By Karen-Janine Cohen
Ana M. Menendez (BBA ’86) has some attributes she credits with fueling her career trajectory, which includes 20 years and counting as CFO and treasurer at Watsco, North America's largest distributor of air conditioning, heating and refrigeration equipment, parts and supplies. Hard work, perseverance and a willingness to aim high are some ingredients of her recipe for success. The other is her facility with languages.
The daughter of Cubans who settled in Madrid, Spain, after the revolution, Menendez grew up in Italy and at 13 came to the U.S., first in Chicago and then Miami. Fluent in three languages, she was a top choice when a plum assignment meant an overseas trip. “I took on every opportunity that came my way – ones other people would pass on,” she said.
"It's rewarding when you have to execute, implement and oversee projects and teams."
– Ana M. Menendez
Enrolling in a high school bookkeeping class was a natural choice for Menendez, whose father was also an accountant. She worked at McDonald’s and Publix, then at a doctor's office as she transitioned to college, eventually enrolling at FIU. Sometimes, she still had on her nurse’s aide uniform at class time. “I got a great education at a great value,” she said of the accounting program.
She wanted to join the Big Eight (the thenmajor accounting firms) and become a CPA. An MBA earned at the University of Miami opened the door, and, degree in hand, she joined Arthur Andersen. Seven years later, she became CFO at an import-export company, transitioning from consultant to decision-maker.
“It's rewarding when you have to execute, implement and oversee projects and teams,” she said.
It was also while at PwC that Lavina decided to pursue his Master of Accounting degree at FIU. “As someone who runs a tech company, you have to create value in whatever you do – you can't create fluff, stuff not aligned with your objectives,” he said.
Watsco came calling, and the challenge was attractive. The company was rapidly growing, and it was crucial to better balance debt and cash flow. Menendez and her team helped managers better handle receivables and accounts payable and streamline operations. “At Watsco, I'm known as the Queen of Cash,” she said.
Menendez also recently finished a six-year appointment on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, “a career highlight,” she said.
While women are increasing in the CPA ranks, female CFOs are still thin on the ground. Menendez said her professional rise is due to hard work, plus great mentors and colleagues. Yet tenacity and perseverance are crucial elements of any success, which is what she tells audiences when she is asked to speak to business groups. Plus, she counsels, don't pass up new or challenging opportunities for fear of failing.
She's been asked many times how she made it as a woman in the C-suite. “I never thought of myself as Latina or female,” she said. “I think I made it because I was the best qualified for the job.”