Based on her experience as former CFO at Lyft, Amazon Studios and Hulu, Elaine Paul provided insights and lessons she has learned. She encouraged business leaders to seize opportunities, embrace lifelong learning, and be prepared for the highs and lows of modern finance and business.
January 25, 2024
By Miya Hillesland
In the dynamic world of finance and leadership, the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) has evolved significantly over the years. Elaine Paul, an experienced executive who has held the CFO position in high-profile businesses - Lyft, Amazon Studios, and Hulu – provided firsthand perspective at the Tandy Executive Speaker Series on the continuing transformation.
TCU Neeley School of Business hosts North Texas business leaders to connect a broad mix of thought leadership and networking. TCU Neeley Interim Dean Hettie Richardson led the hourlong fireside chat with Paul as she educated the crowd on the evolving expectations and responsibilities of modern CFOs.
Paul’s professional journey spans more than 20 years, leaving an indelible mark on companies like The Walt Disney Company, Hulu, Amazon Studios, and Lyft. Her early experience at Disney involved combining business and entertainment, utilizing analytical tools in the entertainment industry, which led to her implementing strategic planning efforts.
“Lifelong learning is extremely important because the industry changes so fast,” Paul said. “It just keeps getting faster and faster and you need to keep up.”
Paul said the transformation of the CFO role has moved beyond traditional financial management. In the modern business world, CFOs are expected to deliver cross-functional insights that incorporate business development, corporate strategy, data, and most importantly, leadership.
Paul explained, “It’s not merely about balancing the books. It’s about stepping up and being a strategic partner in decision making.”
Richardson agreed with Paul’s insights and added, “The current career trajectory is no longer linear.” As a result, Richardson encourages students to curate their own professions and be prepared for the ever-changing professional aspects that inform their career choices.
Paul’s mantra “evolve or die” echoes throughout her career, reflecting the imperative nature of adaptation in the fast-paced business world.
The CFO role, historically rooted in a supportive function, has now transformed into a highly analytical and strategic position. Paul’s time at Lyft, Amazon Studios, and Hulu exemplify this shift. Amazon Studios, with its tech origins, is heavily data-focused, emphasizing strategic decision-making. Lyft, according to CEO Logan Green, represents thinking differently in established markets, while Hulu’s growth experience highlights the challenges and opportunities of navigating rapid expansion.
Paul stresses the importance of continual learning, especially in a landscape where technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace. From cyber security to Artificial Intelligence (AI), staying aware of changes and understanding one’s build opportunities are crucial.
Marce Ward, a member of the Neeley Board of Advisors, as well as president and CEO of Calloway’s Nursery, attended the event. He agreed with Paul’s insights, in particular with applying data to decision making.
“It’s not just internal data that drives your strategic direction. Data is everywhere. Identifying global trends and pairing with internal data can successfully drive strategic direction,” Ward said. “Things are changing so fast. We must maintain an insatiable curiosity and continually educate ourselves in order to stay on the leading edge.”
Paul provided details of her personal journey to engage the audience, and also included challenges she faced as a working mother. In a male-dominated industry, Paul described navigating misconceptions and biases. She advocates for supportive leadership that considers flexibility, maternity leave policies, and creative thinking about career paths instead of ladders. She states that addressing the gender gap starts with education, encouraging young women to pursue business careers, recruiting and maintaining diverse talent, and providing opportunities for growth.
Paul’s experiences, challenges, successes and instincts offer valuable insights for aspiring financial leaders navigating a world that is continually reshaped by technology and strategic considerations.
Marina Magnant, a senior majoring in Marketing and Supply Chain said the CFO role is pivotal to all business and credits Paul with detailing the importance of being able to adapt, learn, and think strategically to be successful.
“Her emphasis on being a lifelong learner and staying curious resonated deeply with me and it was especially impactful to hear her advocate for the support of women in business and finance,” Magnant said.