Maura Mizuguchi, the chief accounting officer at Cetera Financial Group, has no desire to talk about challenges she’s faced as a person of color or a woman in a space that often lacks representation. The Hawaiian native of Asian descent instead chooses to look at her own accomplishments through a much different lens.
“I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without being unique and different,” Mizuguchi says. “I never wanted to fall into the trap of feeling like I was some kind of ‘other.’ I am different, but I was always looking for ways to adapt rather than expecting the world to adapt around me.”
Mizuguchi’s journey, one that has encompassed at least thirteen different roles over a long career, is one of welcoming chaos to bring order. The delight and passion she finds in implementing everything from ERP systems to new processes and procedures is as pointedly apparent as her matter-of-fact approach.
While a first impression may be of someone who gets to the point, she places a tremendous amount of value in cultivating relationships across Cetera and streamlining an organization to the best of its ability.
“A Little Bit of Kapono in Everybody”
The graduate of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management refers to a much more personal experience when asked what has helped cultivate her skills as a chief accounting officer: motherhood.
“In order to climb the ladder to a much broader leadership role, you find yourself getting further away from the technical parts of your role, which are still very important,” Mizuguchi explains. “What taught me the most about leadership is experiencing it in the home.”
Mizuguchi has raised two sons and the younger, Kapono, was diagnosed with autism and required a completely different set of standards than her first son. “You have to find a way to speak and connect in a different way,” Mizuguchi explains. “I found that after learning various techniques and therapies that I started bringing those to the workplace.”
A colleague who was writing a book which analogized one’s career to raising a child spoke with Mizuguchi for his chapter on special needs. “I said that there is a little bit of Kapono in everybody,” Mizuguchi says. “If you realize that, you figure out how to adjust your style to adapt to bring out the best in everyone.”
The chief accounting officer sees the applicability of the approach as virtually universal. Everyone has behaviors and personalities that might make interaction complicated at some point. A good leader is able to harness the best of someone’s skills and mitigate the pain points. It just requires an investment in understanding and valuing the people around you.
Streamlining, Scaling, and the Next Big Thing
At Cetera, Mizuguchi has played host to numerous deals over the past nearly five years. One of the most notable was the February 2021 acquisition of Voya Financial Advisors. The deal includes roughly nine hundred independent financial professionals serving retail customers with around $40 billion in assets.
The continued acquisitions, Mizuguchi says, have been made with the objective of continuing to create scale. While industry experts have weighed in with great interest about privately held Cetera’s future plans, Mizuguchi says there are numerous directions the company can go, but she’s just enjoying the process.
While the Voya transaction was a high-profile deal, Mizuguchi says her approach during her career has remained, in many ways, the same.
“We had a celebration dinner the other night and were talking about all the different transactions coming down the pipe,” Mizuguchi recalls. “But it doesn’t matter how big the deal is; you still have to go through the same processes. I’m going to break it down into some sort of format and process to make it easier to deal with. I’ve always had that orderly, zen approach.”
Mizuguchi came to Cetera in a much different environment in early 2017. The company had just changed ownership and had been unable to close its books for over a year. It was Mizuguchi’s favorite song: a situation in need of process tools and a workforce that needed help finding a new cadence.
As Cetera enters its next great growth period, Mizuguchi is excited by the challenge of streamlining the company’s growth and bringing order to whatever disorder she can find.
Finding Your Fire
Maura Mizuguchi’s passion for bringing order to the accounting space is rooted in finding what truly motivates her: healthy stress. “Healthy stress gives me the energy to wake up and go,” Mizuguchi says. “If I ever get to a place where I feel like I’m just going through the motions, I think I become a bad employee. You need that fire in your belly.”
Finding one’s fire isn’t always easy, but Mizuguchi says that parenting has shown her that if given the chance, regardless of expectations, one will eventually find their path. You just have to be open to the journey.
Thoughts from Guest Editor Susan Pikitch
“I love that Maura Mizuguchi has leveraged both her personal and professional experience to be a better leader, stressing the importance of diversity not only in heritage but also in thought and practices. What works for one individual or situation doesn’t always work for others. Being able to flex and adapt her approach based upon the situation has clearly made her an outstanding leader. While she always employs a solid process, the action steps vary. I like the example that no two acquisitions are alike, but it’s the same process regardless of the size or nature of the business.”
Read features from the Issue 4 2021 Finance section, which include commentary from Guest Editor Susan Pikitch.