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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, August 11, 2014, 6:27 am

2014 CFO Awards: Pam Fischer, Summit Engineering, Inc.

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    Chief financial officer

    463 Aviation Blvd., Ste. 200, Santa Rosa 95403; 707-636-9153; summit-sr.com

    Employees: 38

    Professional background: Nineteen years with Summit Engineering, after working at a certified public accounting firm and in private companies.

    Pam Fischer

    I grew up in Florida and ended up in Northern California just before my 21st birthday. I studied music and accounting at Sonoma State University and worked for a CPA in Marin County during college.

    Several jobs later and an eight-year break to raise my family, I answered a part-time bookkeeping ad at Summit Engineering. And the rest is history!

    Education: B.A., Sonoma State University

    Age: 60

    What do you see as the essential role of a financial leader in the current environment?: To communicate financial information to others on the management team as clearly and timely as possible, so that the company can stay on top of any staffing or business decisions that need to be made.

    As the economy continues to improve, the financial leader can help the firm maintain focus on our greatest asset, our employees. The financial leader can be an important contributor to good morale and can lead by example, making sure we treat each person with respect and appreciation, and that we provide training, professional opportunities and the best possible salaries, benefits and rewards that we can.

    What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your industry?: There are more women engineers emerging than ever before. Currently, more than half our engineering staff are women. It is exciting to see more and more opportunities for women to be on leadership tracks in previously male-dominated industries.

    In terms of other industry changes, different opportunities are emerging for engineers to help make a positive difference in the world. For example, as people’s passion and commitment for clean water and waste-to-energy projects grow, our engineers are getting some great opportunities to be a part of many new and exciting projects in these areas.

    Tell us about the particular challenges and opportunities your organization has met in the recent past?: Several years ago, we had an opportunity to work on the largest winery project we had ever been asked to work on. That project presented us with wonderful challenges as well as opportunities to expand what we could offer clients.

    What advice would you give to young emerging financial leaders?: Watch your metrics carefully, and take quick actions to correct your course as soon as you see trouble on the horizon. However, when things are good, be very generous to the folks in your company who work hard to make the money that you get to manage.

    What’s the best advice for weathering today’s economic environment?: Client or customer service is everything, so pay attention to doing that part really right. Be nimble enough to learn or hire new capabilities and to offer a greater diversity of services. Keep building and nurturing relationships that keep you solidly involved in the business community.

    How do you think your business will change in the next five years?: We envision continued success in our work with wineries. We also believe that our water and wastewater division will expand as we receive more opportunities to work on projects requiring that expertise.

    We expect continued growth, larger projects, and more project management opportunities and design-build projects.

    What is a decision you wish you hadn’t made? What did you learn from it?: To move to Los Angeles soon after college! I learned that I could never actually live in L.A. What was I thinking?

    What is your most memorable business experience?: The first time I was invited into a shareholders’ meeting to present company finances and metrics. A revered architecture and engineering management consultant from San Francisco who had mentored me was also in the meeting, and I felt like I had somehow graduated. I was nervous and proud all at once.

    What is your greatest business success?: Becoming a principal at Summit.

    What was your toughest business decision?: The decisions around downsizing during 2008–2009 were the toughest decisions of my career and of Summit’s history.

    What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?: That my friend Fran and I performed as an acoustic duo during college. We wrote original songs for two guitars and harmonized around the county. A whole lot of years ago, after some amazing chocolate cake at Raffa’s, you could have heard us as you sipped a mocha at The Last Great Hiding Place in Cotati.

    Most admired businessperson outside the company: Melinda Gates

    Current reading: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

    Most want to meet: Pastor Andy Stanley and Shawn Colvin

    Stress relievers: Chocolate, kayaking, meditation and more chocolate

    Favorite activities outside work: Hanging out with my family and friends, writing music and writing chapters for my novel

    Is there anything we may have missed that you would like to add?: Summit has given me many opportunities to grow both personally and professionally. I love my job, because I’m a geek and love numbers. But more than that, I thoroughly enjoy the people and the connections we make at work. I can definitely say they are my work family. I am honored and grateful to be a part of the story of Summit’s success.

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