Lindsey Branston - Director of Financial Operations, BMW Car Club of America

Passion for performance: A CGMA’s perspective

Lindsey Branston, CPA, CGMA, is director of financial operations for the 70,000-member BMW Car Club of America and director of finance for the club’s charitable foundation in Greenville, S.C.

What’s your passion?
I’ve been fortunate to join an organization where my passion for strategy and financial analysis fit hand in glove with my love for cars and driving. As a CGMA, I know many financial strategies work on paper, but success depends on a deep understanding of how the club operates and of our members’ needs and desires. Our members are BMW enthusiasts—I’m one too. I go to car events all over the world to keep my finger on the pulse of BMW owner culture. Both my husband and I drive BMWs: an X5 SUV and a 435 convertible. Like many of our members, there’s a car I dream about owning. For me it’s an E9, a coupe built from 1968 to 1975.

How did you end up in a finance job for BMW?
When I was in public accounting, I worked with the BMW Car Club doing their audits. Then I started my own accounting firm and contracted with the club to provide financial management services. Since becoming a CGMA, I’ve expanded the work that I’ve done with the club and the foundation.

What are the keys to your success?
BMW owners—our members—tend to be people of influence. They have high performance expectations of their cars and of their car club too. Knowing this, I’m always looking to increase my own skills to make the organization stronger. The CGMA groups competencies into: technical, business, people and leadership. All of these are necessary for a finance director or CFO. In my case, because I started my career in public accounting, I had a strong technical background and a pretty strong business background too. So, I’ve focused on developing my people and leadership skills—these are key to my success in advising our executive director and board and in working with business partners.

If you could name just one skill…
Skills-wise, an analytical mind is the most important thing to have. It’s like tuning a car—not just the engine but the whole car. Everything that you're doing, you’ve constantly got to be looking at it from different angles—thinking strategically. How is this going to affect that? What is the ultimate goal? Why are these details playing into the big picture? The ability to look at things from different angles is not just seeing numbers on the page, but really trying to take in all of the aspects of the business in order to lay into the financial side. Essentially, it’s a combination of skills related to big-picture perspective.

How do you approach communication?
Too often we think of communication in terms of getting your message out to people and persuading them to do what you want. That’s part of it. But it’s not the most important part. The most critical skill for an effective management accountant is the ability to listen to others. Numbers might start a discussion, but people will tell you a story. Keep your eyes and ears open. As you listen you’ll gather knowledge and, more importantly, establish trust—trust that you’ll need when it comes time to persuade people. The CGMA puts a lot of emphasis on communication—it’s critically important.

Advice for people entering the profession?
Don’t be afraid to pursue your passions. When combined with the right competencies and performance, focusing on what you love can lead to a highly rewarding career.