BuildU interns are encouraged to interview and shadow an executive to learn about their corporate experience. For my interview, I had the privilege of sitting down with Ideal Group CFO Rachael Johnson. Rachael and I had an extended conversation about her career, how she got to where she is today, corporate strategy, responsible financial practices, and more. Our day started with a meeting between Rachael and her accounting team at Ideal Group. The accounting team is made up of around eight accountants and is responsible for handling all accounting duties for Ideal Group, Ideal Contracting, Ideal Setech, Ideal Share-the-Spare, Ideal Surplus Sales, Ideal Shield, Ideal Steel, Hispanic Manufacturing Center, and some of the Venegas’ family assets.
Rachael’s career started when she was hired as an intern in 1996 by what was then the original “Ideal Steel” company based out of Hamburg, Michigan. She was later hired as a full time accountant in 1998 after graduation from U of M Dearborn with a degree in International Studies in Economics and Spanish. She began learning quickly on the job and credits much of her success to her two career mentors who worked at Ideal as well. Later on in 2002, the top management of Ideal Steel experienced difficulties which led to major changes to top management and the eventual closing of Ideal Steel. Soon after this, Ideal Steel sister companies, like Ideal Shield and Setech, grew exponentially, leading to bigger profit margins, more responsibilities, and the relocation of headquarters from Hamburg to Detroit. During this time of growth, Rachael quickly became promoted CFO of Ideal Group and all companies under the Ideal Group umbrella, including Ideal Contracting, and has successfully managed Ideal’s finances since then. I asked specific questions about how poorly Steel was initially managed and received valuable advice on corporate responsibility and proper business ethics. I will remember these valuable lessons for a long time.
Rachael admits that her career track was unlike many others. She did not think that she would get promoted to CFO so early on in her career, but sometimes that is what life throws at you. She had to take on major responsibilities as CFO from an early age and has done so successfully for many years. Ideal Group has been her employer since right out of college because she enjoys her work, its challenges, and most importantly, her colleagues. She encourages me to work hard, expect the unexpected, and seek intelligent corporate mentors throughout my career. It was great for me to hear from an experienced professional such as Rachael – so thank you Rachael for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me.