Since the start of Jacqueline De Souza’s tenure at leading homebuilder Lennar Corporation, the only constant in her work has been change. Fortunately, De Souza embraces the concept of continuous improvement—and she isn’t afraid to drive that change herself.
“Our company has a poem called ‘Scratchings From the Little Red Hen,’ which teaches us to move forward and seek out opportunities, rather than waiting for them to come to us. When times are tough and the worms are not on the surface, you have to go digging for them,” says De Souza. “We’re always looking for better and more efficient ways to do things.”
As Lennar’s vice president of treasury, De Souza has sought to increase efficiency without sacrificing the controls necessary to protect the company’s assets from fraud and other threats. Furthermore, she has struck a careful balance between introducing new technologies and leading the change process in a way that brings senior executives, external partners, and her teams in treasury management and accounts payable (AP) on board for the transformation. Her leadership style also manifests in her emphasis—shared with Lennar itself—on team member training and career development.
After moving to the United States from Jamaica to obtain her MBA, De Souza honed her leadership skills and finance expertise at transportation and logistics company Ryder System, Inc. When Lennar approached her in early 2007 about joining the company as assistant treasurer, she saw the role as an opportunity to test her knowledge in a space where everyone was open to new ideas.
By 2008, De Souza had capitalized on that openness by rolling out a treasury management platform that consolidated all banking relationships under a single umbrella. She then moved to grow Lennar’s corporate card and purchasing card programs before adding a virtual card program in 2011.
Meanwhile, De Souza rose to the challenge of managing AP for the first time. AP is primarily about controls—paying the right vendor the right amount at the right time. She made fraud prevention a priority, with such success that Lennar has lost less than ten thousand dollars to wire fraud under her watch. “We independently validate any wiring instructions that are sent to us if we’ve never wired to that party before,” she says. “And no one person has the ability to send money out the door. One associate can enter and initiate a wire, but it takes another associate to approve and release it.”
De Souza considers technology a critical tool for increasing security and efficiency alike. In 2012, she implemented an ACH vendor payment program to bolster Lennar’s arsenal of electronic payment options. To ease the transition to digital, she launched a “Go Green” campaign in tandem with the shift to outline its upsides.
“In order for an initiative to be successful, you have to build partnerships with those who the initiative is going to touch. The success really depends on getting your different partners to understand how they are going to benefit and how their customers are going to benefit,” she explains.
De Souza has applied the same philosophy to her more recent projects, which include outsourcing check printing to one of Lennar’s banking partners amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were able to make things more efficient for my team, all while making things more efficient for the company by having a disaster recovery plan inherent in the project,” she confirms.
COVID likewise prompted De Souza to rethink the deposit process for homebuyers. “At the start of COVID, we rolled out a portal to collect deposits on our homes electronically,” she elaborates. “Our homebuyers were able not only to look at virtual tours but also make their deposits online.”
Underlying Lennar’s ability to meet homebuying demand is the company’s ability to build homes in the first place—a process in which surety broker and longtime Lennar partner Marsh McLennan plays an invaluable part. “Many municipalities require us to post a bond as collateral for our development work. Marsh helps us accomplish what we need to do by helping us secure the surety lines necessary to post those bonds,” says De Souza. “Marsh also helped educate me and my team about the surety program in general.”
“Jacqui emphasizes partnership, not only with her surety companies but also her broker,” says Sharon Potts, senior vice president at Marsh McLennan. “Her interactions with stakeholders are defined by a respectful and deep appreciation for the value that her partners bring to the table.”
The informal training offered by Marsh mirrors a broader commitment to education within Lennar itself. De Souza assists her team members in meeting company and career objectives by cross-training new hires and using a scorecard system to track performance. “I let associates know what is expected of them, give them the tools to accomplish those objectives, and then hold them accountable by giving both positive feedback and constructive feedback to help them continue to grow,” she says.
Among the tools available to fuel employee growth is an online management and leadership development program offered through a partnership with Harvard Business School Publishing. Lennar offers its own program as well—Lennar Success University—through which employees can self-enroll in courses and complete them at their own pace. “Lennar is very big on training,” De Souza emphasizes, “and they’ve made it very easy for us to access because everything’s online.”
As a firm believer in continuous improvement, De Souza plans to keep the change coming in the future. “We’re always working to understand what new technology is available to us,” she says. “Currently, we’re partnering with our IT department and an external consulting firm on a financial transformation where we’re looking to streamline all systems and functional areas. We’re reviewing all of our processes, even if they’re electronic, and making sure that they’re as efficient as possible.”
Fourteen years after she first came to Lennar, De Souza hasn’t stopped digging for worms.