Quick career Q&A: Donna Wheeler FCCA - the data navigator
Donna Wheeler FCCA is a director at IBM Europe Global Business Services and was made its compliance and security officer in November 2019.
But who is the real Donna Wheeler?
I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, musician, accountant, CFO and business leader. I have learned over the years that in order to tap dance on the realms of self-actualisation, we need to embrace the things we love. If you love something, you will excel at it. I see my life as a great big delicious chocolate cake and I divide the cake up into the right size portions representing how much of these parts of my life I want to savour at any one time. If I eat too much of any portion, it will make me feel ill, if I don’t eat enough, I will be left wanting for more.
Can you tell us a little about your career?
Mark Foster, IBM Global Business Services Leader, has said that ‘as technological, social and regulatory forces converge and become more prevalent, their combined impact will shape the architectures of business platforms: People, Process and Data. IBM is positioned in the IT industry to address the demand for digital reinvention for changing customer expectations and pervasive inter-connectivity through new possible outcomes of automation, blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and secure cloud infrastructures.’
It is wonderful to have developed transferable skills for any business role. IBM is at the leading edge of business transformation and I have also had to transform. It’s astonishing how things like process automation, integration, centralisation and globalisation have evolved the role of the finance function over the past decade. The transition from being an infrastructure cost to a partner with the business that demonstrates added value to the bottom line is a positive outcome.
I was recently appointed compliance and security officer for IBM Global Business Services (GBS) Europe. I was offered this critical role due to the skills I displayed as a GBS CFO. Given the recent data privacy and compliance regulations, I am well positioned to direct teams given my deep understanding of the end-to-end business and the key controls requirements. This is a high-risk area for all organisations and I am privileged to be here at this relevant point in time.
I provide business leaders with critical financial guidance in order to mamimise return and minimse risk in the short and long term, as they develop these first of a kind solutions. I deal with detail and facts, knowledge of the impacts and implications from decisions I make, and guidance and I provide.
Your role as well as your particular interest in data did not exist a few years ago – how do you feel about the cutting edge work you do?
I have loved having a place at the table to demonstrate my skills by the outcomes of my decisions and actions, and especially being at the heart of a developing digital world. I’ve been privileged to be asked to help sort out very complex issues on a first of a kind digital solution. It has been wonderful to clearly see the fruits of my and my team’s labour, as negatives turn into positives and reds turn into blacks in front of my eyes.
What this means from, my experience, is that business leaders are looking for finance professionals to help drive change from within rather than pushing back from the outskirts. I believe that notwithstanding the capabilities of AI, one thing that cannot be automated is the deep understanding finance professionals have gleaned from years and years of working across businesses in changing and challenging end-to-end processes, the resilience we build from years of long hours and hard work, and the different types of relationships we build and learn from. We continue to add value in every part of the business. I do not believe any other career can generate this range of scope. I have no doubt that AI will continue to complement and augment the skills of finance professionals in the future.
Can you describe your career pathway?
The key for me has been to make sure I have always performed at my best. This has catapulted me from one job to the next. I always pushed for big responsibilities and I volunteered for difficult projects to make me visible to senior management who helped with my career progression. I have been fortunate that my management, mentors and other colleagues believed in me and I have always been supported by highly talented and skilled team members, all whom I chose, as I am as only as good as my team.
What were your earliest motivations and ambitions?
I started working at age 14 during my school years in a retail store and I have had many jobs since. I have always been very motivated by the sense of independence that having a job brings, no matter the job. My progression was motivated in the early days by the recognition I received for doing a good job and this always spurred me on to achieve more.
How important has mobility been to your career?
Joining an IT company in South Africa as an accounting analyst has been my biggest career decision. This led to my move to the UK and my career in IBM UK, which has changed my life. I have travelled the world and met fantastic people. Mobility is crucial in today’s small world, to understand the way the world works in terms of collaboration, culture and language are all needed for better relationships.
What words of advice do you have for someone considering a career in your area of specialism?
Keep learning. Develop a network. Focus on digital tools. Travel the world. Be prepared to work hard in an environment that may be challenging, but never give up. In the words of Mark Loughridge, IBM CFO 2004-2013: ‘Look after your health, look after your family’s health, because if you don’t you will not be able to keep up the pace.’
2019 - present
Director, CFO, Compliance & Security Officer, IBM Europe Global Business Services
FD & CFO Global Business Services, IBM UK Ltd
Director of Finance, Europe Sales & Distribution, Client Coverage
Director of Finance, Global Technology Services, UK and Ireland
Commercial Management Leader, Finance & Operations Strategic Outsourcing IBM
Chief Accountant, IBM UK, Ireland & Nordics
CFO, IBM Global Business Services, UK, Ireland and South Africa