Women’s History Month Spotlight: Jennifer Whalen
In honor of Women's History Month, Bristow is shining a spotlight on the women who make Bristow soar. This interview features Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Whalen.
Talk about your role at Bristow and what are you currently working on?
As Bristow's chief financial officer, I am responsible for all the financial functions within Bristow. This includes Accounting, Tax, Finance, Treasury, Corporate Development and Internal Audit. We are a support function and the work we do helps facilitate the business it its day to day operations.
My team and I are currently continuing work on the integration. There is significant work that is part of the integration for system implementation to move Legacy Era to SAP. In addition to this work, throughout this process, we ensure everything is reported to external and internal customers appropriately.
What is a recent success you're particularly proud of?
We closed on a debt offering on February 25. The process began quite a while ago, when we went into debt market community to gauge interest. We spoke with banks on a regular basis, even pre-merger. We initially were told there wasn't much of a market for us due to unfavorable market conditions. However, once we proved ourselves through the merger and showed we were unique, we gained enough interest to start working on a transaction.
With this private offering, we raised $400 million. We used these funds for several purposes: we paid off some outstanding debt, pushed out maturities by seven years and we reduced the amount of mandatory amortization we would have had to pay. These actions give us more operational efficiency and flexibility for moving aircraft around, which supports our strategic priorities of Be Efficient and Protect Our Financial Stability.
What in your background prepared you for this assignment?
I began my career in public accounting around the year 2000, during the financial crisis created by the tech industry. During this time, I worked through all sorts of challenges and struggled. I started my career in Seattle, where the economy was not doing well from the financial crisis. Many of our clients were disappearing and others were struggling. As an auditor, I had to navigate companies and people who were quite stressed by this new environment.
I went on to work at a couple of high-tech manufacturing companies and was at one of them during the Recession of 2007/2008. This created much stress as revenues decreased and we had to watch costs very carefully.
I started in aviation in 2012. In my time in aviation and my previous experiences, I've learned a lot about going through the struggles of economic cycles, how the business runs, how to be cost efficient and how to prioritize properly in a challenged environment.
What are some challenges you've faced in your career? How did you overcome them?
Early in my career, I worked for a start-up company making high powered lasers. This company was using its cash to reinvest in the business. Therefore, there was significant cash usage that had to be managed. As in all businesses, cash must be managed, but when your strategy is reinvestment, you have to be even more careful about how to deploy assets. So, we had to be smart and efficient in our use of the resources from the company.
While I was at the laser company, I built a global team. We had started as a small team in the U.S. and a team in Shanghai, and we grew it to include other areas and a more robust Corporate team. Throughout the growth journey with that company, we faced significant challenges, especially in figuring out how to do more with less and how to function globally. Sound familiar? As we all know very well, we must have ingenuity to solve problems like this!
Who inspires you (work, personal and / or historical)?
My mom is my biggest inspiration. She ran an auto parts store for 40 years. She was the only woman in that industry when she started working there in the late 1970s. She was a single mom with two kids, and she worked incredibly hard. She was the person behind the counter who was there to help customers. When the men came in for their auto parts, it wasn't uncommon for them to be surprised to see a woman running the store. When they asked for someone to help them, my mom's answer of, "I can help you with whatever you need here," regularly took customers off guard. She knew her stuff! When people assumed she didn't have the knowledge and expertise for the position, she proved them wrong every time! She showed me I could do literally anything.
When she went to auto parts conferences, it was always working men with their wives. She was always the only woman in the business. People underestimated her and she proved them wrong every step of the way. I am proud and honored to have a family history of blazing the trail in a male-dominated industry!
What advice do you have for women just beginning their career?
Be bold. Don't be intimidated. I know it's easy to say and hard to do, but it's so important! You have good ideas – share them! You may think they aren't great, but your ideas could have a huge positive impact on your team, your company, your community, the world! You have so much potential – but you need to speak up to realize that potential. The first step is to speak your ideas.
Make yourself stand out. Be ready with an interesting story that will make people remember who you are. Everyone has something interesting in their background that helps people remember. As an example, "Oh, that is the person that rock climbs in their spare time."
Work hard is always on my list. Do the best job you can. There is no substitute for hard work or a job well done.
What is unique about your journey to your current role?
I joined the U.S. Army straight out of high school at age 17. I joined with the goal of putting myself through college with the Army College Fund and GI Bill. No one in my family was in the military, so it was a big deal for me to go against the grain. When I started to go to college, I had to declare a major to receive the college money from the Army. I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do, but I know I wanted to do something in business. I picked accounting because I thought business was too general. That put me on my current path.
In the Army, I was a small arms and unit supply specialist. In this role, I made sure everyone had pens, pencils, toilet paper and any other general supplies needed. I also took care of all the weapons. This gave me my initial taste of logistics and supply chain.
The Army had a huge impact on me. The responsibility I learned during my service years is still an important part of my life. I still get up at 5am and work out most days. I also still put a high value on punctuality, which is a huge value in the Army.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to read, especially crime fiction and thriller novels. It's an escape for me. I also walk several miles several times a week. It's important to me to get the refreshment of sunshine, fresh air and moving my body!