With an accounting career that has taken her from company to company and state to state, Jennifer McCalman is no stranger to adaptation. Her comfort with change is just as apparent in her passion for process improvement.
“It’s foundational,” she says of the practice. “For someone to be in a role within accounting or finance or almost anywhere these days, you have to be thinking process improvement. And that’s because the world is continuing to evolve.”
McCalman keeps her sights set squarely on the future in her current role as chief accounting officer at the Hershey Company. She aligns new initiatives—from the implementation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) system SAP S/4HANA to a total finance function transformation—with the chocolate manufacturer’s broader vision for strategic growth.
Even as she heads up years-long projects, however, McCalman makes a point of maintaining close contact with her team and other colleagues across the organization. It’s her personal way of fostering a company culture where people come first.
Like many accountants, McCalman got her start in public accounting, in her case at PricewaterhouseCoopers out of Pittsburgh. She became a certified public accountant and gained practical experience in the audit space before relocating to Georgia, where she joined Scientific Games, a company specializing in gaming and lottery products. Not long into her tenure, she facilitated the transfer of functions and responsibilities from a Delaware office down to her local office—an endeavor that taught her how to interpret and recreate processes.
During her seven years at Scientific Games, McCalman developed as a finance professional, as a leader, and as a person. Outside of work, she married her now husband and started a family. “I was getting promoted while I was six months pregnant,” she says. “I felt really supported at that company.”
McCalman’s husband was, and still is, another source of support, especially when it comes to taking care of their two children. Her husband took care of the home front, and she didn’t have to worry about those tasks when she came home. “I never felt like work was cutting into family time, and it allowed me to enjoy that time and balance everything,” says McCalman, who has been able to thrive in her career.
In late 2011, the family moved to Vermont so that she could take an assistant corporate controller role at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, now part of Keurig Dr Pepper Inc.
“I had to figure out what my role was in that organization and how I was going to be able to create value. I found that the more I paid attention to what people’s goals were, the more I could lean in and help them achieve those goals,” she says. “Over my time there, I learned to embrace process improvement and process optimization. I was always looking for ways to make things easier for the team members.”
McCalman carried that mentality with her to Hershey, where she is currently in the midst of a major ERP system upgrade to SAP S/4HANA. “It’s one of our biggest projects in quite some time. I’m leading our finance team through it, so I’ve been able to dig into all the various areas that affect our financial results,” she says.
“Workiva is proud to help leaders like Jennifer McCalman simplify finance transformation initiatives,” says the team at Workiva. “Teams can connect data from systems like SAP S/4HANA directly to reports, freeing up time for higher-value tasks and supporting high-velocity decision-making.”
Through her digging, McCalman identified further areas for improvement, such as a complex web of legal entities that is also undergoing simplification. But that’s not the only change that she initiated.
“Early on in the S/4HANA program, I realized that there was an opportunity for us to transform our finance organization along with this project. The focus is to lean into our operating model and our organizational structure around finance to make sure that we’re setting ourselves up for our growth plan and our strategy as an organization,” she explains.
For the finance transformation project to succeed, talent development efforts must scale to match the project’s demands. Fortunately, Hershey prioritizes employee training and education as part of its people-first culture, which McCalman believes shines through in the company’s high engagement levels and longstanding emphasis on diversity and inclusion.
“It’s been an initiative of the Hershey Company for a really long time to put people first in the way that the organization operates,” she confirms. “From our CEO down, everybody in this organization understands that we would not be where we are without the talent that we have.”
For her part, McCalman contributes to the collaborative environment at Hershey by building strong relationships with her colleagues at all levels and remaining accessible by way of frequent one-on-one conversations. “I really enjoy getting to know my team members, and I like to empower them as well,” she says.
At the heart of this empowerment, as with every other aspect of McCalman’s work, is the idea of process improvement. “Process improvement is a critical mindset and a critical skill set, and it’s something that you really only get through experience,” she says. “I want my team members to come up with ideas and put them into action.”
Thoughts from Guest Editor Susan Pikitch
“Jennifer McCalman leveraged her accounting and audit background and vast work experience to identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies and to implement new processes and systems. She’s also empowered her teams and demonstrated the importance of relationship-building. This is the formula to be an outstanding business partner, as well as building future business leaders.”
Read features from the Issue 4 2021 Finance section, which include commentary from Guest Editor Susan Pikitch.
Workiva Inc. (NYSE: WK) simplifies complex work for thousands of organizations worldwide. Customers trust Workiva’s open, intelligent, and intuitive platform to connect data, documents, and teams. The results: improved efficiency, greater transparency and less risk across financial and regulatory reporting, management reporting, ESG disclosures, financial planning and analysis, and governance, risk, and compliance. Our hardworking platform automates repetitive tasks, orchestrates workflows, and turns your data and reports into reusable assets. Leaders rely on Workiva to radically transform the way work happens across the organization. Learn more at workiva.com.