Steering the Ship in Transition: Vanessa Gage’s Journey as an Interim Executive

Vanessa gage journey as interim executive

Introduction

In the recent episode of “The Abstract,” listeners were treated to an insightful conversation with Vanessa Gage, General Counsel and interim CFO at Cedar. This podcast, sponsored by Spot Draft, delved into Vanessa’s unique journey, exploring the challenges and triumphs of simultaneously wearing the hats of a legal leader and finance executive.

The narrative unfolds with a scenario many professionals can relate to – a CFO departure, leaving a void that the CEO suggests the GC can fill temporarily. It’s a situation that, as Vanessa admitted, can be nerve-wracking for those without a finance background. However, for many modern GCs, it presents a golden opportunity to showcase their diverse skill set.

This blog will cover the story of her career, exploring the depths of her experiences. Vanessa’s story is more than simply a personal experience; it’s a tremendous source of inspiration for professionals at similar career crossroads. Vanessa addressed the highs and lows of negotiating the nexus of legal and financial leadership via incidents and thoughts.

The discussion emphasised the necessity of accepting difficulties, grabbing opportunities, and prospering in the fast-paced world of corporate leadership. Vanessa’s thoughts remind us that the contemporary professional must be adaptive, nimble, and eager to go into unexplored territory.

Unexpected Beginnings: Vanessa Gage Shares Her Experience as Interim CFO

In a surprising turn of events, Vanessa Gage found herself at the epicentre of strategic planning for 2024 as the interim CFO of Cedar, a position thrust upon her after the departure of the company’s CFO.

As the company embarked on its 2024 planning, Vanessa, typically the General Counsel, shared how the interim CFO role altered her perspective on strategy. In the podcast, she reflects on the unique depth of involvement required, a departure from the usual legal role in strategic planning processes.

Tyler, the host, skillfully navigates the discussion around Vanessa’s decision-making process. Rather than being driven by title-chasing, Vanessa articulates her commitment to addressing the company’s financial needs during a critical period. Her approach reflects a blend of pragmatism and a genuine desire to contribute to the organization’s success.

The conversation shifts in time to Vanessa’s first interim role as Deputy GC at Opendoor, a transition sparked by the departure of the company’s GC, Beth Stevens. Vanessa opens up about the initial self-doubt and apprehension she faced when stepping into the interim GC role. The podcast delves into the internal struggle Vanessa faced, questioning her readiness for the role and the impact it would have on her established legal team.

The pivotal moment in Vanessa’s story unfolds as Beth Stevens encourages her to take on the challenge, ultimately leading to Vanessa’s realization that interim roles are a unique blend of accountability and responsibility. She shares candidly about the tension between having the authority to fulfill the role and the empowerment needed for success.

A key takeaway from Vanessa’s journey is the importance of asking for the tools and empowerment required to excel in an interim role. She emphasises the hardship of being in a lengthy job  without complete authority to make important choices as she describes her experience.

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The Interim Leader’s Role and Responsibilities

Board members discussing on the interim leader's role and responsibilities

Vanessa’s readiness to step up and take leadership, not for personal recognition, but for the benefit of the company’s well-being, is a recurring motif in her attitudes. Her approach to managing direct reports and building trust within the team underscores her belief in collaborative leadership.

As the conversation unfolds, Vanessa shares her insights into the challenges and rewards of strategic planning in an interim role. Her unique perspective as both General Counsel and interim CFO adds layers to the discussion, providing listeners with valuable takeaways on adaptability and a proactive mindset.

Vanessa’s approach to decision-making, prioritisation, and team building is revealed to listeners, making this episode a treasure mine of leadership learning. Vanessa Gage’s story exemplifies tenacity, adaptation, and a proactive approach, serving as encouragement for professionals facing unfamiliar territory in their professions.

Challenges and Balancing Act

Vanessa kicks off the conversation by delving into the unspoken dynamics that often transcend job competency in corporate settings, particularly during interim roles. Drawing from her own experiences, she highlights the need to read organizational cues and accept the challenges that accompany leadership transitions. Vanessa emphasizes the significance of internalizing these dynamics to surmount mental hurdles, a crucial aspect for success in interim positions.

A key moment in the podcast is Vanessa’s reflection on the mindset shift required in interim leadership. She discusses challenges related to capacity management, team dynamics, and decision-making that balances short-term imperatives with long-term vision. Vanessa’s candid account of her experiences serves as a lighthouse for executives going through similar transitions, providing practical advice and a road map for managing the complexity of interim jobs.

Growth and Development Possibilities

The discussion also delves into the dynamics of senior voices inside a corporation and how Vanessa navigates her duties as both General Counsel (GC) and temporary CFO. She highlights the importance of reassessing and reshuffling voices during executive transitions to ensure that everyone’s perspectives are considered.

Vanessa expresses pride in her finance team at Cedar, commending their efforts in various aspects. She also appreciates her legal and compliance team for their outstanding work, emphasizing the collective effort in achieving success.

In response to a fun question about a recent book, Vanessa shares her enjoyment of reading for fun and recommends “The Wizard’s Butler” by Nathan Lowell, a light-hearted fantasy novel.

Psychological Aspects and Establishing Credibility

Vanessa opens up about the initial self-doubt and apprehension she faced when stepping into the interim GC role. The podcast delves into the internal struggle Vanessa faced, questioning her readiness for the role and the impact it would have on her established legal team.

The pivotal moment in Vanessa’s story unfolds as Beth Stevens encourages her to take on the challenge, ultimately leading to Vanessa’s realization that interim roles are a unique blend of accountability and responsibility. She shares candidly about the tension between having the authority to fulfill the role and the empowerment needed for success.

A key takeaway from Vanessa’s journey is the importance of asking for the tools and empowerment required to excel in an interim role. She emphasises the hardship of being in a lengthy job interview without complete authority to make important choices as she describes her experience.

Making a Long-Term Impression and Planning for Transition

Vanessa’s story exemplifies tenacity, adaptation, and a proactive approach, serving as encouragement for individuals facing unfamiliar territory in their professions. Vanessa, as she prepares to return to her post as General Counsel, leaves a lasting impression not just on Cedar, but also on the larger professional community, by sharing her wealth of experiences and views.

If you are a first-time general counsel, then our article on “Steps To Guaranteed Success For First-Time General Counsels” will be super helpful for you!

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