Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Summer 2002Kellogg School of Management
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Research: Kathryn Spier, Management & Strategy
Research : Kathleen Hagerty & Janice Eberly, Finance
Alumni Profile: Blythe McGarvie ’77
Alumni Profile: Brian Wesbury ’89
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  Blythe McGarvie
Blythe McGarvie ’78 addresses the Kellogg Alumni Advisory Board in April. In addition to her many other responsibilities, McGarvie sits on the board.
Alumni Profile: Blythe McGarvie '77
Jet setter
As CFO for a multinational corporation, Blythe McGarvie ’78 travels the world looking for challenges

Blythe Jaski McGarvie divides her year not by seasons, but by time zones. As executive vice president and chief financial officer of BIC Group, the 1978 Kellogg School graduate spends one-third of her year in Paris, one-third in New York and the last third criss-crossing continents to visit regional offices from Singapore to São Paulo.

It’s this jet-setting schedule that McGarvie appreciates most about her job. When asked what she loves about her role in a multinational corporation, she doesn’t hesitate: “The exposure to different cultures. I deal with all four continents, since we are in 160 countries, and I like the challenge of each culture.”

McGarvie also enjoys the opportunity to make a difference through her role at the company.

One significant difference she has made since joining BIC in July 1999 was helping to bring the company’s French accounting system up to international standards. And as for making a contribution to the company’s success on a daily basis, McGarvie faces the challenge of “changing the culture from solely an income-statement focus to a balance-sheet focus,” a transformation which helps improve the firm’s cash flow.

The Chicago native lives by her credo, “Be ready now so when opportunity knocks, you’re always prepared.” In 1988 she had studied French but took a year of Berlitz Italian for fun because she’d always dreamed of living overseas. By the early ’90s, she was serving as chief administrative officer for the Pacific Rim Group of Sara Lee Corp., overseeing finance operations in Asia, Australia and South America.

At Sara Lee, McGarvie experienced a defining challenge in her career when she was asked to perform the due diligence during an acquisition of a Finnish company. “Strategically it was the right thing to do,” she recalls. But as she worked on the case, the situation was different from the projections in the acquisition model, even though a signed letter of intent had already been sent. “So I had to come back to senior management and convince them to renegotiate the takeover term,” she says. Later the chairman of Sara Lee told her that she had the courage to stick up for her convictions. “That meant a lot to me,” McGarvie says.

From Sara Lee, she jumped to senior vice president and CFO of Hannaford Bros., a $3 billion food retailer based in Portland, Maine. After five years, the company was being sold, and she relocated to Paris to work for BIC, a worldwide leader in writing instruments, lighters and one-piece shavers. And it’s with BIC that the 45-year-old CFO has been able to put her language and public company skills to frequent use.

Her financial expertise and “be prepared” mentality set the stage for invitations to serve on three prominent corporate board of directors — Pepsi Bottling Group, Accenture and Wawa Inc. “We need to change the mindset to prove that people under 50 can actually serve on boards,” she says, urging her Kellogg colleagues to “take risks and help others” to give younger entrepreneurs a chance to flourish.

If you happen to spot McGarvie during her many travels around the world or her favorite getaway spot, Virginia, you’ll likely find her eyes fixed on the latest non-fiction book. Named after a Shelley poem, McGarvie lives up to her literary roots and recognizes the importance of reading in her overall success. In fact, she kept her favorite quote, by Francis Bacon, tacked up to her bulletin board for years: “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.”

As for her Kellogg peers, she has one plea: “E-mail me!” As her classmates’ rep, she wants to hear from them more often. “I am really interested to learn what they are doing. The older we get, the more we need to keep in touch and make an effort.”

— Danielle Tullier

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University