Kathy Lockhart – VP-Controller, Noodles & Company

Shooting hoops: How basketball compares to business

Six-foot Kathy Lockhart, CPA, CGMA boasts numerous successes in life. She has served as an executive at numerous public and private companies, primarily in the restaurant industry. In the early ‘90s Lockhart passed the CPA exam. In 2006, she stepped into her current role as vice president and controller at Colorado-based Noodles & Company, a publicly traded corporation that owns 450 eating establishments nationwide. She also obtained her CGMA designation along the way, and serves on numerous committees and nonprofit boards. 

Last year she also was one of 22 people selected to partake in the Colorado Governor’s Fellowship program. While there, she and others learned about state government, spent time with the governor, and met with his cabinet members and state senators. 

Despite these notable accomplishments, few things electrify Lockhart more than basketball. She played the sport in high school, where she was an all-conference player and team captain. At Western State Colorado University, she was twice recognized as a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Academic All American, and was team captain during her senior year. With basketball, she said, she learned leadership skills and how to create a winning team. 

Here’s what Lockhart had to say about her work, her management approach, and what she discovered about business by playing basketball for years:

What do you do on a daily basis at Noodles & Company? 
My day-to-day activities normally revolve around which of my teams need support. Although I am quick to jump in on any task should my teams need it, I really am a sounding board for my team and always provide guidance on priorities and projects.  My direct reports include corporate accounting, tax and fixed assets, risk management and operations accounting. As a member of the senior leadership team, I am involved in developing the strategic vision of the company and most importantly, my department.  

What was your route to becoming an accounting/finance professional? 
I graduated with degrees in business administration and political science along with a minor in accounting. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer or accountant. I went to a semester of law school and for a myriad of reasons that did not work out.  I began working at Target stores as an area manager, inside their locations. At Target, I got a trial by fire of being a leader. I loved it. I took a step back to get my CPA and restart my career.  My first official accounting position was as a bookkeeper/receptionist and I worked my way up to the controller at a small public oil and gas firm. I have spent the majority of my career at restaurants and retail and quickly obtained a VP-Controller role.

Why is the CGMA designation important?
With the CGMA designation, there is finally a route that is focused on business and industry.  It’s important that CPAs like me get the designation and let others that are coming up in their careers know why it is important. The designation will help them, since it relates to financial roles outside of public accounting. If they do not want to work at a CPA firm and are deciding that their path is taking them into business and industry, they can showcase the competencies they have mastered while they are interviewing.

What is your leadership style, and how do you implement change at your company?
My style is one of collaboration. I am always partnering with my team members to help them finish what they need to do, and encouraging them and helping them with their own development. I also love a very flexible work environment. If you are flexible with people, it can be a powerful tool to ensure job satisfaction and ensure retention of the team.  It is a non-tangible benefit that has truly worked well for me.

Implementing change can be tricky.  The key is to engage everyone in solving the problem so that you have buy in.  Getting buy in will involve great communication throughout the process of identifying areas for change through the actual implementation of the change.  

How has basketball helped you as a leader? 
Basketball teaches you how to be a team player. Regardless of how you feel about everybody on your team, you have to figure out how to play with them to be successful, and that has been true for every job I have been in, and it gave me great insight, and helped me hone my leadership skills. I was on teams where we had a huge dichotomy between two groups—but we came together, and we had the most successful seasons. You have to trust each other, especially when you might not have the best camaraderie. You can still get people to sign on and do it, if you do it the right way. 

Also, basketball teaches persistence, and getting up when you fail, and taking ownership and responsibility for your part of what happens on a team, whether it is good or bad. 

Why is teamwork so vital in the workplace?
We can’t get things done and companies can’t be successful if people are only doing their job, and if they don’t understand how it impacts the whole. The most successful companies are much more collaborative. Noodles has had a rough go of it in the last year, and we have had to lay some people off, and that left some team members with bad feelings. I figured out that what my team needed was communication, so now we have a standup meeting every week, and that has opened up communication.  Each team member has time to share what they are working on and what their challenges are.  We provide support to one another and have changed the attitude on the team, from distress over our not-so-stellar performance to a collaboration that proves we can get through this together!  It’s been one of the best successes in my career.  

Outside of work, what causes spark your passion?
I am passionate about both education and animals.  One of the gifts I have—and what nonprofits need—is the financial acumen. I feel blessed that I understand how financial statements work and how a board works and not many people have that knowledge.  It has been satisfying for me to bring that expertise and help those boards out. I like to be able to give back to the community. 

What advice would you give to young CPAs and CGMAs as they figure out their career paths?
You need to make sure it is your path. People will give you a lot of advice, and you will want to try and do everything. You need to take your time, and find the place you fit in the best. Many people told me that I needed to spend more time at one of the Big 8 accounting firms. That was not my path. I wanted my CPA, but I loved being in a company, having one place to go. 

Also, you will watch others possibly have more success than you on a different path, and you may be tempted to follow their path. That is where you need to understand yourself. Do you like CPA firms? Big firms or small firms? Or would you rather be at a company—big, small, public, or private? Talking to others about their paths will help, but always put yourself and your goals first and find your very own path and you will be satisfied and successful.