I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Tina Correia, the Vice President-Chief of Staff to the Office of the CEO at Lam Research. Before accepting the role of Chief of Staff, Tina had over 14 years of experience in Finance at Lam Research.
During this interview, Tina discusses the broad scope of her new role, the benefits of being open to change and nontraditional career moves, and the best way to start a career in finance. She also touches on the challenges of finding balance while being a successful working mom.
Leslie Boudreaux: Congratulations on your new role as Chief of Staff! Can you explain what this means at Lam Research?
Tina Correia: There are three main priorities in this job: The first is leading certain strategic initiatives for the company and aligning the executive team to achieve these strategic initiatives. The second is the management system of the company, including how we’re structured and operating. And the third is ensuring the CEO and COO are at the right places at the right times and addressing what is needed for the company. For example, should they be meeting with this employee base in one location or paying attention to this customer over here, etc.
How would you know that?
I’m involved in everything that our CEO and COO do, including all the business reviews, strategic planning for the company, and organizational agendas. I’m a “right-hand person” to the executives, though it’s not an administration role.
That sounds scary and like a big change from finance. Had you ever thought about doing this before?
No – this was not on my roadmap for my career path. It is a big and somewhat scary job, because I provide input on strategic opportunities for the company, the results of which could shape the future of Lam. On the contrary, I also get to do fun things like advising on the best venue for an employee recognition event. The range of things a CEO deals with on a daily basis is wide, and there is a constant need to quickly flex between tactical and strategic decisions. It’s all new to me, but I’m learning a lot.
This is a very broad role. What are you are most excited about?
I think the first is making an impact on the direction of the company. The second would be, as a finance person, becoming a better business partner after having this operational insight.
I assume this is going to give you a lot more visibility outside of finance.
Yes, and it’s also a testament to the fact that there’s not one path to get to a certain role. About a year and a half ago, we embarked on the KLA-Tencor acquisition, and I was asked to lead the due diligence activities prior to the announcement of the potential merger. I did that, and then after the deal was announced, I was asked to lead the integration efforts of the entire company. I initially struggled with the decision because I was worried that it would take me off my finance career path.
Because it was going to be a full-time job?
Yes, and clearly not in finance, right? I was worried about how that would fit in with my long-term goals, so I was really hesitant to take it on. I ultimately decided to do it, and looking back, even though the merger didn’t transpire, it was one of the most valuable things I’ve done for my career.
Sometimes, the things we are most worried about turn out to be the most valuable.
After that experience, when the Chief of Staff position came up, I didn’t even hesitate. I thought, “Oh yes. That sounds good!”
You had the confidence then because it worked out before.
Correct. I learned a ton about the company’s operations and business units in the integration role, and I remained in finance while doing it. Now, with the Chief of Staff position, I think I will gain insight into the company that very few people get. This experience is invaluable for all executive positions – no matter what the function.
You’ve spoken about what you’re the most excited about, but what are the aspects that scare you the most?
Right now, it’s the balance between trying to think about the people I support and reacting how they would react in different situations. I’m a direct extension of our CEO, so I have to behave that way. I need to get up to speed quickly and not just be a “yes-person,” but also challenge and advise our chief executives. I’m sensitive about assimilating quickly enough to add value in the role. That’s hard.
I’m sure you want to be effective ASAP. How are you getting up to speed?
Part of it is spending time with Martin [Anstice, CEO], but I’m also a student. I’m studying internal presentations, dialogues with the executive team, and communications to our employee base., Then, I’m talking the time to reflect on those things. I’m finding that there is a lot more thinking and reflection in this position.
Do you have any direct reports in this role and how many are you used to having?
I will have one or two direct reports to manage on the operations side for the company. In my prior Business Finance position, there were about 80 people in my group, and I had 6 direct reports.
What do you think about that change from managing a large group to, more or less, being an individual contributor?
I actually think it’s less about what I’m losing and more about what I’m gaining, in terms of the eight thousand people I could have an impact on for the benefit of the company.
That’s a great way to look at it.
I also feel I’ll be leveraged more as a mentor and advisor, so I get to use my influence and people management skills in new ways.
You don’t get tapped for a job like this without building an incredible reputation in the company. After 14 years, starting as Assistant Corporate Controller and moving to your current role, what has it been like to watch the company grow to over $6 billion in revenue?
We are on a trajectory to be almost at $8 billion in revenue for this fiscal year, which is tremendous growth. When I first started, I had some anxiety about being in a fairly narrow, technical role because I eventually wanted to do different things. I was upfront about this in the interview process and there was no hesitation when I was hired. Lam is committed to offering employees new experiences to make them more well-rounded individuals.
However, I never anticipated the growth of the company. It’s been exciting for me, and others, to influence and make an impact on the company as it has moved forward. It’s been challenging at times because we’re constantly asking ourselves how to scale. We can’t do things the same way we’ve done them in the past, and we have to develop solutions fast or else we won’t be able to deliver the profit that people expect. It’s a good challenge to have.
What do you think has enabled you to be successful in the company after all this growth?
First of all, being curious and interested in continuous learning. Also, being open to lateral moves has helped. People shouldn’t be so tied to moving up the ladder because as the company grows, you are naturally going to move up with it.
Finally, not being afraid to ask questions is important, because the more you learn, the more you are viewed as valuable in the company. I think I learned that later than I would have liked, but it’s the key to building relationships.
When I started, I was somewhat siloed in finance, but as I’ve taken on more responsibilities that touch multiple people and have delivered results, I’ve built more relationships in the company. This makes my job easier, and I find that others want to tap into my expertise as much as I want to tap into theirs.
How did you make that happen?
Just by reaching out, I found people willing to talk. It just requires having the curiosity and guts to ask. I think sometimes there’s a fear that the person is not going to be interested since they see me as an “xyz finance person.” However, the desire is out there, and other people could have the same fear that you do about themselves.
What was the best decision you’ve made in your career so far?
I think doing different things in and out of finance. Now, more and more CFOs are business partners tapped to do strategy for the company and not just forecasting and compliance.
I’d recommend not to focus on only one area of finance and accounting but to get new and different experiences. For example, maybe there’s a project in treasury you could do, or look for other things to work on that don’t require moving organizations. Lam is very open to those types of rotational opportunities.
What advice would you give younger professionals on how to succeed and manage their careers?
Make sure to network, not just internally but externally as well. I do more of this today than I used to and recognize that it’s time well-spent. It’s hard to fit it in, though. You’ve got to carve out the appropriate amount of time to network and make it part of your schedule because it’s very important for your career.
It’s also important to seek out different experiences. This is your career and you are in charge of it. Don’t expect others to do it for you.
Do you think that starting in public accounting is the right thing to do?
Yes! No question about it. First of all, in audit you have to be inquisitive and a problem solver. This skill set is invaluable, and you can extract it for almost any job. Second, the exposure to different industries builds an appreciation of different business models. , And third, the managerial experience you get early on is very unique. Unless times have changed, you’re managing staff in the second year of the job. I’d advise anyone who is interested in a career in finance to spend some time in public accounting.
When you hire finance people now, what is the number one thing you look for?
And how are you judging that?
I judge it in terms of how the person has viewed his or her role in their prior position. Are they focused on delivering a report or delivering a recommendation that comes with a report? I ask, “What did you do with that information?” or “What was your observation?” I think you get this experience in public accounting.
You might develop that skill in public accounting if you stay long enough. How long were you there?
I was there seven years. I made manager a year early, and then went to the headquarters in Montvale [New Jersey] for 18 months to work on KPMG’s new audit process.
There’s another example of trying something new.
Yes, I did something different that was not part of the traditional career path. I never would’ve thought I wanted to go work in Montvale, but it turned out to be one of the more valuable things I’ve done because of the relationships I’ve built all across the country.
Let’s shift gears and talk about leadership. How would you define a great leader?
Okay, this is actually me plagiarizing from Lam; leadership is about creating positive change. You have to have a vision for architecting positive change for the organization that you are leading. Whether it’s about the development of your people or more effective processes, setting an end goal for what that organization needs to be doing or where the company needs to be.
What challenges do you think women face in business?
I think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table, and we have to take steps to make that happen. Also, you need to make sure you are asking questions and not afraid to speak up or take risks when you are contributing.
Do you think that has to do with a lack of confidence?
I think so. I’ve led some women initiatives in Lam and overall we need to share experiences and be more supportive of each other. This helps us have a sense of community and grow professionally.
What do you mean by that?
Just being mindful of speaking up when we have the right seat at the table. If I see that women in the room are not contributing, I try to help them find their voice and contribute in the way I know they can.
Can you touch on being a successful working mom? I know you have a young family. How are you managing that along with everything else you are doing at work?
I think it’s important not to bite off more than you can chew. You can’t have a networking dinner every night and still be successful on the home front. Family life is important for many people, not just women. For me, it’s about being realistic on when I can be at things and when I can’t and sticking to those decisions. I’m also working on being present more often.
Being more present when you’re at home?
Yeah, I need to remember to put the device away. You can’t preach to kids to get off their phones if you’re also on the phone. I don’t know if I have the magic formula for that. I try to set boundaries – but it’s not an easy thing to do.
Do you feel that your girls are absorbing what you’re doing as a successful working mother and that you are setting a good example for them?
I hope my girls are absorbing that they can do anything they put their minds to, and it takes effort to be successful at any role one decides to take.
We had a “Bring Your Kids to Work” day, and they made a video of it that’s on YouTube. At some point during the day the videographer must have asked my daughter, “What would you say to your mom if she were here right now?” Her response was, “Mom I want to thank you for helping the family and for bringing home the money. Keep working hard!”
It was hilarious, so yes, I think I’m setting a good example. However, I hesitate a little because I don’t think there’s only one answer. I’m learning as I go and am trying not to dwell. If you recognize a choice you made was not the best way to handle something, just correct it for next time because you can’t go back. Sometimes, I wonder whether there is balance. We make choices. You’ve just got to figure out the right balance of choices for yourself.
Thank you so much!