June 2024 | 

Developing Financial Expertise, Mid-Career

Developing Financial Expertise, Mid-Career

After two decades in operations, Trish Skoglund transitioned into a corporate development role that placed her at the center of her organization’s mergers and acquisitions activities. Amidst her M&A industry colleagues who predominately held finance degrees, Skoglund, an MBA holder, recognized the need for further finance education to excel in her new position.

As corporate director of mergers and acquisitions at Crowley, she was accepted into Wharton’s Advanced Finance Program (AFP), which allowed her to attend six separate programs over the course of two years, gaining Wharton alumni status at completion. It’s not surprising that while Skoglund says she gained invaluable knowledge and skills through attending Venture Capital, Private Equity, and Corporate Valuation — all of which have a direct application to her role — it was the Mergers and Acquisitions program that has had the greatest impact.

“Our team was in the middle of a very big deal when I attended,” she explains. “It hadn’t been announced because we hadn’t signed yet, but the breadth of that program really helped me gain an understanding of the different aspects that were important to the deal.”

Wharton Rigor, Eminently Practical

Specifically, she says the session on anti-trust was the “most impactful,” giving her a “real-time perspective about what to expect, especially since I ended up leading the anti-trust work stream. That session gave me the knowledge of what to expect, what I should be looking for when I was working with external parties, and the right questions to ask.”

Although the program also covered the complex financial issues surround M&A deals, Skoglund emphasizes that the sessions on the various functional areas of M&A were eminently practical. “I was taking notes and sending them to my team when the program ended each day. It helped me bridge the classroom-to-work experience in a real-time fashion, asking my team how different lessons looked to them in the deal we were working on. The up-to-date, M&A market information that the professors and guest speakers brought into the lessons allowed me to see the real-world application.”

She says the practicality of the programs means that “together with executive peers across global companies, you get to ask questions about current market conditions in real time and apply what you learn to situations that you're experiencing in your workplace right now. The collaboration with other executives is invaluable — problem solving and getting a wide variety of perspectives on different approaches to specific situations is something that you cannot do on your own.”

The lessons of the M&A program are still being applied, as Skoglund and her team work through deals in process. “On deals, I've been able to go deep with the functional work streams for antitrust, tax, accounting, and integration issues. The program gave me the overview of what to anticipate and prepare for on various types of deals and the vocabulary to be able to go back to technical work-stream owners, like my accounting or tax team, and understand the dialogue when they were getting very technical.”

She continues, “My role in leading deals is understanding what we need from each functional area and being able to see if we are missing something. There have been a couple of times, even quite recently, when that knowledge was critical. I could say, ‘I hear tax is missing something from the accounting team, let's bring those people together.’ It was the program that gave me enough understanding of every functional area in a deal to know when I need to pull a certain function in.”

Ultimately, Skoglund says the program gave her “the confidence to be able to lead work streams within the deal, the ability to ask better questions of our functional partners, and a deeper understanding of all the various components of a deal. It allowed me to broaden myself as a M&A executive.”

Lessons from Micro to Macro

As part of the AFP,  Skoglund also attended Wharton Finance for Executives (WFE). Led by Professor Michael Roberts, WFE helps participants learn the language and foundational concepts of finance. “At the end of the program, Michael said, ‘Finance isn't hard. You just need to have the vocabulary.’ As a business executive, you don't need to be an expert in technical areas, but you do need to be able to participate in the right conversations with your technical professionals. Having the vocabulary means when a problem arises, you understand it and know when to pull in the right functional experts to help solve it.”

“Wharton has done a fantastic job of combining the world-class education that their professors are teaching to undergraduates and MBA students with current problems executives in Fortune 100 companies across the globe are experiencing,” she continues. “The finance programs are perfect for people like me who are switching roles or entering a new function and want the technical knowledge so we can step confidently into the role faster.”

Alumni Benefits

After graduating from the AFP, Skoglund joined the Wharton Executive Alumni Club, an exclusive group of leaders who have completed the Advanced Management Program, General Management Program, or Advanced Finance Program. She says of all the benefits afforded to alumni, it is “the community that I was the most surprised about. You develop new friendships and build on them through the alumni club. I am on the WhatsApp and LinkedIn groups, constantly engaging with people in the community. Somebody texted me just last night saying they were thinking of switching into a new M&A role and what advice could I give them in this new role. My close friendships and network have literally gone global since the program.”

But the community is not just made up of fellow participants. “I recently spoke at graduation and on a panel at Reunion about how to maximize your network. I'm a big believer about Wharton being yours for the taking, in terms of the education, the network, and the community,” Skoglund says. “That network also includes the professors: I stay in touch because they're so active in their fields of expertise. I met with a few of the professors when I was on campus for graduation, sharing what I am doing so they can add more real-world lessons to enrich their classes and finding out about their new research and consulting work.”