The business world is marked by unpredictability. Yet one thing remains the same – the competitive business market requires leaders to have a solid understanding of financial principles. Many companies waste millions of dollars on projects and initiatives due to poor financial analysis. To aid a company’s growth, leaders should be using financial insights and concepts as strategic decision-making tools.
Sonya Smith-Valentine, CEO and Chief Financial Intelligence Officer of Financially Fierce, LLC, is in charge of building appealing financial strategies that drive performance and learning programs to cultivate financially smart leaders for a variety of corporate clients. “I love the variety my work offers as I get to collaborate with people from different cultures, experiences, and roles and responsibilities. The work is challenging, exciting, and rewarding,” says Sonya.
Financially Fierce LLC is a specialty consulting firm that improves performance by equipping people to manage the financial side of leadership. Its approach encompasses three main areas: learning, leadership, and performance. Sonya states that the team guides people and organizations through its “Think Financially Approach.” The ultimate goal is to create sustainable behavioral changes in the ways leaders incorporate financial insight into their thoughts, decisions, and actions. Sonya asserts, “We provide customized curriculum, learning initiatives, strategic planning, and leadership development for companies.”
Before joining Financially Fierce, Sonya spent 20 years as an attorney, winning various financial cases involving banks, credit card companies, mortgages, and credit reporting agencies. Prior to that, she was an accountant at industry standard-bearers like American Express, Price Waterhouse Coopers, and Deloitte & Touché. She has served on various leadership committees and boards of directors. Sonya even helped open a performing arts charter school in the District of Columbia. She believes that all of that work prepared her to lead a financially fierce life.
Finding a Leader in Herself
Sonya didn’t grow up dreaming of owning her own business. She recalls, “I was pushed into it by frustration.” She formerly worked as a litigator for a small law firm in Washington, DC. The firm’s mishandling was seen everywhere, from massive overdue customer accounts to the paralegal who assumed she was in control. Sonya gradually realized she could do a better job of operating the legal practice and began to plan her own. Her father’s death provided the ultimate impetus for her to become her own employer. When she requested extra time off due to her father’s passing, one of the partners questioned her dedication to the firm. Sonya left 6 months later and launched her own legal practice, with customers waiting for her on her very first day. She hasn’t looked back since.
The foundation for Financially Fierce LLC actually came from Sonya’s law practice. After more than a decade of running her firm, she became tired of being a reactive solution. She states, “My firm handled financial litigation – issues involving banks, credit card companies, mortgage companies, etc. I had an inside view of the financial mistakes being made by corporations. I decided I wanted to use my knowledge and experience to be proactive. And Financially Fierce was born! A decade later, I am working with corporations in a variety of industries on the financial side of leadership.”
According to Sonya, her proudest moment was being recognized as a financial all-star by Black Enterprise Magazine. She feels honored and humbled by the many awards she has received for her work and contributions to the industry. She says, “Nothing compares to being recognized by your own community as someone who is impacting the financial development of leaders.”
‘Going with the Flow’
In life, everyone’s definition of balance is different. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. According to Sonya, balance means not forcing oneself to work in a straight line. If she is having difficulty concentrating, she may work for two hours in the morning and then spend an hour reading fiction. Sometimes she shuts out the rest of the world and spends hours creating new courses. But Sonya also gives herself permission to take a day off on a random Tuesday and spend it outside in the sun to recharge. This, she says, keeps her motivated, creative, and inventive. She urges her colleagues to use the same approach.
Challenges are a part of everyday life. They make a person stronger. Regardless of the challenge, facing up to it is the key. Where others see impenetrable barriers, Sonya sees challenges as obstacles to overcome. She states, “Success isn’t the only thing determined by our mind-set. Optimists fare better; they treat failure as a learning experience and believe they can do better in the future.” She further adds, “Despite our best efforts to avoid them, challenges arise and threaten our journeys; we have to handle them. The roadblocks in my professional journey have taught me valuable lessons.”
Sonya recalls two specific hurdles when discussing her difficulties. Although she swiftly created a highly successful law practice, she struggled to get customers when she initially started Financially Fierce. The marketing strategies that worked so effectively for her at the law firm did not instantly transition to her new venture. Sonya says that marketing Financially Fierce demanded a whole different approach, which she struggled with for quite some time. She continues, “It took the firm nearly collapsing for me to recognize that I needed to learn new skills with the assistance of sales and marketing specialists.” The other difficulty arose when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She recalls, “The company was in the middle of a pivot in services when I was diagnosed. Brain surgery and recovery time meant I would be out of the office for 3 months during a critical time for the business. It’s hard to create a plan for your absence when you’re emotionally compromised.” Stepping away and trusting the plan she created was one of the hardest things Sonya had to do, but it was the best thing for her health and the company’s success.
Adding New Layers to Leadership Training
Accounting skills and/or educating leaders to interpret financial statements are frequently the focus of financial training. And that’s where it ends. Sonya has expanded the industry to include a discussion of financial intelligence for leaders. She is introducing a new dimension to leadership development: empowering people to manage the financial side of leadership. Sonya understands that CEOs and executives who lack financial abilities are more likely to make poor judgments, squander corporate resources, and negatively impact a company’s success. She states, “When leaders understand the financial implications of their decisions and how to use financial insights to improve their company’s performance, they become better leaders.” She further adds that by incorporating financial intelligence into their thoughts, decisions, actions, and results, leaders become superstars who produce bottom-line results.
Envisioning a Global Learning Platform
Sonya’s ambition is for the organization to become a pioneer in reshaping how leaders are developed, trained, and supported. She sees a worldwide learning platform, immersive learning experiences, and a financial intelligence curriculum being used by a wide range of businesses. She is now in talks with a few firms about forming strategic alliances to further her influence.
Sonya’s advice to prospective leaders is to not be scared to seek assistance. She asserts, “Mentors and accountability partners can be exceptional sources of guidance when you find yourself stuck. Seeking assistance is not a sign of weakness; it’s actually a sign of strength.”
Success Is Learning Something New Every Day
Success is not defined by a single statement, but rather by a combination of factors. The term varies according to the individual. Success has several facets for Sonya. She believes success may be attained by doing your best. She asserts,” Believing you can be the key to success. When people don’t believe in you and you can still move forward based on your own confidence, you’re successful. Success includes the ability to say no. Saying “no” means you know when your plate is full. Success knows your life is filled with abundance. If you can feel this, you are already experiencing success. Conquering fear is also success. Any work you do to overcome fear leads to success. And success is learning something new every day. Successful people understand that learning never stops.”