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From number cruncher to leader

Caroline Dorsa capitalizes on her technical expertise

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Office Communication,People Management,Workplace Communication

In her 14 years at the pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., Caroline Dorsa has steadily climbed the ladder to become treasurer. Today, she’s responsible for worldwide treasury and tax matters, financial reporting and control of over $1 billion in company money.

WS: What do you see as the key to your success?

Dorsa: It’s important to strike a balance between exerting control over your people and enabling them to accomplish things on their own.

WS: Did you always manage people that way?

Dorsa: I learned from example. Early in my career, my bosses didn’t exercise undue control over me. They let me go as far as I could.

WS: If you leave people alone, how do you know they’ll deliver?

Dorsa: I make it easy for them to come to me for insight, to ask questions, to discuss strategy—whatever they want. I don’t call them every few days and ask, “When will this project be done?” I leave it to them to initiate contact.

WS: Why does that work so well?

Dorsa: I’m always looking for innovative ideas to help Merck invest enormous amounts of money for a long time with an uncertain payoff. I need to tap the smarts of my staff and harness everyone’s enthusiasm so that they’re all thinking of ways to meet this challenge. If I tried to control them too much, they wouldn’t feel as free to speak up.

WS: What types of employees get ahead fastest?

Dorsa: The ones who love what they do. You only get paid twice a month, but you have to do the job every day. If you’re unhappy with your career, it’ll show.

WS: How did you get promoted into your current job?

Dorsa: I started at Merck in finance. But in the early 1990s, I spent 11/2 years in marketing. I had limited background in marketing and I challenged myself to do well. I was eager to learn new things and I asked lots of questions. My boss liked how I adapted myself to an area outside my financial expertise. That’s one reason I was selected for this job.

WS: How have your jobs changed through the course of your career?

Dorsa: At first, I spent most of my time on day-to-day modeling, analytics and other activities at my desk. Now I spend 80 percent of my time on people management and only 20 percent on sitting down and doing technical stuff. That’s a reversal of what my job used to be like.

WS: What do you think is your most valuable communication skill?

Dorsa: The ability to sell. I hear folks say, “I went into finance because I didn’t want to be a salesperson.” But you have to sell in every job. When I’m promoting my view, I’ll step into the recipient’s shoes so that I understand what issues to address first. I’ll begin by asking myself, “What defines success for them?” Knowing that helps me present a persuasive case.

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