CarMax is a leader, disruptor, and innovator in the used car industry. Jill Livesay, chief accounting officer and controller, takes on those same roles within the company. She creates change through returning to the basics: people, process, technology. “We are shifting away from traditional order takers with closed reporting. We are moving to a new consultative and integrated approach,” Livesay says. This is an approach and experience she wants to offer internal and external partners.
Livesay fulfills a traditional accounting role in her Fortune 500 company. That means focus on fiduciary excellence, presenting confidence in financial records, and ensuring internal and external excellence. It also means compliance with laws and guidelines.
Livesay is also taking on a nontraditional role as strategic partner. Since her start with CarMax in 2016, she has brought her team out of the cubicled shadows many accounting departments inhabit and into the light of internal partnership. “A business begins and ends in accounting,” Livesay says. “But usually accounting departments are not proactive and are even seen as resistant.” Livesay believes that this is because they are not a part of processes from the beginning, and she is working to transform that paradigm.
“We are moving to a new consultative and integrated approach.”
Putting communications first, Livesay ensures that other departments understand the how and whys of her team. She provides simple summaries of significant accounting disclosures. And as her team implements tech transformations, Livesay offers an accurate view of these changes. She is conscious of her audience and tailors all communications to impact specific readers. Livesay sees this work improving confidence in the team’s proactivity. It removes the veil of mystery around what goes on in the accounting department and helps shatter a siloed business approach.
Just like Livesay and her internal and external partners, CarMax wants to provide an honest experience to car buyers. Fourteen years ago, after a decade in operation, the company decided to let customers drive their experience, a re-revolution. Now, it is undergoing a third wave of change through digital transformation, an omnichannel experience that allows customers to choose preferred levels of interaction.
Within her own team, Livesay is also focused on digital transformation. Currently she is bringing robotics process integration to accounts payable and inventory accounting data collection. Robotics is also playing a role in the payroll department processes, leading to quicker reconciliations. Looking at automated procure-to-pay implementation, CarMax will have a faster and more accurate process for creating purchase orders and developing preferred payments.
While speed and accuracy are excellent outcomes for this digital revolution, Livesay is most excited about the space for reallocation of resources automation provides. “The tech allows us to scale and be agile,” Livesay says.
“We are not just order takers, we are business consultants,” Livesay says, explaining her team’s new role at CarMax. “We truly integrate within the business.” She is changing the identity of accounting within the company. “We can be the department that doesn’t just say no. We can be the department that says, ‘Yes, but . . .’ Or even, ‘Yes, and . . .’” Livesay is using automation as a catalyst to getting a seat at the table.
Livesay is also changing the culture within her team, focusing on empowerment. While introducing leading-edge tech supports achievement, she also provides opportunity for skill development including leadership courses and cohorts. She fosters an increased level of employee engagement. Internal programs for career development have proven effective and CarMax sees employees moving into leadership roles, promoted from within.
Livesay’s team of seven people provides an array of skills, from accounting know-how to institutional knowledge to project management skills. These skills support the group as a whole, and, in turn, the group supports the development of these skills. Livesay brings ideas of collaboration and inclusivity to the team, and as they work on financial redesign and look at fundamentals, everyone is involved in the five-year accounting systems roadmap. Team members help select vendors and team members lead projects as well.
“Leave everything—projects, companies, people—in a better place than when you started.”
Livesay credits a role prior to CarMax, in helping her develop best practices. She supported a company going through huge growth, much of it through mergers and acquisitions. She says, “Integrating new ideas and employees taught me important skills and provided useful tools that lead back to my basic philosophy: people, process, and tech.”
At CarMax, with the help of trainings and discussions, the team embraces change and Livesay sees more engagement with associates. “The team has brought themselves up to a new level,” she says. People are motivated to do their best work.
It is not only Livesay’s observations that suggest positive impact. Surveys, both internal and external, indicate that the team’s increased proactivity and more updates, collaboration, and inclusion. There has also been a higher level of service and responsiveness from the team.
Every leader has a different way of inspiring trust, and for Livesay it is about powerful networks that support a transformation. The used car market is competitive and fragmented with a diverse business model, and CarMax’s footprint and level of recognition is unique. Within that space Livesay encourages individuals reaching their full potential, and she builds cross-functional teams. She believes this is possible because of relationships. “Build a trusted and diverse network,” Livesay says. “Don’t shy away from new projects outside your regular sphere. They can help you understand ideas and have a better grasp of a business in general and make connections. Take on roles and responsibility outside of your comfort zone.”
When asked about advice for anyone interested in her field, Livesay says, “Leave everything—projects, companies, people—in a better place than when you started.” After her first few years at CarMax, Livesay is clearly following her own advice.