Sally Shanks Tackles New Challenges at WillScot

Sally Shanks and her finance team lean into the opportunities for growth to help WillScot accelerate success after going public and multiple acquisitions

Sally Shanks, WillScotPhoto: Dean Ray

You could say Sally Shanks was destined from an early age for her job as chief accounting officer at WillScot Corp.

Her parents instilled her with work ethic and an “always persevere” nature. “They were equally passionate about their work and their family,” Shanks explains. “The apple does not fall far from the tree.”

Shanks spent summers with her grandparents, who were dedicated to ensuring she had a well-rounded education. Her grandmother would teach her about the arts and music while her grandfather, a lifelong banker, taught her how to read the Wall Street Journal. “We would track five stocks for the summer and calculate returns on the stocks,” Shanks says.

With a passion for finance, she continued on the same path when she enrolled at Providence College intending to major in finance. At the accounting table during enrollment, “they told me finance was for the students that couldn’t make it in accounting,” Shanks recalls. “I laughed and took on the challenge. Turns out, it worked well for me.”

In 2017, Shanks found more exciting challenges at WillScot, the leading provider of mobile offices, portable storage containers, modular classrooms, and other temporary space solutions across industries. The Maryland-based company’s leadership had made the decision to go public.

“As WillScot was evaluating their transformation from a subsidiary of a multinational parent company to an independent company, they began looking for two critical roles to lead the transformation,” Shanks explains. One of those roles was chief accounting officer, the title Shanks currently holds. “I started at WillScot two months before our go-public transaction was completed. At that point, there wasn’t much time for preparation and readiness planning. We had to transform on the go and adapt as needed.”

“I thrive in these environments and enjoy the depth and breadth of opportunities that oftentimes will come from the chaos of growth and transformation.”

The transaction presented Shanks and her team with a number of tasks: unwinding from their parent company; new debt and capital structures; putting together centralized corporate teams for treasury, tax, and accounting purposes; and adding flex resources to assist in the acute time period.

That’s a lot of heavy lifting, but Shanks, who previously worked as corporate controller at performance marketing agency Merkle, was well prepared for the assignment. “I’ve lived in rapid-growth companies for most of my career,” she says. “I thrive in these environments and enjoy the depth and breadth of opportunities that oftentimes will come from the chaos of growth and transformation.”

The pace hasn’t slowed much since then. As part of the 2017 going public transaction, WillScot stated its intentions for rapid growth through acquisition. The company has closed and integrated three acquisitions, including doubling its size with the 2018 acquisition of Modular Space Holdings Inc.—or ModSpace. The company network now boasts 120 locations across the US and Canada, and the company fleet includes 150,000 modular space and portable storage units.

“WillScot is committed as an organization to the full integration of its acquisitions,” Shanks says. “This provides a tremendous opportunity for my teams to engage in the integration process, develop best practices by working side by side with acquired teams during the transition, and develop skills outside of their day-day and month-month roles,” she explains. “Once the transaction is closed, we’re generally the first ones on the ground engaging with the acquired company to dig in around critical financial visibility and compliance initiatives, such as financial statement visibility, controls, tax, treasury operations.”

“We’re generally the first ones on the ground engaging with the acquired company to dig in around critical financial visibility and compliance initiatives.”

With WillScot now a public company, the next challenge for Shanks and her team is meeting the standards of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the 2002 federal law that established sweeping auditing and financial regulations for public companies. The team must balance the support of the organization’s growth goals with compliance initiatives.

“This is our first year for SOX controls audit, and we’re in full swing to ensure that we’re compliant and also support the ongoing requirements into 2020 and beyond,” she continues. “Preparing for this big milestone has been a major initiative for the company over the last two years. We’re excited about the initial finish line at the end of 2019, and we’re ready to normalize these controls processes into 2020.”

Shanks is quick to credit her team with helping her tackle the new tests she has faced at WillScot. “My leadership team and all of the supporting team members have a tremendous dedication to their work and the company,” she says. “It’s a great team—filled with passion and perseverance that has carried us through the last two years of heavy transformation.”