Rising to the challenge
Jenny Lorf Cederstrom, BBA ’94, is no stranger to challenge. In fact, she thrives on new challenges. The chief financial officer for the Southeastern Michigan Chapter of the American Red Cross, Cederstrom was named to Crain’s Detroit Business 40 Under 40 list in 2011.
What are some of the accomplishments, which placed Cederstrom on the Crain’s listing? She consolidated the financial operations for the Red Cross’s Detroit chapter and 11 other chapters outside of the Detroit area within just seven months of starting as CFO. This central financial unit is called the Center of Expertise. She implemented digital systems into the financial operations area and trained staff on new procedures. The new Center of Expertise saved 10 percent in costs and came in at more than $650,000 below budget.
Behind these significant accomplishments is also a significant investment in process. “Our first line of business was to consolidate the 11 chapters,” says Cederstrom. “Yet, as a new person, I needed to complete a thorough review of the internal controls and processes. The last thing that I wanted to do was impose the controls of the Detroit chapter on other chapters if they were not effective.”
Cederstrom describes taking a “deep dive” into the Detroit chapter’s processes. “Detroit had very good internal controls in place; however, they were extremely manual” says Cederstrom. “We leveraged technology to create efficiencies, so processes were less paper-bound and more streamlined. We created a new electronic payroll system and a web-based SharePoint site for sharing information between chapters, and once the structure was in place, we rolled out the new plans for consolidation.”
Cederstrom is quick to point out that this type of project is a team effort. “I have an incredible finance team, and the team members were an instrumental part of the project from day one,” says Cederstrom. “We could not have accomplished what we did if we had not had a strong team in place.”
Recently returning to the Haworth College of Business to serve as Professor of the Day for the Department of Accountancy, Cederstrom offered advice to business students.
“I emphasized knowing yourself and being true to yourself,” says Cederstrom. “You want to find an organization that values your strengths, so understanding your own strengths in terms of competencies and skill set is key. I also encouraged students to ‘pay it forward’ by giving back to the University and their home communities once they have graduated. I wanted them to think about how someone with a background in accounting or finance can bring value to a community. For example, being involved as the treasurer of your church or joining a non-profit finance committee can be a great way to give to your local community. I do this for organizations that have a mission/cause that I am passionate about, and I encouraged students to give back to their local communities through their unique skills.”
Great advice from a successful alum for a future batch of 40 Under 40 business leaders in the making!