“Leadership is a very variable process,” says Brian Slagle, CFO at Lifetime Products. “I don’t think people should have a leadership style but be variable to their audience. At the end of the day, it’s about being the best to the people you’re leading—not being the best leader.”
Throughout his twenty-four-year career in various accounting roles and serving in the US Army, Slagle has crafted a leadership philosophy that allows him to help his team and Lifetime Products overcome any challenges.
When Slagle started college, he decided not to declare for a specific major right away. He had seen people waste a lot of time and money going for a career they never pursued.
“I took a lot more math and business classes, and I was thinking about going into engineering,” he explains. “My aunt was a tax accountant for Deloitte, and she mentored me to look at tax accounting. I transferred to the University of Southern California (USC) because it was a top-five school for that and started on my journey.”
After graduating from the Leventhal School of Accounting at USC, he went to work at Deloitte in Orange County, California, and found he enjoyed the business side of accounting more than the tax compliance side. So when his family moved to Utah, Slagle transferred to Deloitte’s Salt Lake City office and switched from tax to the financial auditing department.
“People get picked up from audit in the big firms and you can get into controller jobs, so I wanted to make this switch before I got too far into my career and too specialized,” he says. After a couple busy seasons at the Salt Lake City office, Slagle was recruited by friends at Deseret Management Corporation (DMC) as an internal auditor.
He would spend four years officially at DMC, but it was really about a year and a half. Slagle was a member of the US Army Reserves, and, after officer training, he was deployed to Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, and Egypt.
“When I came back from my Iraqi Freedom tour, I had some time to reflect, and I knew I needed to get out of auditing if I wanted to be in corporate accounting someday,” says Slagle, who currently serves as a Finance Corps Instructor for the Army Financial Management School at the Soldier Support Institute in Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
In 2005, Slagle joined Lifetime Products, the world’s leading manufacturer of folding tables and chairs, as director of finance and accounting. He then rose to become CFO of the company in 2013. Just a year into his role as CFO, Slagle was honored as one of Utah Business Magazine’s Forty Under 40. The role encompasses all accounting, finance, expenses, cash management, and treasury. Forty people are in his accounting department, including two directors who report to him directly.
Leaders should shift their leadership approach depending on the team, Slagle notes, as every group requires a different leadership style based on objective and skill level.
“Everything is different—your discipline level, your need-to-know, how much you are managing or overmanaging,” Slagle says. “I’d like to think that people would say I listen. I know I may not have all the best ideas, and the people I work with are smart and experts at what they do. As a team, we are going to come up with the best courses of action and solutions.”
For example, when COVID-19 created challenges in 2020, everyone worked together to come up with ways to keep the company moving in the right direction. Challenges can come at any time, he says, and it’s important to maneuver and follow a strategic plan together.
“Listening to everyone and getting input is important, and then it’s up to me to make the decision,” Slagle says. “Leaders can’t just leave it all out there. They need to be able to decide what’s happening and go with it. Maybe that decision is wrong because things change or you didn’t have all the right information, but you shouldn’t be afraid to own that mistake. I think that’s important as well.”
Slagle thinks back to some valuable lessons he’s learned in the Army and says the experience has definitely changed him as a person and how he deals with others.
“Being in the military has given me confidence in life that I can accomplish things. But also at the same time, I know you can’t really accomplish anything without relying on others, and that’s how you truly get more done,” Slagle says. “Leadership is volume. That’s a lesson I have lived by.”