Erin Callan: CFO As Media Celebrity

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The Wall Street Journal ran a profile over the weekend of Erin Callan, the 42-year old chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers, just in time for the six months semi-versary of her promotion to the c-suite. Many on Wall Street were skeptical of Callan stepping into the role. She started out with several strikes against her: she started her career as a lawyer, she has very little formal hardcore financial accounting experience and her frequent appearances on television had led many to suspect she was more of an extremely well-paid spokesperson than a hands-on executive. Oh, and there's this whole women-on-Wall Street thing too.
More after the jump.


According to the Journal she seems to be overcoming those challenges. Susanne Craig writes that Callan is "emerging as a galvanizing force at Lehman and a finance chief who topples much of the conventional wisdom about CFOs."
But there are also some warning signs. "She receives a slimmer daily financial summary than her predecessors, relying more on data from the trading-floor contacts built during her 13-year Lehman career," Craig writes.
"We have a lot of great finance people here," she says. "In the CFO seat in this environment, I find it is important to be able to look at the sum total of the information quickly and test conclusions as well as read the reports on my desk."
That sounds like the kind of management-by-delegation that has gotten a bad reputation on Wall Street over the past couple of years. It's seen as one of the roots of the downfall of Bear Stearns.
Is she getting a bad wrap as being more of a media star than an CFO star? We've come across Callan a couple of times, and she seems extremely smart. She started as a lawyer, but she was a tax lawyer. Those are usually the smartest people at law firms.* And we're impressed by her blue-collar roots: her father was a police man. This isn't someone who has come up through family connections.
Oh, and we know we're totally not supposed to say this kind of thing, but if there isn't a rule that says any article about Callan needs to include a picture of her in a skirt--well, there should be.
*Note: DealBreaker editor John Carney was an M&A and finance lawyer. But he did really well in the tax classes in law school, and totally could have been a tax lawyer if he wanted too. No, really, he could have.
Lehman's Straight Shooter [Wall Street Journal]

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