CFO credits UB for launching success

January 2007

A career in financial accounting might not engender the same alluring images as a career in, say, film or aviation. But Margaret Grayson ’78 asserts that such a career can be “exciting and broad, with no limits to what you can experience and enjoy.” The doors of her noteworthy professional life, she insists, all were opened by finance and accounting.

She credits UB with helping her enlarge her perspective on what she could achieve. “Without my time at UB,” says Grayson, “some of these opportunities wouldn’t have been available.”

Grayson entered the university’s accounting program as a returning student, married with two small children. She’d been involved in the restaurant business with her husband and looked to her college education to understand what she had experienced. “The real benefit came through my accounting and finance, coursework,” she recalls. “It was immediately applicable to our business.”

UB as the launching pad

Perhaps more important, Grayson’s time at UB expanded her understanding of business and her thinking about career opportunities. “Buffalo was going through an economic downturn at the time, and as graduating students, we became aware that we might have to search beyond Western New York for a job,” she says.

After Grayson graduated, she and her husband franchised their restaurant business and sold it to employees through an earn-out program. Relocation to Florida allowed her to pursue career prospects there. Grayson began work with Honeywell in Tampa, gaining experience on very large federal projects to greatly expand her understanding of cost accounting. “I managed the cost accounting function for about 30 different plant projects for this $100 million dollar operation,” she says.

The ’80s were a time of significant merger and acquisition activity and Honeywell and then two subsequent owners purchased the manufacturing facility she was employed by. Grayson gained even broader experience. “With each change of ownership,” she explains. “The company got smaller, with fewer projects and employees. We had to wear many hats to support engineering, production and financial reporting to top managements as the accounting department shrunk. The new owners wanted to retain Grayson and offered to pay for her to obtain an MBA. She says the whole process taught her “that I absolutely love business and how it functions. I also learned what happens during mergers and acquisitions and how to raise capital for a company.”

Over the next 20 years, Grayson applied that learning by helping to develop business plans and identify funding sources for small and mid-sized companies, raising early stage capital for them if they were privately held and then taking them public “if that’s where they wanted to go.”

Hard work and determination pay off

Grayson feels her most significant work in that arena has been as chief financial officer for two companies: She was the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the Initial Public Offering (IPO) for CD Radio, which is now Sirius Satellite Radio. Subsequently she became the CFO of SPACEHAB, Inc to raise private equity capital and public equity capital following its IPO. SPACEHAB is a private company that entered into a contract with NASA to build and resource a freestanding research laboratory that was transported into space in the Space Shuttle. The laboratory space was allocated in a public/private partnership between NASA and several pharmaceutical and other private industry partners that wanted to do microgravity research. In both cases, she supervised day-to-day financial accounting as well as dealt with investment bankers, road shows and other responsibilities associated with going public.

Most recently, Grayson accepted the position of CFO for V-ONE, a company that was experiencing financial difficulties. The firm’s Board of Directors contacted her because of her experience with financing, requesting her expertise to lead a turnaround for this “distressed property.” According to Grayson, V-ONE’s financial problems were the result of going public too early. Although a leader in the design and development of security software, its cyber-security technology was well ahead of its time, delaying large-scale adoption by its target market. After helping V-ONE raise capital as a consultant, Grayson joined the company, restructuring it over a period of six years and leading it through a merger that took place in June 2005. She maintained the position of President of V-ONE’s current incarnation, the Government Solutions Group of AEP Networks for a year, post merger and will continue with the company through December 2007. Her work required that she develop technical expertise and a thorough understanding of cyber-security. Today, she is a sought-after subject matter expert in this field. In 2002 she was appointed by President George W. Bush to her membership on the National Infrastructure Advisory Council, where she currently serves on technical committees to provide insights and recommendations to the White House and the Department of Homeland Security for the protection of the nation’s 13 critical infrastructures including, telecommunications, electric, water and transportation.

Grayson is currently an associate professor of finance and accounting at Hartwick College, remaining a true fan of her chosen career. Sharing the knowledge and experience of her career with her students, she maintains that finance and accounting provide a common language; it offers continuity “when dealing with business across all industries. You can learn any industry within that framework.”

Written by Grace Lazzara