Carla Cooper, CFO at Bluebird Network, lives by the axiom “we are only as good as those around us.” She guides her team forward with healthy communication and makes sure that everyone understands both the game plan and the “why,” thus exposing each of them to the idea that there is not one standard path to success.
Cooper learned the ins and outs of the business while working at her father’s accounting firm in St. Louis before establishing her own firm, Cooper & Associates, in 1995. There, she broadened her capabilities as a CPA and built her confidence in serving clients with a variety of interests, industries, and needs. She also gained a better understanding of information management and key industry metrics.
Her expertise gave clients confidence, allowing her to take charge knowing she needed little direction. Cooper has always been able to “see the big picture and ask the right questions.”
Cooper’s years as a CPA were rewarding. She enjoyed providing insight to banks that needed to expand their loan granting capabilities. As a self-proclaimed “problem-solver,” the project-based nature of Cooper’s services scratched her itch to think outside of the box and find solutions to the issues her clients faced. She strived to become a partner with her clients and provide them with tools that went beyond the norm to help them run their businesses successfully.
In 2013, Cooper became director of regulatory accounting and subsequently vice president of finance for Fidelity Communications. Cooper was nurtured by Jan Torrisi-Mokwa, a coach who guided her and Fidelity through her tenure there. Torrisi-Mokwa made a lasting impression and helped Cooper build her own leadership style—a style that is about vision, team, and setting goals to achieve success.
It was at Fidelity that Cooper made the connections with the telecommunications provider that approached her to be its CFO: Columbia, Missouri-based Bluebird Network. “I was excited to come to Bluebird and be given the opportunity to build on a program of growth and success,” she says.
Bluebird’s mission is to create the largest regional fiber network infrastructure in the Midwest. The Columbia, Missouri-based company wants to build and deliver fast, high-quality, fiber-based internet and transport service options required by businesses. In conjunction, they own a colocation facility buried underground: the Bluebird Underground, affectionately called “The Cave.” On the way to fulfilling its mission, in 2019 and 2020 Bluebird has added over three thousand fiber route miles in Illinois and surrounding states, and has expanded its fiber densification in seven Missouri cities. It’s currently planning the largest fiber build in Columbia’s history and is set to complete an 11,600-square-foot addition to Bluebird Underground next month.
And the company does not plan to stop. “It is exciting to be part of a growing company with a strong team,” Cooper says. “This company has an agenda of wellness, health, and safety. Treating everyone with respect is very important, but to ensure everyone returns home to their families safe and healthy at the end of every workday is paramount.”
“I believe that it is important to respect and appreciate the past but be ready for the future.”
Cooper has set various initiatives into motion at Bluebird to help employees maximize their potential and efficiency. She has helped establish new capitalization policies that are more in line with industry. Additionally, she is part of a team that emphasizes diversity and safety efforts, formalizing them to a new level. She strives to model the strong familial and forward-thinking culture she finds so crucial to Bluebird’s identity. “I believe it is important to respect and appreciate the past, but be ready for the future,” she emphasizes.
Another effort she is attempting is expanding the communications between departments, asking, “How can the finance department help you do your job?” Cooper wants to empower her team with relevant financial knowledge, knowing the outcome will be more powerful. Once they know the goal and the “why,” the team figures out how to get from A to Z. As companies grow and new faces join the office, it is crucial that the culture does not erode. She believes this effort comes from the top down.
Like many professional women, Cooper carved out her road to achieving her goals while balancing a personal life and motherhood. “Everybody’s path is their own, and success is relative,” Cooper says. “The balance between work and family is difficult for women and men alike.” She made many choices for the sake of her family, and she emphasizes that she does not see any of them as a sacrifice, just part of her journey.
“It is very important for women to realize that they are not alone,” Cooper says. She notices that many women tend to fall into a similar mentality. “They think, ‘If I just work hard, I will be rewarded.’ It doesn’t just happen like that. Women must stand up for themselves and communicate their need with facts that support their positions. It will be a healthier environment when women learn to applaud themselves, strive to promote themselves, uplift themselves, and likewise edify each other.”