Victoria Harker succeeds by never limiting herself
- July 31, 2008
by Heather B. Hayes
When Victoria Harker arrived to take over the CFO reins at Arlington-based AES Corp. in 2006, it seemed on the surface to be just another step in a relatively short but distinguished career. She knew, however, that the main reason she’d been hired was to get to the bottom of a problem with the global power company’s financial reporting process. Technical issues unknowingly had resulted in years of erroneous financial statements.
Her task? Perform a root-cause analysis to determine where the problem lay and devise a solution. At the same time, she had to make sure that the company’s financial organization came up to speed with accurate processes so that the errors didn’t creep into financial statements again. “We had to first find the knot in the process and then go about figuring out how to untie it, which was extremely complex,” says Harker, 43, who received bachelor’s degrees in English and economics from the University of Virginia and her MBA from American University.
For 18 months, she and her team scrutinized AES’ financial organization, which includes 2,000 people based in 29 countries, to come up with a blueprint for error-free reporting. All the while, they were performing forensic accounting, rethinking processes and controls, conducting skills assessments and improving the bench strength of its accounting and tax teams. In the end, she restructured a decentralized financial organization into an integrated worldwide team. Her efforts enabled AES to become a current, full-year filer for the first time in three years, returning the company to a place among the Fortune 200. “It was my greatest challenge but also one of the greatest accomplishments because it has enabled so many other accomplishments,” she says.
Harker was able to complete a $2 billion bond placement in the fourth quarter last year, the largest single corporate finance deal in the company’s history. Initially, the amount was to be $500 million, but the amount quadrupled in response to market demand, clear evidence of investor confidence in AES’ financial position. Harker also sold nonstrategic businesses and started 12 projects in seven countries that represent a $4 billion investment. “None of that would have been possible had we not gotten the financial platform stabilized,” she says. “It’s been a real confidence booster, for my team, the company and its investors.”
Harker’s ability to undertake such a difficult mission was honed by her years at MCI Inc. There she rapidly moved up the ranks to become acting CFO, treasurer and senior vice president of corporate finance for the company in 2002. Today at AES, she is focused on new challenges, which include helping the financial department transition to international accounting standards.
Harker attributes part of her success to not being afraid of limits and being willing to put one foot in front of the other, a philosophy that she practices during her off-hours. A mother of three sons, she runs in marathons, triathlons and Iron Man competitions.