The life of Andrea Green, CPA, CGMA has been anything but dull. She began her career in public accounting at Deloitte, followed by a post at a nonprofit school near Boston and then at America Online, which she helped grow into a technology powerhouse. Her last stint began 13 years ago, when she landed a job the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. This large civil rights organization provided the perfect opportunity for Green to meld her passion for diversity and equality with her professional expertise.
During her already interesting career, she took a few unexpected detours, enrolling in L’Academie de Cuisine, a culinary school near Washington, D.C., and running a pet store in Key West, Fla., both two-year stints.
Green, now a single mother of two young children, has learned much from her diverse professional opportunities over the past 29 years—and shares her story on what keeps her going.
After starting your career at Deloitte, and graduating from cooking school, you unexpectedly landed the job at America Online. How did this happen?
My brother had gotten a job at this company called AOL, and told me a staff accountant was needed. I applied, had my interview, and baked the CFO a lemon pound cake as a thank you. I did not yet know what the internet was, this was the pre-Internet boom and I had no idea the ride I was in for. I was there from 1995 to 2001, when AOL bought out Time Warner, so it was a very intense six years. I started out as a staff accountant. It was a startup mentality and was growing and booming.
What was your main role as finance director at AOL?
To grow the finance function for online advertising. There was a lot of pressure, and we had to project revenue, figure out what deals were in the pipeline, and what percentage of the deals would close. When I started at AOL there was no such thing as online ad revenue. AOL’s main revenue stream was subscription-based. But then it became apparent that online advertising was the new revenue stream. That’s when the Interactive Marketing department was created and I was invited to move there from the accounting department to help grow that division.
How did this experience change your life?
When I went into that department, there were only three of us, and when I left, I had 37 people reporting to me. When I started, advertising revenue was about $30 million, and by the time I left it was over $1 billion. I got to build a department, forecast the new revenue stream, develop systems and keep track of revenue and contracts. We had to figure out how to integrate the information we were getting and send it to accounting to record. The deals that were being made were new and sometimes multi-year, and some were exclusive and had different deliverables. We spent a lot of time forecasting revenue. There was a lot of interest in what was coming down the pike and in the exponential growth that was happening. An entire sales force and business development team was created to sell the ads and make the deals and we had to track it all. We also had to figure out commissions-based sales by salesperson and that was a whole new system as well. It was an amazing opportunity. We would work until 2 to 4 in the morning, usually preparing for senior management meetings with sales projections and for shareholder calls. The information we provided had to be up-to-the-minute and accurate, as it could have an impact on stock price.
It was like nothing I will ever experience again. We knew we were changing the way the world communicated. I remember going into a staff meeting and the man who invented instant messaging was giving a talk. We were there, live, as it was happening. They used to announce over the loudspeaker in the office the number of subscribers as we hit new milestones, and we would all cheer and then get right back to work. It was a very exciting time.
You quickly were thrust into leadership at AOL. What is your leadership style?
I give a lot of autonomy and trust people. I want them to leave with more skills than when they came. I empower my staff. I truly believe that if you empower people and give them the tools and resources, that they can do anything if they really want to be successful.
What did you learn about yourself in this process?
I was tested beyond anything I ever thought I would be doing at that age. I had been in public accounting, and worked for the school, and here I was thrown into a public company — and I realized I could do anything with my basis in accounting. I could create a finance function because I had had such good training at Deloitte and with my clients. I could walk into something I had never done before and could create it. I was given a chance to do something amazing and rose to the occasion. There was a real sense of pride that we created something from scratch. It was very powerful for me. We worked so hard during those years. The pressure to deliver financial data was intense and had implications to the organization. It was such rapid growth and we were building it as we went along. What we did had never been done before. It was hard — very rewarding, but very, very hard.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful in so many endeavors, especially at AOL and HRC?
Have you read any of those books on grit? The concept of grit is that the more you accomplish, the better you get at doing it. When I set my goal to become a CPA, I did it. And I knew if I could do that, I’d do the next thing. When the job at HRC showed up, I thought, “I could get this.” It was a confidence that came from accomplishing my goals, and I knew I could do it if I just tried. I consider myself very lucky, but it’s also been a lot of hard work.
After a 2-year stint as a pet store owner, you went back into accounting and joined HRC. Why?
I came back and very purposely wanted to work for a nonprofit. It turns out HRC is three blocks from my house in DC, and is a cause that I believe in. I’m gay, and so this was a mingling of my personal and professional life. Every day I walk through the door and I feel good about what I get to do, working for a cause we believe in and making a difference. We are changing the world to educate people about diversity and equality. I am thrilled every day to come to work. It is very rewarding.
What is your current role at HRC?
I run the finance department and the day-to-day operations which includes tracking grants, recording revenue, processing payroll, budgeting, political and lobbying compliance reporting, and banking and cash management. I have done this for over 13 years. We are progressing and automating, with one goal to go paperless. This is where my technology background—setting up systems—comes in handy. In a nonprofit, it is important to channel as many funds as possible to the program work, and my department gets to make the administrative side streamlined and easier, so there are no pain points and HRC can focus on making the world a better place.
What has been your biggest challenge during your career?
Probably staying up to date on technology and making sure I don’t fall behind — learning about different software and tools, so I can bring the best to HRC and make sure that I stay current on what is out there in order to make it better.
What advice would you give to young accounting and finance professionals?
To go for it. Aim high. Find the things where you can make a difference, and do it. I have a rule that I only work where the graphs go up, and I’ve been selective. I want to work where there is growth and change and innovation. That is what motivates me and inspires me.
You seem to have many passions. Is there any passion that stands out?
I don’t know if I have one thing — all of it makes me a better person and a more productive worker. I’m passionate about cooking; it made my life better. After running a small business, I’m more empathetic to people; at HRC we have a retail component and I understand what they go through. Today, I get to do something that is rewarding and I’m lucky enough to get paid to do it.
Right now, I have my kids and I’m a full-time single mom, so it is also instilling in my children how to be good people and to find their passions, because that is what brings us joy. I have had the fortunate opportunity to find lots of joy in my life.