted from Senior Financial Analyst to Prior to Business Development Manager. Can you tell us what steps you took to make this transition?
This has definitely been one of my most exciting career moments so far and I hope others can learn from the steps I took. My manager took maternity leave about 7 months into my time as an SFA, leaving me as her temporary replacement. I took what originally seemed like an overwhelming change in my work environment and turned it into an opportunity to showcase my true potential and highlight different skills. I took on her job tasks in addition to my own with excitement and a determination to succeed. During this time, I also looked ahead 6 – 9 months and outlined the potential scenarios that could play out. Scenario A: my manager could return, putting me back in a Senior Analyst position with less work and impact than I had acquired over the five months she was gone. Scenario B: my manager could not return and I could negotiate for her position given my track record while she was out. Scenario C: my manager could return and I could move into a different department in order to continue my upward mobility and learning curve.

Once I knew what my options were, I started candid, honest conversations with the right decision makers for each outcome. I am part of a Lean In group and used this time to brainstorm and gather feedback from a strong network of professional women. I conducted informational interviews with the Business Development, Product Management, Sales and Corporate Development teams to learn about current challenges and gaps on their teams. I also scheduled regular meetings with the VP of Finance in order to showcase my work while I was conducting duties above my job level. By starting conversations early (6 months before I ultimately transitioned to a new position), I was able to solidify my goals and build better relationships with people who I potentially wanted to work for.

Now for the good part—my manager did not return to Akamai and I was able to move to Business Development and receive a promotion to the Manager level with a salary raise I was very happy with. None of this would have been possible without an amazing group of professional women to “lean” on and my own ability to take control of my career steps and outcomes.

What advice can you give others who are looking to advance their careers by getting a promotion within their company?
The worst thing you can do is be caught off guard when an important move in your career needs to be made. Plan ahead, identify the gaps and challenges your team is having and show how you are the person who can succeed in providing a solution. You are the only one who can look out for your strategic path and secure the right moves to achieve your goals.

You recently started a position as Senior Finance and Strategy Manager at Worldreader. What are your job responsibilities in this position?
Although I have been at Worldreader a short time, I believe I can make a meaningful impact in our mission to end illiteracy through implementing strategic and efficient processes. I am spearheading our global Finance team with a focus on financial planning, productivity analysis and global consolidation. I am tasked with creating our global budget, driving departmental scorecards, monitoring our strategic planning initiatives, and ensuring Worldreader can create scalable, sustainable revenue streams.

The worst thing you can do is be caught off guard when an important move in your career needs to be made. Plan ahead, identify the gaps and challenges your team is having and show how you are the person who can succeed in providing a solution. You are the only one who can look out for your strategic path and secure the right moves to achieve your goals.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
At Akamai, I loved developing business cases, pricing models and strategic partnerships that actually drive our operations forward. It was so rewarding to know that the work I did was connecting to an endpoint in such a growing, cutting-edge tech company. Similarly at Worldreader, I love knowing that the daily work I do is bringing e-readers and mobile apps into the hands of eager students half a world away.

What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your career and how were you able to overcome them?
I work with very intelligent, experienced and efficient team members. Feeling unqualified both related to my years of experience and technical background was definitely a struggle of mine when I first started in the business development group last year. To overcome these feelings, I have tried to soak everything in like a sponge, taken courses outside of work hours and pro-actively sought out learning opportunities with my experienced colleagues.

What advice can you give women seeking a career in finance or business development?
One piece of advice I would suggest is to not just do your bare bones day job responsibilities. Instead, make yourself indispensible and become an expert in one or more subject areas. This way you can shape your role to focus on areas that speak to your strengths and you will quickly become a “go-to” person in your group.

Also, don’t focus so much on the fact that you are a woman and a majority of people you will work with are (but hopefully not in the future!) men. Rather, embrace who you are and use it to your full advantage. Along with dressing for the job you want, not the job you have, another piece of advice I like to think of in a professional setting is, “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, work like a boss.”

Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
My ideal position would couple my professional and quantitative skills with my personal passion to drive social good in my community and around the world. I would love to continue to grow and utilize my skills at an organization that is tapping into the power of technology as a means to drive corporate and social responsibility.

I would like to be leading a team that heads up strategic partnerships or product development within these areas. I thrive in fast-paced, innovative environments and truly enjoy coaching and mentoring people (as well as learning about myself through the process).

What is a typical work day like for you?
First thing in the morning, I grab a cup of coffee and review my schedule for the day. I time block my calendar into manageable segments, so that my to-do list is actionable rather than daunting. I sort my list by what is urgent and important first versus what is just important or just time sensitive. Then, I review e-mails from the night before and reply to those that require immediate action. I join or lead internal meetings to review the monthly financial results by department, obtain status on projects with financial impacts or provide updates on systems overhauls I am driving.

Honestly, there is no “typical” day in this organization, so without a doubt, I will reconfigure my day to fit in one or two ad hoc reporting or modeling requests. I try to take at least one short walking break per day to regroup and make sure I am on track to finish what needs to get done. Before heading out, I review the next day’s schedule briefly and send out any necessary agendas or follow up notes required for the next day’s meetings.

Best moment of your career so far?
Being confident enough in my skills and learning abilities to move into an intimidating role that I know fits my goals and personality. When I led my first strategic partner meeting as a Business Development Manager, I felt accomplished and proud that I had set my sights and achieved what I set out to do. Of course, I also believe the best is yet to come as I keep growing and moving forward in my career.

What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
I would encourage myself to look upon challenges and unexpected projects as opportunities to learn and grow rather than as burdens. As they say, “Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.” I used to be very prescriptive and want instructions for my work projects in order to know I did them correctly. Through working in various tech companies, I have learned that will never be the case and there is much more to be learned from accepting changing priorities and utilizing a more flexible mindset.

Jessica Meunier is The Everygirl…

Dream vacation?
My dream vacation as a soccer player and fan had always been attending a World Cup game in an amazing place. That dream came true this past summer as I went to Salvador, Brazil and watched two World Cup matches live with a group of wonderful friends. I am still figuring out how I can beat that vacation in the future…

Best advice you’ve ever received?
Things may come to those who wait, but only those things left by those who hustle.

When something bad happens you have three choices: you can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or let is strengthen you.

Favorite part about living in San Francisco?
The food! I love the diversity of San Francisco in many respects, but the most enjoyable for me are the types of food available and how the city options range widely in price so you can always find something that fits your budget.

I wish I knew how to ________.
Speak another language in addition to English, Spanish, and my very little broken Hindi.

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I have strong girl crushes on a number of women who use their talents and influence to better the world around them. One of my idols is Sheryl Sandberg for the work she is doing within tech and female empowerment. I would also love to share a meal with Leila Janah, the Founder of Samasource, an innovative organization using the scale of technology to drive social good around the world.

I love Italian food and specifically Zero Zero or Delfina in SF. I would order whatever takes the longest in order to maximize my time with her!