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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Here’s The Path I Took to Become CFO

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Linghe Zhao/ Getty Images

When you’re a few years into your career, it’s hard to imagine yourself having a seat at the table making decisions that impact a billion dollar global business.

Eric Hession felt the same way.

He started his career as an engineer, and then realized after getting an MBA that maybe he was doing the wrong thing. So he and his wife moved to Las Vegas, and Eric moved in a different direction, taking a job with Harrah’s (now part of Caesars Entertainment), as a senior analyst in the corporate planning department.

Fourteen years later, he runs all financial activity for Caesars Entertainment worldwide as CFO—a gig he landed with the same openness to change that he had at the start of his career journey. Because, like many of us who might sometimes wonder if where we’re at now will put us in the right place down the road, he decided to stay eager and keep building new skills.

Solve the Problem, Get the Gig

For Eric’s first move within the company, he wanted to differentiate himself by getting experience on the property side, and he became the Director of Planning at Harrah’s and its sister property, Rio. Within a year, Harrah’s bought Caesars, and his portfolio expanded from two properties to six.

“That really changed our dynamic,” he remembers. “The companies prioritized different things, so merging the teams and building an effective group was very interesting.”

Eric had a major challenge in front of him. The companies had two distinctive cultures—for instance, Harrah’s used a highly analytical approach, while the Caesars group made many decisions based on gut. Eric stood somewhere in the middle, but pressed for change, and after a year and a half, the planning group was running smoothly.

The revenue management department, however, struggled to come together (If you’ve ever managed a team during a crisis, you likely understand how difficult that can be.) Eric expressed his concerns to the president of operations. His response: “Do you think you can do that job?”

While many people might have been intimidated by that sentence (after all, Eric knew he didn’t have revenue experience), he decided that this was this chance to do something different.

“I’d picked up skills along the way that gave me and senior management confidence that I could do the job,” he says. “You want to develop as broad a skill set as possible, because you don’t know what will come along.”

Building Your Skill Set, Shape Your Future

No matter what position Eric had, he was always trying to learn more about the company, about his co-workers, and about the work that needed to be done to make him successful and ultimately get him where he wanted to be.

Eric says than when you’re always improving your skills, you won’t be afraid of your future.

“I encourage people to be very flexible and keep their interests varied,” he says. “People always want a career path. They like certainty. But there are lots of different ways to get there. Taking a risk, a job that’s not exactly what you wanted, can ultimately get you farther along.”

That means, take the unattractive assignment, push on when people tell you no and keep developing the things that can create opportunity for you in your career. After all, there isn’t a clear path to getting ahead. And that’s probably a good thing.

Even Uncertain Paths Need Constants

Eric is quick to mention that his path isn’t the only one; in fact, his predecessors took different routes than he did, but what he sees as constant is the people. Mastering his people skills has helped him become an expert problem solver.

“One thing I learned early on is you have to be clear about expectations for the team and set a culture where people are willing to come to you with issues,” he shares. “Otherwise the problems become too big to solve.”